Chill! Undergrad student examines stress in working dogs

AG Animal Science Rescue Dog Training

The dog is humans’ best friend and we rely on them for many things. But just like us, dogs can also become stressed out, leading to health problems and declining performance. At Southern Illinois University Carbondale, one of our undergraduate students is trying find out how to mitigate this problem. And she’s doing by conducting real-life research. Dakota Discepolo, a junior in animal science from Harvard, is working with Erin Perry, assistant professor of animal science, food and nutrition, on a series of experiments aimed at finding ways to detect stress in canines. The pair take certified search-and-rescue canines through a day of specialized training at SIU, noting what behaviors they display and then looking at how those correlate with physiological indicators of stress, such as hormone production and core body temperature. The research began in April 2016, and although their analysis is ongoing, Discepolo, shown here in the lower center of the picture working with Perry and the dog, Zorro, has seen some behaviors that might correlate to stress, including failing to follow handler commands and sniffing non-target odors.

At SIU, undergraduates have the opportunity to participate in research from the moment they arrive on campus. “Doing research has not only shown me that there is a need for creativity in science, but it has also made me realize that science can make positive changes in the world,” Discepolo said. “I have discovered a passion for research that I wasn’t aware I had before. This newly found passion has impacted my goals for my career and future. Research has opened up both educational and career opportunities that I wouldn’t have thought possible before.”

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