American University in Washington D.C. is giving students the opportunity to practice their presentations in front of a live audience – that audience being a few furry dogs.
The Kogod School of Business has proposed this opportunity as a way of helping those who have anxiety over public speaking, and giving them the chance to help combat this before entering the working world.
Caron Martinez, director of the Kogod Center for Business Communications, says, “Being with the audience dog makes you happy and relaxed, and you do a better job.”
Since the program started a year ago, Martinez said that the students who participated have reported that their nervousness decreased following their 30-minute sessions of speaking in front of a dog.
These eight dogs are not trained dogs either, but are all “local, average” dogs with no special training, Martinez mentions.
“They’re not trained dogs. We’re looking for dogs who are very secure, who are loving, who will maintain eye contact.”
In which case, sometimes the dogs are not always cooperative and lose interest, but research has found that dogs have a calming effect on people, even if they are unfamiliar with one another.
While there have been noticeable differences in people’s presentation skills since the program started, the Business School faced a few hurdles when it started.
At first, the dogs could only enter the business school through one side door and, although that has since changed, the rule that a third person must be in the room has remained a must.
There must always be someone else in the room with the dog while the student is giving their speech, and the dog must always be leashed and wearing a red bandana to distinguish their role.
The dogs are also rewarded for their participation with treats, but students must sign a waiver acknowledging the “inherent risks in being near, handling, walking or petting any animals.”