CLEARWATER, Fla. - When Elaina Franklin of Positive Solutions Animal Training gives a command to her dog, Frankie, he obeys, but Franklin's commands are a little different. With a single-word command, "create," Frankie has the power to decide what he wants to do.
Franklin says this method, called Creative Canine, allows Frankie to express his personality. It's a form of training she first used on dolphins while working at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
"That was the first time that I saw a dolphin do the behavior and I was fascinated by it. It just shows a level of intellect so I decided to train it with my dog at home, which I successfully did," said Franklin.
Dr. Lauren Highfill, a psychology professor in animal studies at Eckerd College, has been researching the effectiveness of Creative Canine.
"Ultimately, we want to see if our dogs who have this training are able to better problem solve when given a task," said Dr. Highfill.
Dogs in the study already have a grasp on basic commands.
"Just basically reinforce when the dog would do something different, so if it repeated 'sit' multiple times, you would try to discourage that behavior and eventually the dog starts to understand that it needs to do something new, something different each time it hears the create cue," said Dr. Highfill.
Favorite treats and toys can help.
Dr. Highfill says she thinks this training could be particularly beneficial for service dogs.
"Allows them to think 'OK, I have to think anew. I'm not quite there. I need to change my strategy,' and so building that into some of the service industry, especially nose work, might be helpful," said Dr. Highfill.
It could also be a coping mechanism.
"At the vet hospital, if he's in an area where he seems a little stressed or nervous, I'll ask him to create because he has so much fun doing it and it just gets his mind thinking about other things," said Franklin.
It's also positive reinforcement.
"When we're meeting their needs mentally then sometimes these destructive, inappropriate behaviors just start to slip away," said Franklin.
Because, like their owners, dogs each have their own unique personality.
"I think it's just important as pet owners to think that the dog can have chances to think for itself," said Dr. Highfill.
There is a Facebook group for pet owners interested in the Creative Canine project. For information, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheCreativeCanine/.