A unique partnership between Colorado State University and Colorado Greyhound Companions provides zoology students valuable applied animal behavior experience while preparing retired greyhounds for home adoption. The animal behavior class recently completed its first semester of working with rescued greyhounds resulting in 12 of the dogs being adopted into homes.
"This class gives students an opportunity to practice what they are learning from lectures and textbooks," said Janice Moore, biology professor and instructor of the animal behavior class. "They are actually applying scientific techniques and gaining invaluable hands-on experience, all while realizing the benefits of volunteer work and helping some wonderful animals find homes."
Juniors and seniors enrolled in Animal Behavior integrate scientific literature with hands-on experience to teach retired racing dogs how to adjust to life in private homes. Students learn about the science underlying training techniques and then apply those lessons to greyhounds. Supported by Colorado State’s Office for Service Learning and Volunteer Programs, the class meets twice a week, once for a lecture and once for a hands-on laboratory where 20 students work directly with 10 greyhounds.
According to Moore, each year more than seven million healthy dogs are euthanized in the United States because good homes cannot be found for them. Behavior problems are the number one reason canines are surrendered to humane societies. Obedience training has been shown to enhance human-canine relationships, and dogs that are better socialized and trained are more likely to be accepted into homes. The animal behavior lab addresses these issues.
"Retired greyhounds in particular are challenging because they have had little or no socialization and no obedience training in their lives at the track," said Jennie Willis, zoology doctoral candidate and graduate teaching assistant. "Our class addresses these issues, gives students great practical experience and helps greyhounds bridge the gap between work as a racer and life in a loving home."
Willis, who organized the partnership, added that many of the challenges of working with greyhounds stem from the fact that the dogs were raised as racers and not as pets. Racing dogs have little contact with humans and are unaccustomed to a home environment. When first taken from the track, the canines are not familiar with doors, windows, other pets, children or open space, are not accustomed to attention or relationships, and need help adjusting to home life.
"The turnaround in the greyhounds was amazing throughout the semester," said Willis. "A few weeks ago they were very timid and unsure of themselves. Now, at the end of the term, they are confident, love to play, have obedience skills, show great affection and even know some tricks. Greyhounds are very intelligent and loving animals that bring their companions great joy once the dogs acquire the behavioral skills needed to thrive in a home environment."
Colorado Greyhound Companions, a non-profit rescue and adoption organization in Fort Collins, acquires retired greyhounds, generally between the ages of two and five, when they are injured or are too old to race. The volunteer organization places retired racers in foster homes provided by volunteers where the dogs learn how adjust to home life. Colorado Greyhound Companions works with about 60 dogs each year, all of which are available for adoption.
Foster homes are focused on providing socialization skills, but few have the time or experience required to train the dogs and deal with behavior problems. Colorado State’s animal behavior class works with foster home volunteers to enhance socialization skills and further train the greyhounds, based on applied science, to overcome behavioral problems, learn obedience and obtain skills that will help them get adopted.
"The goal of the class is certainly to give students a strong background in applied animal behavior," said Moore. "Above that, we hope that it gives them an appreciation for the difference they as volunteers can make in the lives and animals and people."
The Office for Service Learning and Volunteer Programs provides students the opportunity to experience community outreach and curriculum design while concurrently gaining advanced knowledge in their field of study. For more information about service learning and volunteer programs at Colorado State, please call (970) 491-1682.