Students get training experience in unique Canine course

Published 20 September 2011

dogtrainingA new course at the University of New England is giving students experience in the training of dogs used in a variety of working contexts.

A residential school at UNE last week for those undertaking the course by distance education had the students working with beagles in training routines for quarantine detector dogs (as pictured here), and seeing demonstrations by dogs trained to detect termites in buildings.

“It was the best residential school ever,” said one of the students, Kelly Walton from Sydney. “I’ve always loved animals, and have had dogs since I was nine.”

Kelly, who is studying for a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Zoology, interrupted a career in television production to follow her interest in animals. She and her fellow students agreed that the new unit – “Working Canines” – was opening up new options for careers with animals. “I’d really like to work in animal welfare one day,” Kelly said.

The “Working Canines” unit is part of the Bachelor of Animal Science degree program introduced at UNE this year, and it is also available – as an elective unit – to students in related degree programs. The Bachelor of Animal Science program has three specialist majors: Livestock Production, Wildlife Management, and Canine and Equine Science, with the Canine and Equine Science major being the first of its kind in Australia.

Geoffrey O’Neil, the quarantine dog handler who conducted the detector dog training sessions, said: “We’re putting what the students are learning into a real operational context, and giving them some ideas about employment opportunities.” It was Mr O’Neil’s wife, Alix O’Neil, who demonstrated termite detection with her own Labradors that travelled with them from Sydney.

“These students will be well prepared for employment,” Mr O’Neil said, “and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, for example, could potentially recruit graduates who have already done a lot of the training the Service would otherwise have had to put them through.”

During the four-day residential school, the students also travelled to a farm to see a sheep dog demonstration, to the Armidale Greyhound Racing Club to see racing greyhounds in training, practised obedience training with dogs of mixed breeds, and saw a sled dog demonstration by Neen Brown – a local woman who is the only Australian ever to have entered the Ititarod event in Alaska.

“There’s a wide range of uses for detector dogs,” said Dr Wendy Brown, the UNE Senior Lecturer who coordinates the Canine and Equine major of the Bachelor of Animal Science degree program, “and it’s expanding. There’s a big demand for expert dog handlers in customs, military, police and corrective services, and attention is now turning to the use of dogs in fields such as wildlife conservation and cancer detection. There’s actually a world-wide shortage of detector dogs, so there will definitely be a role for our graduates in the future.

“We’ve had positive feedback from people in the relevant industries, and they’re keen to employ people with this kind of training – training that hasn’t been available at tertiary level until the introduction of this course.”