July 22, 2014
What do Auburn University's varsity athletes and bomb sniffing dogs have in common? Actually, a bit more than you may think. Auburn's "Cardio Respiratory Fitness through Puppy Play" class currently features four Tiger student-athletes, including Ronald Delph and Jack Purchase from the men's basketball team, as well as Allyx Purcell and Ashley Neidigh from the women's swimming & diving team.
Auburn's Canine Performance and Science program is one of only two of its kind in the country, helping to condition and train dogs as "detection" dogs. Through extensive training, these dogs will graduate from Auburn, ready to seek out bomb and explosive devices, narcotics, and other paraphernalia in places such as stadiums, airports, train stations and others.
Auburn's dogs are widely used throughout the country, working with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys, and even in the White House. Using mostly Labrador Retriever's, the dogs will be in service anywhere from four to 10 years, which also may include undergoing different forms of research in order to better improve both training methods and also the dogs' abilities.
Twice a week, Auburn's student athletes get the chance to assist with this training. Each class starts out with a long walk to help with the dogs' daily exercise, with students each picking out their desired pup.
"Getting to take out the dogs and walk them around and helping them train has been a lot of fun," said Neidigh.
But it's not just the dogs that get a workout.
"The dogs are constantly pulling us around everywhere for a few hours," Delph said.
Terry Fischer, the Chief Canine Instructor of Auburn's Canine Performance and Science program, says that he sees no difference between the dogs and those who walk them, and that they, just like those in the class, are also athletes.
"They always need to be alert, and they must never get tired," the instructor said.
To ensure this, Fischer and the rest of the performance program staff will put these dogs through drills similar to ones just like those of Auburn's student-athletes, going through sprints, and even water exercises.
"It's really impressive to me to know what they have to do," said Neidigh. "They've been trained to be really well behaved."
After the walk, next up is helping the dogs with detection training. Various mimic explosive and narcotic devices are scattered about, with students getting the chance to help lead their dog to sniff out the object.
"It's been good to get to know some different techniques," Purcell said.
At times students in the class, such as Delph, get to wear an imitation device, helping the dogs with "vapor wake" training, as the dogs will eventually seek them out as the potential danger, just as they would in a real-life situation.
"I put on a fake explosive book bag and I had to walk through a big crowd and the dog was actually able to find me. It was really fun," said Delph.
But despite the serious training that the class offers, Auburn's athletes can't help but smile when it comes to getting to work with the program's puppies. "They are really cute," said Purchase. "Sometimes I just want to take them home," added Delph.
Training begins when the puppies are just weeks old, as Fischer and the rest of the Canine Performance and Science program staff try to get them exposed to as many different environments as possible.
Though a bit of a workout, Delph, Purchase, Purcell and Neidigh have all enjoyed their time in the class, and really have formed a lasting bond with all of Auburn's detection dogs.
"It's really cool to know that one day they could be detection dogs and it is fun to know that we helped out with that. I think it's really awesome," Neidigh said.
So the next time you want to check in with Auburn's student-athletes, just remember, they're not the only "athletes" on campus.
For more information about Auburn's Canine Performance and Science Program, or about the Cardio Respiratory Fitness through Puppy Play class, be sure to check out the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine, and visit www.auburn.edu.
by By Steve Danylyshyn, Auburn Media Relations