'Paws'‑itive animal training: Online extended learning course offers taming tips for animal owners

- July 30, 2020

Dal instructor Melanie Smith executes a high-five with a furry friend. (Provided photo)
Dal instructor Melanie Smith executes a high-five with a furry friend. (Provided photo)

Have you ever wanted to teach your pet a new trick, create a better bond, or learn a training method that is backed up by science?  A course offered through the Faculty of Agriculture's Extended Learning program this fall has all of that.

The 12-week, online course, provides a one-on-one approach to help learners develop the necessary skills to train animals using positive reinforcement.

It also features a collaborative learning approach with students working lesson by lesson, at the same pace. Weekly progress of participants and their animals is tracked through record keeping and videos as they apply theory and scientific research to practice.

The course helps learners become skilled at identifying wanted behaviours, goal setting, planning, training and understanding their animal.

Building trust, having fun

Course instructor Melanie Smith, who owns Cross Road Boarding, Training and Behaviour Services in nearby Great River, says Positive Animal Training: The Science of Applied Behaviour Analysis through Extended Learning is designed to be fun.

“Training your animal should be fun and enjoyable for both of you. Instead of telling your animal they are wrong or to stop doing something, tell them when they are correct and doing something you like,” she explains.

Smith, a part-time instructor in Dal's Faculty of Agriculture, grew up on a dairy farm and has lived with, loved and played with animals her whole life.

“I have always loved working with dogs and when I got my first Border Collie, I loved teaching and training with him. He ended up learning over 150 behaviours on cue before I lost him at 9.5 years old,” she says.

When Smith acquired her second Border Collie, she began behaviour modification early as the animal was highly reactive.

“I realized then I loved this work," she says. "Training and learning canine body language came naturally to me so I pursued it."

Smith received her animal science degree at the Faculty of Agriculture and studied extensively with Heather Logan of Cloverfield Animal Behaviour Services for nearly five years, learning animal behaviour and training. She is also a certified canine massage therapist.

“Showing the animals we work and play with how we expect them to fit into our daily lives and what we are asking when we cue and talk to them will improve the communication and trust between you and the animal you are working with.”

Diverse species welcome

Any animal, including birds, stingrays, camels, giraffes, cougars, snakes, beetles and more, can be trained if they have the physical and mental capacity to learn new behaviours. The main criteria is the desire to earn food. The concept is simple.  If you reward your animal for exhibiting a behaviour, this increases the likelihood the behaviour will be repeated. The animal learns through the consequences of their behaviour and the environment, this is referred to as operant conditioning.

The course is open to owners of any species.

“Whether you are doing nail trims on a dog, taking blood from a tiger or teaching a horse to put on a halter, this course is beneficial and will improve the communication and trust between you and the animal you are working with.”

Pat, a former graduate who took the course, raves about it.

"It is without a doubt the best course I have ever taken, not to mention the most enjoyable," says Pat. "With an incredibly skilled, knowledgeable and approachable instructor, I am so pleased that it was offered."

Benefits of this type of training include:

 - Improved animal welfare. Increased aggression is linked to using aversive training techniques.
 - A strong bond and increased trust between trainer and animal.
 - Enrichment and mental stimulation for the animal.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity. The course runs from Sep 07, 2020 to Nov 30, 2020.  You can register now by emailing extended.learning@dal.ca or phoning 902-893-6666.


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus