Eckerd holds the unique distinction of being a campus where students are encouraged to have their pets. All around campus, students walk dogs and bring their reptiles out with them. While this created an allure for prospective or current students to bring pets with them or to get them once they’re here, it has also allowed more interactions between pets. With dogs being a popular pet, Professor of Psychology and Animal Studies Lauren Highfill, Assistant Professor of Psychology Sara Hofmann and Philosophy Instructor Jason Sears have started a dog training program on campus for students to participate in for research purposes and to create a safer environment for all pets on campus.
Sears teaches classes such as Animal Ethics and Environmental Ethics. For the last two years, Sears has been the main trainer in this program, working with about 20 students. There are 10 students in the main training class, and 10 students in the control group. The control group is used as a baseline data set to compare psychological and physiological data taken from the research component of the training program. Overall, the goal of this training is to foster a closer relationship between a student and their dog.
Sears offers holistic training that focuses on the animal’s intellectual enrichment and the owner’s ability to bond with their pet.
“Dogs will do what you want if they know what to expect,” Sears said.
While many people may believe that the main purpose of training a pet is to make the dog more obedient, this is not totally true according to Sears.
“It’s important to understand that when you have a pet, you are not only its master, but you have a relationship with a living being, and have a responsibility to them,” Sears said.
Sears suggests the need for some sort of pet license that people would be required to get if they are looking into getting a pet.
“There is a huge problem with people releasing or mistreating animals because they don’t understand that they’re other living beings that need care just like we do,” Sears said.
This is another argument for why Sears believes training should be offered and encouraged through Eckerd. Students have generally busy lives, and should only be allowed to have a pet if they demonstrate an ability to care for them.
Quin Puckett is a senior participating in the dog training program with her German Shepherd mix, Zahra. Puckett has been working in a group and personally with Sears to help her bond with her dog.
“Everyone with a dog needs guidance and knowledge on how to bond with a dog. When you go through a training class, you’re being trained how to be an owner just as much as you’re training the dog,” Puckett said.
Since its creation, the dog training program has been creating an environment to not only help students to care for their dogs more effectively but also to help make a stronger partnership between them.
While dog training is done for spring 2021, students should check their email in the fall semester for another interest form if they want to participate in any upcoming dog training sessions or pet events.