LOCAL NEWS

New USU police dog being trained to help students with stress

Nov 30, 2023, 8:24 PM | Updated: 10:14 pm

LOGAN — College has always been a stressful place. Grades, exams, and figuring out what you want to do in life, can take its toll on any student.

But all that pressure at Utah State University seems to melt away whenever Sage shows up.

Hannah Whiting, who is a student at Utah State came over to pet Sage when she entered the student union building.

“I love dogs,” Whiting said

There is just something about a 12-week-old puppy that makes everything feel okay.

“I know they’re therapeutic and having a dog there will help students,” student Kiana Lawton said.

Sage is the newest member of the Utah State University Police Department.

She is about as popular on campus as any star athlete.

“People know her and they are calling her out by name and I can’t walk ten feet in some places without her getting mobbed,” Sgt. Shane Nebeker said.

(Jeff Dahdah, KSL TV) (Jeff Dahdah, KSL TV) (Jeff Dahdah, KSL TV) (Jeff Dahdah, KSL TV)

Nebeker is Sage’s handler and loves all the happiness his pup brings to students.

He knows there are going to be plenty of times in the future when things aren’t so happy.

“That was my biggest interest in putting in to be her handler was to make a difference,” Nebeker said.

Sage is being trained as a critical incident response dog.

Basically, she’ll be there to help calm those who are victims of violence, or witnesses to some kind of tragedy, or anything else the campus police department would typically be called to.

“I don’t know what it is about dogs, but for some reason, dogs get it,” he said.

Sage is part of a program new USU police chief Jason Brei started.

It’s similar to the one when he was over the University of Arizona’s campus police.

“I have seen it in place and I have seen it work,” Brei said. “I have been out and have seen them in action. The work they do in calming a situation is amazing.”

Brei and Nebeker have both been in law enforcement long enough to know it can be difficult for people to talk and get their thoughts together after some type of disaster or tragedy.

Sage can help them.

“It does work,” Brei said. “It brings the heart rate down and it brings the mind back and it resets. It allows people to reset and just being in the presence, especially when you are petting the dog, just being in the presence is a reset.”

Sage will also be around campus just meeting students, where a simple hello can make any stress a student might be feeling to go away for a few minutes.

“If she can help do that, then we are better off for it,” said Sgt. Nebeker.

Sage, a Labrador retriever, still must go through training in order to truly be effective at the job she will eventually do. Right now, she is too young for that work.

Brei thinks in about a year she will be ready to go to help those in crisis.

“I think times are changing. The world is changing. You see social media and there is a lot more information at everyone’s disposal and so the approach for law enforcement has to change as well,” Brei said. “Getting out into the community and engaging with the community and meeting them at their level, with where they’re at and not just at where we need to come from is important.”

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New USU police dog being trained to help students with stress