First there were movies the likes of “Marley & Me,” “Beethoven” and “Turner & Hooch.”
And then came “The Dog Whisperer,” an SJC 100 course that – like those Hollywood movies – paid tribute to the strong bond between humans and dogs. Offered every fall since 2015, the course gave students an opportunity to demonstrate their love for dogs. And last semester they did just that, by donating gifts to the Guide Dog Foundation in Smithtown, Long Island.
“I wanted to create an SJC 100 course that would allow freshman students to feel comfortable discussing various college-related issues with a non-threatening approach,” said Debra Zaech, assistant dean of academic services and lecturer at SJC Long Island. “Conversation focusing on dogs facilitates communication.”
Twenty students took Zaech’s class titled “The Dog Whisperer,” which focused on various topics that helped incoming first-year students transition into the College.
“Such topics as self-esteem, depression, anxiety attachment and ethics helped the students discover themselves and others,” Zaech said. “The topics afforded them the opportunity to get to know others, explore their own positive qualities and make moral decisions regarding college and personal life. Throughout the semester, we also discussed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Ainsworth and Bowlby’s theories of attachment, Kübler-Ross’s theory on death and dying, Erick Erikson’s psychosocial theory, Watson’s classical conditioning and Skinner’s operant conditioning, among others.”
Conversations focusing on dogs facilitate communication.”
-Debra Zaech, assistant dean of academic services and lecturer at SJC Long Island
In order to make her students more comfortable discussing these topics, she had them first apply the ideas to people, and then to dogs.
“As discussion is often difficult when speaking about theory, once dogs are introduced, students feel more comfortable expressing their opinions,” she said. “They shared their interesting, humorous and heartwarming stories about their relationships with their dogs and creatively applied these to the theories we discussed.”
Zaech’s class also spent a lot of time focusing on issues with depression and anxiety, as college students sometimes struggle with these feelings. After looking at Beck’s depression inventory scale, the students modified it to apply the concept to dogs, creating their very own Dog Depression Scale. The students were moved to action, wanting to help dogs that may be struggling with depression. They created a list of objects that may offer comfort, such as blankets, dog toys, dog treats, towels, pillows and grooming accessories, and they decided to donate these items to a foundation in need.
Earlier in the semester, the class was visited by Guide Dog Foundation volunteer Lisa Rossano after SJC freshman Brigid Nash recommended Zaech contact her.
“Lisa spoke to my class and explained the training involved in therapy dogs and guide dogs, their importance to the disabled and the veterans, and how donations are necessary and appreciated,” Zaech said. “She brought her dogs Olympia and Andy with her, and the class fell in love.”
“Throughout the rest of the semester, most of the students left donations in my office,” Zaech said. “Afterward, my husband and I delivered the items to the Guide Dog Foundation in Smithtown.”
Due to their sizable donation, the class received a certificate from the Foundation.
This class will be offered again to first-year students in fall 2018.