- Schools are increasingly opening their doors to “comfort dogs” as administrators recognize the animals’ ability to contribute to a positive school climate, MindShift reports.
- In New York City, for example, 42 schools are participating in a pilot program in which dogs provide emotional support to students and are integrated as part of social-emotional learning programs.
- These trained canines can also change perceptions of dogs among children who have previously had fearful experiences with them. In most cases the dogs are always on a leash and with their owners. In one New York school, parents had to sign a letter allowing their children to interact with the dog.
Schools have long had classroom pets, but those have been limited to hamsters, fish or maybe rabbits. For dog lovers, the addition of comfort pets may be a welcome trend, but those who have allergies or are less enthusiastic about animals in school might view them as disruptive or distracting the students.
Some parents might also express safety concerns, especially after reports of children being attacked by emotional support animals. In New York, the dogs are first evaluated by the North Shore Animal League America before being matched to a school.
As with most social-emotional learning strategies, effective practices will depend on the characteristics of individual schools. It’s also important for educators to understand how therapy or support dogs are different from service or emotional support dogs in school. These animals are there to assist one student, who might have a disability, and are essentially doing a job, while therapy dogs are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and are there to interact more generally with students.
A research analysis released last year suggested that there are “promising findings” related to having dogs in school, but that more research is needed to determine the benefits of the practice. Many past studies have had small sample sizes and did not include adequate control groups. Future research, the authors noted, should look at whether interaction with a dog at school helps students to learn and whether there are improvements in students’ cognitive and social-emotional behavior.