“Man’s best friend.” That’s been a standard description for the special relationship between humans and dogs for years.
Looking to explore the dynamics of the interaction between people and dogs, and pets, in general, Dr. Andrew Beer broadened the scope of the approach to his “Psychology of Human and Animal Interaction” class by incorporating a service-learning component in partnership with the Spartanburg Humane Society.
“As often as possible, I try to use my research to inform (about) what we do in the classroom,” noted Beer. “This work with the Humane Society really brought everything in line in this regard.”
Students participating in this course were responsible for assisting with various activities at the Humane Society, such as walking and exercising the dogs, creating dog toys and treats, tearing us newspaper, painting kennels, and bottle feeding kittens.
An integral part of the collaboration involved having the students incorporate what they’d learned in their psychology courses.
“During their walks with the dogs, I asked my students to use a standardized canine personality questionnaire to assess each dog,” said Beer. “I also asked them to use the principles they’ve learned in class to teach the dogs how to do things like sit or stay which makes the dogs more attractive to potential adopters and allows students to get some hands-on experience with learning paradigms.”
For Beer, an associate professor of Psychology, the connection is all about gaining an appreciation of the individuality of each dog and understanding the nature and power of the human/animal bond.
“I want students to gain knowledge in the methods we use to study both human and animal behavior and mental processes in order to appreciate our similarities and differences through this lens,” he added. “We take behavioral variation in humans for granted; however, until recently people had not seriously studied the ways in which members of other species differed from one another.”
Students were asked to keep a blog of their activities and volunteer time which, for Beer, offered insight into the different ways they found their way to the experience.
In addition to the benefit of their work at the Humane Society, being part of something in the community is obviously valuable, according to Beer, as students get a sense of connectedness with others which is part of the reason he incorporates service-learning in his teaching.
“One somewhat fair criticism of academics is that we are disconnected from ‘real life,’” he said. “Service-learning is one of the ways we can blur the lines between what is academic and what is practical.”
Furthermore, he notes that there are a lot of interesting people with useful skills at USC Upstate and the community at large should feel comfortable drawing upon that energy and expertise, as well as seeing the university as a resource and part of what makes our area a good place to be.
“I want students to feel that being intellectually curious is a good way to live one’s life and that its implications go beyond the classroom,” emphasized Beer. “Learning and wanting to learn can make our lives better in small, everyday ways.”