CASNR Companion Canines

Dr. Protopopova and students working with a dog at the Lubbock animal shelter.

Dog shelters sometimes get a bad rap. The negative connotation that often accompanies dog shelters makes them seem like a scary place from the outside. However, if you take a closer look, these shelters are no different from the dairy farmer or hog raiser, who is just trying to give their animals the best possible lives they can. That’s exactly what Sasha Protopopova Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Companion Animals Science is here to prove. With the help of Protopopva, the Texas Tech University animal science department has recently added a companion animal science program, which focuses on animal welfare and well-being as well as human-animal interactions.

This new program will study dogs just like the one you might have running around in your backyard, to determine the correlation between behavior traits and adoption rates. Directed by Protopopova, the program focuses on the study of animal behavior in dogs. Their main goal? Get more dogs adopted from shelters.

Protopopova has focused her career on the behavior of dogs. As a dog lover herself, Protopopova is very passionate about this program and is excited to share her canine expertise with the animal science department of Texas Tech. Protopopova utilizes dogs at the at the Lubbock Animal Shelter, the Haven Animal Care Shelter and dogs from the community. With the help of these dogs, she is improving the lives of current and future animals.

The question that I ask at shelters is if we can increase adoption rates through behavior training in dogs.Sasha Protopopova

Protopopova has already seen immense success through her studies. During her dissertation research, she was able to actually increase adoption rates within the shelters she researched. This accomplishment gained the support of an animal welfare program called Mattie’s Fund, which gives research grants to people striving to improve the lives of animals.

This program is helping Protopopova take her already established and proven practices to shelters all across the country. With the help of Mattie’s Fund, her recent experiment will recruit six shelters across the nation “I want to improve adoption rates on a large national scale,” says Protopopova.

Though Protopopova may sound like a hero to shelters, dogs and dog lovers alike, she is no stranger to the backlash from animal rights activist groups. Protopopova describes instances of the aggressive disapproval she has dealt with, especially regarding the lives of animals living in shelters.
“It is typical to get threats from these animal right groups of releasing these animals into the wild, which basically is a death sentence for those animals,” Protopopova says.

Protopopova’s goal is to improve the lives of dogs by getting them adopted from the shelters into homes where the can be cared for. Keeping these animals off the streets and improving their chances of finding a safe and caring home is of utmost importance to her research.

Along with studying behavior of shelter dogs, Protopopova looks into other aspects of improving the lives of these dogs through focusing on disease transmission and predicting which dogs are going to get sick in the shelter.
“The idea here is to prevent illness and treat animals faster,” she says.

Protopopova will be rearing her new departmental program along side Nathan Hall Ph.D. Hall, also earned his doctorate at the University of Florida where he studied behavior analysis on dogs.

“I have always been interested in animals and working with animals,” Hall said. “When I was growing up, I didn’t even know what Ph.D.s were.”

Hall discovered his career path during college, where he started his journey in the study of companion animal behavior with the dream of becoming a vet. He later decided he was more interested in the research side of things.

Contrasting from Protopopva’s work, Hall focused on the training of military dogs, specifically focusing on the study of behavioral techniques and genetic analysis to select optimal dogs to increase rate and selection in which dogs are used for military purposes. Hall studies military dogs that are imported over from Europe. The Lackland Air Force Base Located in San Antionio, Texas, sends teams over to Europe to pick out dogs to begin the training protocol for military purposes.

Hall explained that only 60-65 percent of these dogs actually become military dogs, while the other 40 percent are taken out of the program and adopted out to other training agencies or to become pet dogs.
Hall wants to improve this system to ensure the dogs being purchased and brought over form other locations are still given the best lives possible and reducing the rate of dogs that need to be adopted out.

“We are interested in using behavioral techniques to figure out how to select optimal dogs from the get-go in order to increase the rate of dogs which succeed in the training program,” Hall said.

While the companion animal science program may be brand new to Texas Tech, Protopopva and Hall are no strangers to the subject. Companion Animal Science classes will begin to be offered in the spring and fall semesters of 2017. Protopoova and hall are eager to recruit students to join them in their classes, “Students can get a wide variety of experience with companion animal science,” says Hall.