DENVER -- Dogs make great companions, but a unique program and the University of Denver are proving that they also make great study partners.
A group of DU students, who are pursuing their master's degrees in social work, are using class time to play and learn alongside dogs.
"One of the questions that we'll be playing around with is how you would do a mental status exam," said Philip Tedeschi, who is a DU professor and executive director of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection.
Tedeschi says DU features one of the only social work programs in the world where students can train to work with therapy dogs. In many cases, the students are working with their own dogs, which are also working toward certification as therapy animals.
Abbey Westphal is taking the course with her dog Jables. In a short amount of time, both she and Jables will be certified to work with a wide range of settings.
"He served as a good therapy dog for me, so I can only imagine what other people he will affect,” Westphal said. "He will be coming with me to my internship over the school year, working with my clients in therapy sessions."
Both the students and the dogs are also taking what they've learned beyond the clinical setting. The DU students work with pet owners at regular events located at Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet in Aurora.
"In many cases, people will have an animal and still not know that much about them," Tedeschi said.
In addition to hosting the events, Chuck & Don's also supports the program with scholarships for students and a sponsorship for a therapy-dog-in-training, named Samarra.
"She might be an A- or something around that,” Tedeschi said. “We don't want her to get too sure of herself at this point however."
Though they all have a learning curve, Tedeschi admits that the dogs are naturals.
"Dogs recognize human communication stronger than any other animal,” he said. “Which is what makes them such incredibly suitable participants for working in therapeutic environments."
The students agree.
"Children who won't speak at all, they won't say a word, won't look at you, you have an animal in the room and the interaction changes completely. They're laughing, they're smiling," said Coley Pechter, a DU grad student in the school of social work.
Get more information on the University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Interaction.