Shelter Dogs Bring Joy to Early College Classes | WDVM25 and DCW50

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WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — Most students aren’t usually thrilled with an 8 a.m. class, but a psychology class at Shenandoah University takes a different approach to applying course topics to the real world with the help of some special furry friends.

“I’m not going to lie, the dog was one of the main reasons I took the course,” student Lila Shipley said. “He’s definitely grown a lot since starting this class.”

Dr. Rodney Bragdon’s behavior modification class is not your average psychology class. This semester, the class is taking in 5 dogs from the Winchester SPCA as part of a service-learning program with the goal of increasing the dogs’ chances of being adopted once the semester is over.

“When we look through the lens of a behavioral psychologist, behavior is behavior. It doesn’t matter if it’s animal behavior or human behavior,” Bragdon said.

Bragdon translates lesson theories into dog training like classical conditioning – or linking an action to a response to give a dog a treat after it sits on command.

“We really study behavioral principles in psychology. So almost every week most of the topics that we study in class may be relevant to working with dogs,” Bragdon said.

Sophomore Meredith Lloyd is one of four college students who adopt a dog during the semester. She said the lessons she is learning are helping her well outside of the classroom.

“This course and just training with the dogs is so much more than just reading chapters from a textbook. There are so many life lessons involved because you are actually dealing with a living being that breathes something” , said Lloyd.

Once the course is over, foster parents will have the first dibs to adopt their dog. Shipley said there’s no way her pup, Spud, is leaving her, and she has even bigger plans for him.

“I hope he will be trained enough to make him a therapy dog…I want to take him to different clinics where I will work or other practices. I hope if I find a good workout they’ll let me take it with me. I want him to work with autistic children,” she said.

Dr. Bragdon assesses students’ progress with their puppies with a video diary program.

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