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Dog training demonstration helps students learn about conditioning
Havoc breaks loose in the Animal Sciences program, all in the name of learning
There was no doubt that Animal science teacher Michael D’Abruzzo loves his job. So much so, he is willing to be attacked by a dog as part of his lesson on animal training.
“Everything in our classes is hands-on here,” Mr. D’Abruzzo said.
As if to prove this point, one afternoon he found himself pushed up against the wall of Building C on the Center for Career Services campus. Havoc, a Dutch shepherd, held him by his armpit. The dog would not let go until given the command to do so. Fortunately for the teacher, he was wearing a protective suit and contending with a well-trained dog. When the animal’s owner gave a command, Havoc released Mr. D’Abruzzo and joined his owner by his side as if nothing had happened.
The teacher was able to walk away unharmed.
“It’s me vs. you Havoc,” Mr. D’Abruzzo told the dog before another assault began.
When he asked his students if they wanted to see one more attack, the students cheered an enthusiastic “yes” and Havoc, once again, latched onto Mr. D’Abruzzo. Through all of these attacks, the teacher taunted the dog. Because of his training, the dog recognized that taunting meant he needed to keep his grip.
Prior to the demonstration, the students had learned that Havoc, through his training, enjoys the fight. The more the suspect struggles or screams, the tighter his grip becomes in order to subdue the individual. If the suspect stops struggling or yelling, Havoc will lose interest. To the dog, it is a fun game and exercise.
“That demonstration was pretty crazy,” commented Brandon Gallagher, a student from Irvington High School.
Havoc was a special guest of the Animal Sciences classes on Dec. 13. He was joined by the more calm and friendlier Kara, a Belgian Malinois. Their handler, Nathaniel Bonilla, was a guest speaker. He and his dogs were visiting the class to discuss how dogs are trained as the students studied concepts related to conditioning.
Mr. D’Abruzzo and Mr. Bonilla have known each other for years and have even worked together training dogs. Mr. Bonilla owns his own dog training business, “Nate the Dog Man,” in Peekskill.
During the class, Mr. Bonilla and Kara demonstrated appropriate techniques used to train a dog. Among them were treats, pets and letting her know she was “a good girl,” all of which reinforces good behavior. Gentle tugs on Kara’s leash were indications she was not behaving properly and the behavior needed to be corrected.
All of these positive reinforcements helped Kara remain calm in an unfamiliar environment as she was being further trained on using a leash, heeling and other good behaviors.
Havoc, as his name indicates, has a different personality. He has been trained in aggressive techniques. Using the breed’s natural forceful behavior, Mr. Bonilla has trained him to corner or impede a suspect. Mr. Bonilla specializes in training working dogs, such as those used by police.
The dog and trainer have worked together for a long time and Havoc is very responsive to Mr. Bonilla’s commands. For example, when Mr. D’Abruzzo walked into the fenced-in area where the attack demonstration took place, Havoc barked at him, but did not move until told to do so by his trainer. He also did not let go of Mr. D’Abruzzo until he was told to do so.
Mr. D’Abruzzo assured his students that he and Havoc actually have a good relationship and have spent time together with no “attack” taking place as a result of the dog’s training.
As Kara and Havoc worked through their different training exercises, the class discussed important concepts in negative and positive reinforcement, as well as negative and positive punishments. They were able to point out each while observing Mr. Bonilla working with his dogs.
“I want you to learn everything about animal training,” Mr. D’Abruzzo told his students.
The purpose of training a dog, whether it’s to be aggressive or a well-behaved family pet, Mr. Bonilla said, is so humans and animals can communicate. Through a variety of training techniques, the animal, and thus the human, learn what behavior is expected and what the signals are to indicate when certain behavior is not appropriate. All of this helps the two get along better.
Much of the work, Mr. Bonilla said, is actually training the pet owner.
A class such as this, Mr. D’Abruzzo said, is one way he helps to spark his students’ interest. In his classes he brings in components of as many animal-related fields as he can. This enables his students to be introduced to a broad range of work they can do with animals in the future.