LPD unveils newly named therapy dog to police force

LPD unveils newly named therapy dog to police force
Sergeant Steve Bergen poses with LPD's newest Therapy Dog Justice

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - A 13-week-old Bernedoodle has been introduced to the Lubbock Police Department as its newest therapy dog that will be used for community engagement.

Named Justice, the puppy will go through training from a Texas Tech professor to get her used to interactions with people. The dog will not be used as a K9 officer, but rather as a comfort tool for police officers and community members, Steve Bergen, sergeant of LPD's Homeless Outreach Team, said.

The dog came to be through a donation from The Better Life Foundation, a charity founded by the music group 3 Doors Down, Bergen said. The $5,000 donation came to help in its purchase, though the dog did not cost that much.

"Therapy dogs are pet dogs that have gotten this additional training but never-the-less they are pet dogs," Sasha Protopova, assistant professor of companion animal science with Tech's Food and Animal Science, said. "Their training is simply to enjoy and comfort other people that are not just the owner, the handler."

Unlike a service animal, that is trained to service one person or purpose, Justice will be trained to comfort everyone around it. To begin with, the dog has to first be potty trained and then slowly taught to not chew on hands or specific toys, Protopova said.

Then Justice will be trained not to get nervous when entering new places and to lay down when she gets into new atmospheres. The goal in mind is to train Justice to receive a Star Puppy Award, which is through the ACK Performance Sports program. That usually takes about eight to 16 weeks of training.

Then the dog will try for a Canine Good Citizen Award, which is usually given around the time it reaches one-year of age, Protopova said.

"And after the CGC we begin training that specialized therapy dog training and that will kind of around also a year, two months, three months or up to two-years of age," Protopova said. "And then the dog is re-tested every couple of years or so just to make sure the dog does not lose their skills."

Research has shown that therapy dogs are able to provide comfort after tragic events, but they are also good on an individual basis. That means bringing it into schools to increase education.

That also means Justice is going to different than the usual K9 dogs people see on the streets, Bergen said. With that, there is extra homework and research its handler needs.

"Just the socialization part that I've never really thought about. You're thinking, 'oh my dog socializes,' does things at home and it sees people come in and out," Bergen said. "But some of the checklists and things (Protopova) gave me (talk about) 100 people and 100 days of getting a puppy. That's almost three a day, and I think it's a lot -- the noise, the sounds."

But Justice is coming into the force with an already docile attitude toward the job, even before training she stayed calm and was relaxed around people.

When walking around the police station a couple of days after she came into the department there was tons of engagement with people. Many of the officers stopped what they were doing to pet and interact with her, Bergen said, and that is something that will continue to happen throughout her time with the department.

"I brought her in about a week ago and introduced her to some of the guys and at first they were kind of like, 'this is kind of weird,' then they would hold it," Bergen said. "And one of the officers was like, 'look at him smile, look at that big smile,' he couldn't help (but smile) and took the dog around the corner and was kind of embarrassed by it."

Those interactions gave Bergen the confidence in the dog's purpose in giving comfort around the department, he said.

"We do know that therapy dogs, or dogs in general, are social," Protopova said. "So I have no doubt that Justice will bring lots of new connections and lots of new exciting opportunities within our community, generally."

More information on Justice can be found on LPD's Facebook page by clicking here.

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