While the primary focus of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center (WDC) is to train dogs that spend their lives serving individuals and the nation, and to pursue research to improve that service, insights and knowledge developed at the Center can also benefit pet dogs and their owners. Since 2013, the WDC has shared its expertise with the general public by offering science-based classes in obedience and other subjects. A new crop of classes is starting this spring.
“I like to compare it to NASCAR and the Indy 500,” says Kathleen Kelsey, a research coordinator at the WDC. “Tire companies make huge investments into research and development to create the best possible product for elite racecars that operate in extreme conditions. But my Chevy pickup truck benefits, too. It’s the same with the research at the Working Dog Center; it trickles down to benefit the general public and their beloved pet dogs.”
Canine participants in WDC courses can learn from the same trainers and Penn Vet behavior experts who work with the Center’s detection dogs-in-training—dogs that have gone on to serve in a variety of capacities, from search and rescue, to diabetes alert, to police K-9 units.
The offered courses fall into two categories: six-week courses on topics of interest to a broad swath of dog owners—including “Puppy Socialization,” “Advanced Puppy,” “Basic Obedience,” and “Beginner Agility”—and more specialized classes offered on an occasional basis, including “K9 First Aid,” “Fit to Work,” and “Tricks Class.”
Classes aimed at young puppies emphasize socialization, reward-based training and practical topics such as housebreaking, crate training, and feeding, while also preparing owners to handle unwanted behaviors such as chewing and jumping. Older puppies and their owners can benefit from obedience classes that teach basic skills, including sit, down, and stay, and help owners learn how to motivate and hold the attention of their dogs.
More advanced classes, such as “Beginner Agility,” will teach dogs and their handlers how to navigate jumps, weaves, and obstacles using WDC facilities. The “Fit to Work” class is aimed at improving the strength and conditioning of working dogs to avoid injury and improve performance.
Proceeds from the classes support the work and mission of the Working Dog Center and Penn Vet.