SLIS Student in the Teacher Librarian Program Starts Therapy Dog Program at Ottumwa High School

Jen Chesnut, current SLIS student in the Teacher Librarian Program, recently started a program that is benefiting students and community members alike in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Jen teaches science at Ottumwa High School and would often bring her Goldendoodle dog, Gus, to school with her on teacher work days. One day a school administrator remarked that Gus was so well-behaved that he should come along to school all the time.

The idea took hold, and Jen began looking into options to train and certify Gus as a therapy dog. Therapy dogs are used to provide emotional and physical support in a number of settings, including schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.

Gus began the training program when he was four years old with the goal of passing a certification test through the Therapy Dogs International organization.

“He was already a well-behaved dog,” said Jen. “When we decided to move ahead with training him as a therapy dog, we went to an advanced obedience class and a therapy dog preparation class in Des Moines.”

Special training for therapy dogs focuses on a number of skills beyond basic obedience, including making sure the animal can ignore other dogs, will not be too social with people, will be comfortable with equipment in schools, libraries and other facilities, and learning how to approach people who may be in wheelchairs or using crutches or walkers.

After about six months of focused training, Gus passed the therapy certification test on his first try. In 2016 the Ottumwa Board of Education approved a board policy on therapy dogs, allowing Jen and Gus to fill that role. She began bringing him to her classroom for a few hours a day, a few days each week.

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