Ag Career Pathway going to the dogs. And that’s a good thing
Published December 28, 2021
Q: Do dogs belong at school?
A: You bet. At least they do for any school that wants to utilize the calming power of therapy dogs and - at the same time - incorporate the canines as one element of a career pathway.
This is why Rolling Meadows High School hosts a dog therapy training program that provides a learning opportunity for handlers and dogs alike even as it meshes perfectly with the school’s Agriculture Career Pathway, which features, among other elements, an introduction to veterinary science.
Typically offered to two cohorts a year, the program allows students to train with professionals from the Masonic Association of Service and Therapy Dogs to earn certification as handlers of therapy dogs.
Students and staff learn the in’s and out’s of handling therapy dogs and their interactions with people, including those with disabilities. The handlers and their dogs work their way through many varied training exercises. One exercise, for example, consists of walking the dogs past treats on the floor and having the dogs practice not taking treats - an exercise to build the canines’ self-discipline and ability to focus on the commands and tasks at hand.
Several Rolling Meadows staff members who have certified therapy dogs bring their dogs in, making them available for students to use during training. Instructors also bring in therapy dogs for the students’ work. As yet another alternative, students may bring in their own dogs for training and certification.
Rolling Meadows completed its first successful full certification program in the fall of 2019, according to Kendall Wright, agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. This current cohort has six staff members and eight students learning and working through the certification process. Out of these eight students, two have been bringing in their own dogs to get certified along with them. Previously certified students are also welcome to assist in training and certification.
Once the dogs are certified, they can participate in school events, like football games and are made available to help alleviate stress during finals week and standardized testing days.
Wright loves this addition to the Agriculture pathway and especially appreciates the way in which it complements the school’s agricultural biology, veterinary science, food science and sustainable urban agriculture classes.
“This program allows students the chance to get hands-on experience with live animals and within this pathway, that is an awesome experience,” Wright said.