- While the use of therapy dogs at schools has been proven to offer benefits to students in terms of stress reduction and improved attendance and academic performance, school leaders also need to consider the needs of the animals themselves as they operate such initiatives, District Administration reports.
- Because schools are active and complex environments, the person in charge of the pet therapy program at school needs to be someone who understands the stress levels that animals can handle and the risks involved in having them around children. Rather than adopting a school dog, administrators may be better off beginning by bringing in volunteers with trained dogs who use compassionate methods of training that encourage bonding.
- These programs also work best when the goals are clear and the handlers, whether outside professionals or teachers, understand how to work with children who may be afraid or allergic to pets and how the animals can best be used to calm children and promote attendance and learning goals, the article says. Teacher also can benefit emotionally from the presence of therapy dogs on campus when the program is run efficiently.
When Mary inadvertently brought her lamb to school, as the children’s song relates, that action was frowned upon by school officials as it “was against the rules.” Today, however, the value of well-trained pets in school settings is being more fully recognized.
Therapy dog programs particularly are gaining in popularity as schools see these programs can result in calmer children, increased attendance, and improved test scores. In trauma-sensitive schools, such programs may have even greater value as the presence of animals is known to help heal people emotionally and make them more content with their circumstances. In fact, therapy dogs were used in Parkland, Florida last year after the mass shooting that disrupted students lives. The healing power of animals also accounts for the growing number of hospitals that are also incorporating pet therapy programs.
When well-run, these programs can also benefit teachers, especially those whose can bring their own pets to school as part of the learning process. More workplaces are now allowing pets not only because of the value they bring, but also because the pet policy is an added perk that can attract and retain employees. Reducing teacher stress is a major consideration because it can also impact school climate and student performance.
However, when school leaders are aware of the responsibilities and potential problems that come with having animals to school, they can head off possible complications. Not all employees or students will welcome their presence either because of fear, allergies or other considerations, so care needs to be taken to have a way to keep animals away from these individuals. The animals themselves also need adequate provisions and a place to be away from contact with humans. And the legal ramifications of issues need to be thoroughly addressed before pet therapy programs begin.
However, therapy dog programs can bring a new sense of excitement to schools and can engage students in learning in ways that other programs cannot. Finding the right fit for schools may be a low-cost way to make school a calmer, yet more interesting, place to learn.