There are numerous benefits to having therapy dogs in schools, and the trend is gaining in popularity. Therapy dogs are specifically trained and certified, spanning many breeds of dog. There is no one size fits all therapy dog, and each is unique. Many schools are choosing to bring therapy dogs in for their students and staff, due to the many positives of having a dog accessible during the day. These can range from stress reduction, better behavior, less anxiety, and even encourages students to share their thoughts and feelings, or for some--speak more than they had in years.
Children and youth will often open up to a therapy dog in ways that they would not to an authority figure. The calming presence of the dog gives off a note of trustworthiness, and students that face suspension, truancy, and behavior problems may find themselves calmed by having a therapy dog in the classroom or wandering the halls. Children that act out and skip classes may be told that if they are not present in class or school, the therapy dog will not be happy in their absence. This poses a potential bond formation between dog and student, giving the student a reason to come to class or stay in school. Students may also confide their fears or anxiety to a therapy dog, whether this be peer related, or testing related. Students taking an exam may be calmed by the presence of a therapy dog in the room. Research has shown that students who have regular and consistent contact with animals have higher IQ scores than those who may not.
For students who have difficulty making friends, a therapy dog can be a vital social bridge. Students may find themselves the center of attention, having been noted as special enough to have a therapy dog in their classroom. Students feel a sense of pride and accomplishment due to caring for the dog, and they will often talk with others about the animal. Therapy dogs are also a great tool for use in lesson plans, with students using their therapy dog in everything from mathematics to English. Therapy dogs will sit and listen as students practice reading aloud, or can be weighed and measured to help with mathematical skills. Dogs can help students improve their memory and recall skills, due to having to memorize the commands to get their therapy dog to do a particular command.
Choosing to incorporate a therapy dog into your school may be difficult. The training and certifications the dog undergoes include food, microchipping, and medical care for their first year–totaling roughly $500 USD. This is a minor cost for all included. The dogs undergo an intensive work related training program to get used to their new environment, and will always be in the company of their owner. The owner of a therapy dog must also pass an exam to become certified, and undergo observation in the work environment as well, to assess their skill in working with the dog in a school environment. Adding a therapy dog to your school can be a difficult decision, but one that can be very beneficial for both students and staff. Consider a therapy dog for your school today.