Students learn to train dogs, researchers learn dog behavior

Students learn to train dogs, researchers learn dog behavior

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The Class of 2017: Norman, Eliott, Comet, Maggie, Ryan, Seth, Zeus, Sam The Class of 2017: Norman, Eliott, Comet, Maggie, Ryan, Seth, Zeus, Sam
LUBBOCK, Texas -

The Canine Olfaction Laboratory: a big name for a research facility that's about discovering more about a dog's behavior and welfare. The lab provides hands-on training for students with their research subjects. 

The courses' instructor, Sasha Protopopova said this is unique opportunity to the university.

"The Animal and Food Sciences department saw a need for classes in Companion Animal Science because a lot of the students are very interested in it but don't really have an option to pursue things like this."

The courses, "Dog Training Practicum I" and "Companion Animal Behavior and Training" introduce students to the basics of dog training.

"And also how to work with owners in discussing problem behavior with their dogs, how do we make sure that we retain that pet into their original household as well."

A lot of her students want to go into veterinary medicine.

"A lot of them do have to consider some other alternative careers as well and so they're looking at everything that they can essentially."

They can also become certified dog trainers, like Protopopova.

"They're going to have this knowledge about holding their own training classes, having a small business themselves that deals with dog training behavior rehabilitation in the community."

Every Tuesday this semester, the students spend time with their animals. It starts with civil commands like "sit" and "lay down" and moves on to teaching their dogs to complete tasks.

"This is something that a lot of them have really waited for just because a lot of them do want to go into small animal medicine or work with companion animals but they just have never had a chance to do so before," Protopopova said.

Texas Tech senior Shyenne Huber is grateful for this new addition of classes.

"I'm working to be a dog trainer, and this is the first course for dog training and I jumped on it. I never thought that something like this would come to Tech, especially with the Animal Science, it's much more based on livestock, but with this addition of this class, I'm very appreciative because it helps more toward my end goal."

Shyenne's trainee, Zeus, responds to the sound of her clicker and a bag of treats. Through this course, she's seen him blossom over the last couple of months.

"He's scared to do things because he's kind of shy but he's become very outgoing because of our training together."

Not only are these dogs getting that behavioral training, they're also participating in groundbreaking olfactory scientific research with lab director Nathan Hall. He's trying to answer certain questions.

"What we're looking at is 'how much sniffing do they do to certain things and how interested are they'? As well as 'how do we best optimize the training for detection dogs'?"

Through various testing and a variety of smells, dogs learn to detect and acknowledge the presence and amount of scents around them.

It gives researchers a gauge to the sensitivity of a dog's nose.

"Despite the fact that we have lots of ideas about the dog's nose being super sensitive, there's actually very little research on that area. There's still a lot of work to be done to actually look at 'well how good is the dog's nose, really?'"

If you've ever wondered what type of dog food your canine prefers, based on sense of smell, Hall hopes to figure that out. However, there's more to the research than just figuring out your pet's favorite dish.

"Learning things that are going to benefit the working dog community. So, enhancing the performance of any kind of working dog, training, any variety of detection dog programs," Hall said.

These canines all have similar backgrounds. They're shelter dogs available for adoption through the Haven Animal Care Shelter. After the course, the Class of 2017 dogs will "graduate" from the program.

Their lab training will condition the dogs to be sociable and will hopefully lead to all of the graduates getting accepted into a forever home. Next semester, the process starts all over again with an all new class.

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