What Presence’s Office Dogs Can Teach Us About Student Affairs

When you enter Presence’s headquarters, you’ll find three dozen passionate team members, whiteboards covered in our latest ideas, and dog beds — lots and lots of dog beds. 

You might think we’re starting a canine residence hall. We’re not (at least not that I’ve been made aware of), but many of our teammates are proud dog parents who, thanks to our dog-friendly office policy, bring their pups by to spend the day. 

We adore these canine visitors, not just because they’re adorable and fun, but because they can teach us a lot about student affairs! Like with students, we seek their engagement, delight in their growth, and look for opportunities for connection.

Here are some of those top lessons, gleaned from the unique personality of each pup. Just for kicks, I’ve added in the student leadership position I bet they’d hold, if only they had the chance to attend canine college. 

Pico

Photo of Pico, a 5-year-old chihuahua/poodle/bichon frise mix who is ultra playful, funky, and loyal. He'd make a great outdoor exploration trip leader.

Pico was described by the animal shelter as “nervous” and “shy.” But just a few days after Happiness Ally Carolina Elizalde brought him home, he started to open up — becoming a super playful, friendly pup who is now beloved by all of Team Presence.

He helps reminds us that, sometimes, all a student needs to feel confident is someone who supports them and believes in their potential.

Luna

Photo of Luna, a 3-year-old goldendoodle who is goofy, sassy, and independent. She'd make a great orientation leader.

With her neverending energy and clear exuberance for life, Luna elicits smiles wherever she goes. She serves as an excellent reminder that, sometimes, the best way to motivate students isn’t by spewing out specific advice; it’s by showcasing your enthusiasm and optimism for shared goals

Griffin

Photo of Griffin, a 5-year-old Welsh terrier who's peculiar, feisty, and opinionated. He'd made a great intramural sports student coach.

Opinionated students can earn a bad reputation. You may see them as nuisances, always looking to throw a wrench into your plans. But consider: They’re probably just passionate. So, invite them to channel their energy into tasks that they can take ownership of

That’s exactly what Engagement Specialist Brittany Mijatovic does with feisty Griffin. She lets him play with toys and run around, which he adores. You can translate this to your opinionated students; just be sure to challenge them with something a bit more complex than a game of fetch. 

Kai

photo of Kai, a 1-year-old corgi who is visionary, charismatic, and driven. He would be great president of the future leaders of America club.

Don’t discount the goofballs. Take Kai, for example. This tiny corgi’s wide eyes and frantic energy make everyone laugh, but he’s not only a class clown. Once anyone gets to know this determined pup, they realize that he showcases tremendous leadership potential, too. It’s just waiting to be unleashed! (Sorry, not sorry. That pun was absolutely intended.)

Mozzarella

photo of Mozzarella, a 3-year-old labrador retriever/boxer mix who is athletic, focused, and socially awkward. Ella would make a great intramural sports referee.

This charming gal with a cheesy name lacks the social confidence of many of our other pups. She seems eager to make dog friends but isn’t sure how to go about it.

Many of your students can likely relate. But remember: Being socially awkward isn’t the same as being antisocial. If a student rejects social opportunities or isn’t involved on campus, don’t assume they’re uninterested; they may just be anxious or unsure. 

You can help ease that anxiety by giving them opportunities to practice their social skills. Try inviting them into intimate and relaxed social spaces, such as a small program or a quick lunch. Ella didn’t embrace noisy dog parks right away; she gained social confidence by hanging out with her sister Basil first.

Basil

photo of Basil, a 3-year-old labrador retriever/boxer mix who is goofy, lazy, and therapeutic. She'd make a great peer mentor.

Basil’s favorite hobbies including sleeping, napping, and lying around. But if you give this sweet pup a task, she’ll perk up and get it done. 

Basil reminds us to never dismiss a student as lazy or unmotivated; you may just need to find the right role to pique their interest and get them moving toward ambitious goals. 

Kuma

Photo of Kuma, a 3-year-old golden mountain dog, who is exuberant, loving, and charming. She should be president of the Loud Panting Pups Org.

If Kuma took the StrengthsFinder assessment, I bet her top strength would be woo. Her zest for life (and treats) easily wins people over, and she seems to relish in that power. 

Yet, she’s not completely unselfish. In addition to making people feel good about themselves, she likes when people do the same for her, too. 

Remember this with your students. Check in on your most outgoing, energetic leaders to make sure their needs are being met.

Sammy

Photo of Sammy, a 15-year-old cairn terrier mix, who is sassy, outgoing, and loyal. She's make a great peer mentor.

Given her age and small stature, darling Sammy is sort of like a non-traditional student; she’s a unique individual who could easily get lost among the younger, more energetic pups. But that would be a shame — for Sammy herself and for anyone who has had the pleasure of being around her. All she needs to shine is someone who recognizes her strengths and meets her distinct needs

Carob

Photo of Carob, a 6-year-old pitbull/whippet/plott hound mix, who is cuddly, empathetic, and responsible. He'd make a great resident advisor.

Between sitting in on Presence meetings, engaging his cat siblings, and keeping his human parents entertained, Carob is one responsible canine. But his silly side reminds us that even the most hardworking students like to let loose and relax. 

So, be sure to reward your student leaders with breaks and playtime, just as our Director of Marketing Cassandra Corrado does for Carob. Oh, and don’t forget to encourage naptimes, too!

Lucy

Photo of Lucy, a 2-year-old pit bull mix, who is affectionate, mellow, and observant. She should be SGA Chief Justice.

If Lucy went to high school, she’d be voted “most chill” for the senior superlatives. Around our office, she enjoys cuddle sessions and head scratches. Yet, she also doesn’t mind relaxing in a quiet space all by herself.

She’s an excellent representative of students who appreciate all the activity and buzz of campus, but don’t need to be in the middle of it all to feel satisfied. Like Lucy, these students can be great behind-the-scenes leaders; they’re ready to work hard and make an impact but are happy away from the central spotlight, thanks very much. 

Pippa

photo of Pippa, a 4-year-old pit bull mix, who is confident, loyal, and energetic. She's make a great SGA Chief of Staff.

Contrary to her roommate and best friend Lucy, Pippa is a quintessential extrovert. She gains immense energy from being around all sorts of humans.

This quality makes Pippa extremely popular. Yet, when left unchecked, her extroversion could come with a cost. When she tries to interact with everyone, she’s unable to care for herself and reflect upon her own needs

Watch out for students like Pippa. She reminds us that no one should overload their social calendar.

Percy

Photo of Percy, a 3-year-old miniature pinscher mix, who is bashful, pensive, and snuggly. He'd make a great alternative spring break trip leader.

Some students don’t know how awesome they truly are.

Ditto dogs. Take Percy, for instance. He’s a stunning guy, with silky smooth fur, perky ears, and an oh-so-sweet personality to boot. But the memo proclaiming his awesomeness doesn’t always seem to reach him. He’s shy and skittish around many people. 

Yet, everyone on Team Presence adores Percy! So, we offer him lots of encouragement and reminders of our adoration. Such positivity can help your most skeptical students remember their worth and potential, too.

Cannon

photo of Cannon, a 4-year-old pug/shar pei mix, who is handsome, loving, and energetic. He'd make a great vice president for the campus activities board.

This fun-loving guy adores being active. Playing fetch, rolling on the floor, eating free pizza — you name it; Cannon is in. All of this means he’s ripe for program planning.

Know of a student who can’t seem to get enough of your programs? Invite them to get in on the planning action! That way, they can still enjoy all the fun, plus gain the leadership development benefits that come along with planning events for their peers. 

Bella

Photo of Bella, a 12-year-old black lab/pitbull mix. She's caring, adventurous, and clever. She's make a great student liaison for health and wellness.

This gorgeous gal loves taking naps, eating her veggies, and going on walks. In other words, she’s a self-care superstar! But as Bella wisely understands, self-care doesn’t have to be difficult. It can be relaxing, adventurous, and delicious.

Milu

 Photo of Milu, a 12-year-old maltese mix, who is sleepy, silly, and hungry. He'd be the treasurer of the Tracks for Treats Club.

Upon first meeting Milu, you might assume that he doesn’t hold much influence within his home. After all, he’s teeny tiny. We have plants bigger than him in the office.

But, underestimating Milu’s power and confidence would be a grave mistake. He has a spirited bark and isn’t afraid to use it.

Similarly, you should never underestimate a student based on their physical attributes, cultural background, or academic resume. Give them opportunities to take charge and express their opinions; they may surprise you!

Sulley

photo of Sulley, an 8-year-old mutt tzu, who is bossy, grumpy, and protective. He'd make a great president of the Underdog Outreach Club.

Despite his goofy face, Sulley can be a bit of a grump. If he attended canine college, he’d likely roll his eyes during icebreakers and complain throughout orientation.

But, don’t discount Sulley as a leader! His cleverness and pickiness could actually make him a stellar program planner or student organization board member. He’d be thorough. 

Similarly, when you hand certain pessimistic students the reins, they may change their attitudes. Planning programs allows them to take charge, make decisions that meet their high ideals, and gain a new appreciation for all the hard work done by their peers and staff. 

What have you learned about student affairs from the pets in your life? We’d love to see photos! Tweet us @HelloPresence.

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Jodi Tandet

About the author: Jodi Tandet loves writing about the magic of campus life as the Lead Storyteller at Presence. She's also passionate about baking, mental health advocacy, her Presence teammates' dogs, and her ever-growing podcast collection. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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