Therapy Dogs Work Full-Time in Classrooms – American Kennel Club

The first-year boy didn’t like to read, or even try to read. He had fallen behind during the pandemic and felt embarrassed in front of his classmates, so he would just shut up and refuse to participate, staring at the ceiling or playing with a pencil.

That changed last fall when a Labrador Retriever named Hudson started visiting classes at PS9 The Sarah Smith Garnet School in Brooklyn, New York, according to the child’s teacher, Lydia Babbit.

“With Hudson, he sits with her, puts his hand on her head, and reads to her,” she says. “If he invents a word, it’s good, he uses the images to guide himself. It makes me so happy to see. It was an experience that helped him come out of his shell and feel more comfortable reading for himself, but also reading for someone else.

Therapy dogs like Hudson are part of The Pet Care Trust’s Dogs in the Classroom pilot program to introduce 100 schools across the country to the benefits dogs can bring, while collecting data and testimonials from ongoing teachers road to assess its success. Babbit said it was the first time in her 15-year career that a therapy dog ​​had joined her class and she was extremely impressed with Hudson’s positive impact on her students.

For example, one child expressed a deep fear of dogs. But Hudson won him over with her sweet, friendly demeanor, and he now embraces the lab whenever she comes to visit. In fact, all the kids know they have to line up to greet Hudson when he arrives, and if they’re good, they can give him a bone-shaped treat to take home.

The dog proved extremely useful in helping the children develop social skills, calm down and adjust to being in a classroom in what was essentially their first year of in-person lessons due to the pandemic, says Babbit. Learning about the therapy dogs before the first visit was fun for them, but meeting her was even better.

“The kids can’t wait to see her,” she says. “It was an incredible experience.”

Teacher Pets

That’s the kind of positive feedback the Dogs in the Classroom program has garnered from teachers across America, according to Matt Coffinaffer, executive director of The Pet Care Trust. The nonprofit organization has awarded more than 197,800 grants to teachers (K-9) in the United States and Canada for classroom pets since 2011.

Pets offered in the classroom through the non-profit organization’s Pets in the Classroom program, which aims to support students’ social, behavioral and academic development, are typically small animals such as guinea pigs, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles. So, partnering with nonprofit Pet Partners to provide teams of therapy dogs for the Dogs in the Classroom initiative complements the existing program, Coffindaffer says.

“It’s about the human-animal bond, and the unique way children interact with dogs,” he says.

The Pet Care Trust provides a toolkit to participating teachers to help them prepare their classrooms, implement the program with administrators, review potential issues such as allergies, and discover resources to promote pet care. academic growth through therapeutic interactions with dogs.

Some pilot program participants are classes from Title I schools with a high percentage of the student population living in poverty; others educate children with special needs or provide early intervention, Coffindaffer says.

While the nonprofit is still collecting quantitative and qualitative feedback, early results indicate success, according to Coffindaffer. Many teachers have shared testimonials of therapy dogs helping restore a sense of normalcy to their students after the challenges of the pandemic.

Others sent in stories of children who once feared dogs learning to kiss them, or who said spending time with a therapy dog ​​was “what was positive for their day”. Students in Connecticut have even told their school psychologist that the therapy dog ​​that visits them is their “antidepressant”.

“It was very impactful, very powerful,” he says. “I think that’s going to be a big part of our grant offerings in the years to come.”

B is for Belly Rub

In 2019, The Pet Care Trust conducted a study with two other non-profit organizations – American Humane and Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) – to explore the impact of pets on third and fourth grade students in United States. The results showed that pets in the classroom helped improve social skills and reading skills, and decreased problem behaviors like hyperactivity and inattention.

“Overall, these findings suggest that classroom pets can enrich learning environments in meaningful and diverse ways,” says Steven Feldman, president of HABRI.

Another HABRI-funded study found that incorporating therapy dogs into social skills training for children with autism was found to be more beneficial than training without a dog. Benefits for students include less restricted and repetitive behaviors, more social communication, and less feelings of isolation and depression.

Research has also found that therapy dogs can benefit students of all ages, from preschool through college. They can be a great motivator, improve test-taking and listening skills, help calm anxious students, and promote self-confidence, impulse control, and respect for others, among other attributes, Feldman notes. .

“Scientists believe that animals present good learning opportunities for children because they allow children to observe unpredictable and new information while being emotionally engaging,” he says. “Incorporating therapy dogs into classrooms and educational institutions is a powerful way to help more children access the scientifically documented benefits of human-animal bonding.”

While therapy animal visits can help students and teachers, the activity also benefits the dogs themselves. For example, Hudson loves being the center of attention when she visits elementary school students in Brooklyn, says her teacher, Sarah Kate Wagner.

“They caress her belly and they read [to her]. She loves it,” Wagner says. “It’s a lot of mental stimulation. So she takes a really long nap when she gets home.

Since kids usually choose a book to read in Hudson, many choose books about dogs, from science books to the classic picture book. Harry the Dirty Dog. “She loves all the dog books,” Wagner jokes. “She’s just really nice.”

Wagner, who works remotely for a tech startup, loves seeing the effect his dog has on the students they visit, like watching them gain confidence reading to a non-judgmental listener. A sophomore was so happy waiting her turn with Hudson that she was almost shaking because, as she told Wagner, “I’m so excited.”

“It’s nice to have a volunteer outlet where I know what we’re doing is good,” she says. “Having a direct impact on students is rewarding. »

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