Texas Tech University's Canine Olfaction Laboratory "PhDog" Program
The Haven ACS and Texas Tech University's Canine Olfaction Lab have teamed up together for a unique program in which dogs are awarded with a "PhDog" degree. Please read below for more information on this exciting program.
Photos by Brad Tollefson
Addie puffed up with pride as Nathan Hall presented her with her hard-earned diploma. Father Eddie Cordova smiled and patted his girl on the back as attendees clapped for the recent graduate, proud of the progress she made through the university program.
Mixed-breed dog Addie, along with her five other classmates at the Haven Animal Care Shelter, successfully completed requirements to earn a Ph.Dog degree, offered by the Canine Olfaction Lab in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech.
The year-old program with near 100 undergraduate and graduate students is doing work and research to better understand and help companion animals, mainly dogs and cats, explained director of the lab and assistant professor Hall.
“It’s growing, it’s a lot of fun,” Hall said. “You get to play with a lot of pups.”
The academic program teaches students about nutrition, health, training and behavior of companion animals, Hall said. They get hands-on experience at The Haven, where they pick a few dogs each semester to train with the goal of increasing their chance of adoption.
Cordova, who is pursuing a master’s degree in animal science and works with the lab to train dogs, said when he first started working with Addie, she was very shy. A few weeks into training, she opened up.
“It just made me fall in love with her, even more than I already was. I didn’t want her to go back to an environment where she could regress,” Cordova said. “I just couldn’t not have her in the family.”
Addie came to the shelter after having nine puppies earlier this year. The Haven Facebook page described her as a cuddler looking for a loving home. She found one with Cordova and his two other pups, including a fellow Ph.Dog graduate, Norman.
Dr. Brenda Wilbanks, owner of The Haven, said her no-kill shelter with about 100 animals got involved with the department when Sasha Protopopova, another assistant professor of companion animal science, wanted to show students the differences between animal shelters.
The partnership grew from there. Wilbanks said she has an endless supply of animals for the researchers to work with who need extra help to find their fur-ever homes. Shelter dogs are wonderful, she said, but have often had hard lives and require extra love and attention. The Canine Olfaction Lab assists with that.
Researchers in the companion animal science program, a part of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, conduct a variety of other research about shelter and working animals.
Hall, who owns what he described as a “Florida mutt dog” named Bessa, said all dogs are cute, but recently completed research that found that adorability peaks at a certain point for pooches.
In the study, participants were shown pictures of three breeds of dogs at different life stages, from recently born through seven months old, Hall explained. The sample breeds had different looks. Cane corso puppies are somewhat wrinkly and mature to be big dogs. White shepherd pups have fuzzier fur and grow to a more medium size. Jack Russell terriers were the smallest breed studied.
All pups were rated cutest somewhere between 6-8 weeks old, even the Cane corso, which was ranked the least cute breed. This coincides with around the age canines tend to wean from their mothers, boding well for pups ready for adoption, Hall said.
“Tiny fluff balls: not so cute,” Hall said of the findings. “Weaning, starting to move around: adorable. Once they get older, they’re cute, but not the same. Once they’re adults, I mean, you love your own dog, right?”
Cuteness is a factor potential dog owners consider, but looks aren’t everything, Hall said. The dog and owner’s personalities and needs are also important aspects to consider when adopting, he said.
At The Haven, Wilbanks said most adopters know what they are looking for in a dog. She said age, look, size and energy level are some of the key things people consider. Everybody prefers a different kind of dog, she has found.
It is rewarding for Wilbanks to know there are people like herself, Hall and the other companion animal researchers at Tech who are working to create better lives for all of man’s best friends.
“The more animal people you can get together, working together, the better it is,” she said.