Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Gone to the Dogs: Students Help Get Impaired Canines Ready For Adoption

You might say Valeri Farmer-Dougan’s rat lab has gone to the dogs. But that’s good for her psychology students, not to mention the dogs themselves. Now, instead of learning how to train a rat to run through a maze, Illinois State University students are learning how to use behavior modification techniques to train dogs from animal rescue organizations. “What’s great about working with the dogs is you can make them more adoptable. They help us out and we can help them, too,” said Kellie Swoboda, a senior from Cary. And these aren’t just regular strays from a shelter. Several have hearing or vision impairments that give students additional challenges. Farmer-Dougan used to teach a traditional “rat lab.” But the rat lab was “getting prohibitively expensive” at $40 per rat plus $5 a week to care for them, she said. So in late 2010, as she started working with foster dogs that had hearing and vision disabilities, Farmer-Dougan got an idea: “I don’t have enough time to work with my dogs and my students need something to do.” So it was that the Canine Behavior Lab was born. more

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