Salt Lake County teacher hopes to bring therapy dog ​​to her classroom

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah teacher hopes to add a unique teacher’s assistant to her class. One with four legs and tons of fur.

Whitney Stewart is a Salt Lake County middle school teacher who took the time this summer to professionally train her dog, Dekker, to become a therapy dog.

“He has the natural temperament you want to see in a therapy dog,” Stewart said. “He’s just very warm.”

Dekker worked on leash manners and responded to different stimuli during his training.

Whitney believes Dekker can meet the emotional and educational needs of students.

“We serve many immigrant families, refugees and those living below the poverty line. It can come with trauma and hardship,” Stewart said.

Therapy dogs often sit with children who are learning to read, often relieving some of the pressure that can be felt in a difficult school environment.

“The kid can read to the dog, so you have a non-judgmental audience,” Stewart said.

According to Alliance of Therapy Dogs based in Wyomingstudents who participated in a canine reading program increased their reading fluency between 12% and 30%.

Dekker still faces several obstacles before being officially allowed to enter the classroom. He must pass a certification test and receive district approval.

Whitney will also have to set a schedule that allows Dekker to work no more than two hours a day, and she won’t be allowed to manipulate him while she teaches.

She is convinced that the benefits Dekker brings to her students are worth overcoming any obstacle.

“An animal is empathetic. It will teach children to take care of another creature,” she said. “He was walking around and found an old lady. He leaned on her and she started crying and said, ‘I just lost my dog. How did he know?

Dekker will take his therapy dog ​​certification test later this month.

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