Pilot Program Connects Dogs With Students Overcoming Speech Anxiety

Presenting to Pups
By JoAnna Lou, August 2016
Every semester, my Sheltie, Nemo, participates in a program where we go to one of the local colleges during finals week. The students always say how much they look forward to these visits, and how much comfort the pups provide during a stressful time of year. Bonnie Auslander, director of American University's Kogod Center for Business Communications, was inspired by how much students seemed to benefit from these programs that she decided to connect dogs with students trying to overcome speech anxiety. "As a dog lover, it occured to me what a wonderful thing it would be to practice with a dog," she said. "It's easier to practice with a nonjudgemental presence."

Last semester, the center booked about a dozen sessions using six pups recruited for their calm personalities. Students were sent photos of their canine match in advance and then met in person.

Masters student Zachary Fernebok was skeptical at first, but decided to try it out because he was familiar with the amazing work of therapy dogs. "My background before coming to business school was actually in therater," Zachary says. "So I had experience speaking in front of a lot of people, but never as myself." He found it extremely helpful to practice his final masters presentation in front of Ellie, a Bernese Mountain Dog.

 
 
Jessica Lewinson, who recently practiced a presentation on corporate responsibility, said that the pups made her smile during her speech, but they also play a practical role as well. "It kind of gives you a chance to step back from your presentation, to step out of that track you get stuck in."

For those of us with dogs, I'm sure we've all used our pups as guinea pigs for everything from practicing speeches to testing a new cookie recipe. It's always great to see new ways the human-canine relationship manifests itself. In the words of Bonnie, "what is more human than loving an animal?"