Sheepadoodle Serves BVU Community

Therapy dog-in-training, Cooper, gains experience in BVU School of Education classrooms.

This fall, Buena Vista University students benefit from a new furry friend, Cooper. As a future therapy dog, Cooper requires training so he can provide anxiety relief and affection to those who may be struggling with a loss or a stressful situation, and the BVU campus is the perfect place to learn on the job! 

“Cooper attends education classes at BVU so that students who are looking to be teachers have the experience of a therapy dog in the classroom setting,” says Dr. Callé Friesen '06, Associate Professor of Education, and the handler of the 10-month-old Sheepadoodle–a cross between an Old English sheepdog and a poodle.

Dr. Calle Friesen teaches a class with Cooper the therapy dog.
Freshman Jonah Siebert, left, high-fives Dr. Callé Friesen, BVU Associate Professor of Education, who serves as handler for Cooper, who is training to serve as a therapy dog.

Certain traits make a good therapy dog. The best dogs tend to have an even temperament, calm demeanor, and enjoy playful and affectionate interaction. There are three different types of support animals: emotional support animals, therapy animals, and service animals. Therapy dogs must be certified, are trained to support more than just their owner, and are often used in settings such as schools, hospitals, and long-term care facilities.

“As a puppy, you can lay the dog on its back and if the dog relaxes and goes into a ‘starfish’ pose, it is a good sign of the dog’s temperament and the ability to relax and go with the flow,” says Friesen. There are some other signifiers such as mid-rank in the litter, non-aggressive play, patience, and a willing to please, all important traits for a career in supporting and comforting human friends.

Therapy dogs like Cooper begin training at around five months. The dog first passes the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen training, followed by therapy training which may be specific to the setting where the dog and handler will be working or volunteering. While training may happen early in a pup's life, therapy dogs must wait until they are one year old to become officially AKC Therapy Dog certified.

An important part of a therapy dog’s training occurs through interactions with people. Cooper is trained to only interact with people who have welcomed his friendship.

Cooper, a therapy dog, attends classes at BVU.
Freshman Mia Norton pets Cooper the therapy dog.

“If anyone wants to welcome Cooper, they must hold their hand out. Cooper then comes up and places his nose in their hand, solidifying the relationship,” says Friesen.

In BVU classrooms, Cooper circulates during class and mingles with students who have welcomed him. He is trained to sense anxiety and tension and may give more attention to individuals who exhibit these signs. On days where there may be stress in a classroom, Cooper absorbs those feelings and shows his handler he needs a break by returning to his platform to rest. He may also stay closer to Friesen if he is tiring.

Not only does Cooper offer learning opportunities for BVU’s undergraduates, he also helps students gain practical experience. Daren Jacques, an intern with BVU’s Counseling Services and a student in the mental health counseling master’s program, interacts with Cooper and campus students during “Walks with Cooper” every Wednesday at noon. Cooper and Friesen also keep weekly office hours in the Wellness Center’s Relaxation Room.