When Carroll opened its campus for the 2019–20 academic year, students were not the only ones eager to earn their education. After years of preparation, biology professor Sue Lewis and Humane Animal Welfare Society (HAWS) associate Leann Boucha ’12 were ready to introduce their new dog training course to Carroll’s animal behavior program. The two-semester course would see students working with dogs to prepare them for adoption.
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Lewis was inspired to create the course when she noticed many of her students were interested in working with animals. When Lewis began researching similar programs, she saw that Carroll College in Montana had begun a dog training course that involved fostering local shelter dogs. Lewis asked Boucha at HAWS to be a partner in the program, and the two started to design the Introduction to Canine Care, Behavior and Training course.
In the fall, students in the course learn “how to read canine body language, positive reinforcement and force-free training methods” said Lewis. Then, in the spring, students get an “immersion experience in animal training as they take in a foster from HAWS for the full semester.”
Four students and four canines were enrolled in the course this academic year. Animal behavior major Kim Holland enrolled in the course and was paired with three-year-old Jack Russel mix, Ora. Holland enrolled in the course to get a “hands-on experience in training.”
When Holland began training Ora, the dog was “extremely shy and aloof, she was nervous around everyone and it wasn’t uncommon for her to growl to communicate that she was uncomfortable.” Now, after three months of hard work, Ora “allows strangers to pet her and she explores new environments with curiosity instead of fear, according to Holland. “It’s an amazing transformation to see!”
Lindsay Green is another animal behavior major who registered for the course. She was paired with a one-year-old boxer named Bowie. Green took interest in the course because of her lifelong passion for dogs.
Green describes Bowie as “a bundle of energy” and “one of the sweetest, most personable dogs.” Still, Green said it was a challenge to balance her own needs while taking care of Bowie. “Most of the time, I was putting my foster dog’s needs first.”
When Carroll’s campus closed due to COVID-19, students enrolled in the course were worried about how it would affect their education and the dogs’ training. Before quarantine, students in the program would bring their dogs to their Monday and Wednesday courses and would have a three-hour lab each Friday. This helped the dogs socialize and get used to everyday life.
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However, students in the program still filmed training videos and completed assignments online like they had been doing prior. There weren’t any drastic changes to the course, according to Green. Although the students missed interacting with their peers, the campus shut down may have helped the dogs. According to Holland, “having online classes allowed me to train and prepare Ora better. It was such a big factor in decreasing her anxiety.”
While a planned and highly anticipated dog graduation ceremony was cancelled due to the campus closing, students and their dogs were able to do a meet and greet at HAWS, where the Carroll students helped screen potential adoptive families.
While students enrolled in the new animal behavior course faced many challenges, it’s safe to say it was a major success. “This course is a rare experience in an already uncommon undergraduate major, which is amazing to see at Carroll,” said Holland.