A psychology professor at Illinois State University uses rescue dogs instead of typical maze-running lab rats, allowing students to learn about behavioral modification and preparing the dogs for finding new homes.
Valeri Farmer-Dougan, Ph.D., is director of the university’s Canine Behavior and Cognition Laboratory and has been using dogs in her classes for nine years.
Pantagraph.com, an online news service for the Bloomington/Normal vicinity, said for the past two years Farmer-Dougan has worked directly with Pet Central Helps, a no-kill shelter in a Normal shopping mall.
The result has been hands-on learning for students and socializing to prepare the dogs for adoption.
Farmer-Dougan was quoted as saying, “There are a lot of developmental similarities” between dogs and people. She noted that children go through periods of fear, stranger anxiety and separation anxiety, just as the shelter animals.
“Dogs on a good day are like 3-year-olds,” she said.
She said there ways to address both dog and human problems through controlled exposure to fears, reassurance and behavior modification.
“If you can’t work with dogs, how are you going to work with a complicated organism like a human?” she asked.
Students have worked on behavior modification with about 90 dogs since September and many of the dogs have successfully found new homes.