Can Therapy Dogs Go to School or College: In the wake of the Florida school shootings, therapy dogs have been used as a way to provide comfort and support to students returning to school. Research has shown that therapy dogs can reduce stress and provide a sense of connection in difficult situations.
Can Therapy Dogs Go to School
Given the impact that therapy dogs can have on the well-being of students, schools and universities are increasingly adopting dog therapy programs as an inexpensive way to provide social and emotional support for students.
What Are Therapy Dogs?
It is important to note that therapy dogs do not service dogs. A service dog is an assistance dog that focuses on its owner to the exclusion of everything else. Service dogs are trained to provide specific support to people with disabilities, such as visual or hearing difficulties, seizure disorders, mobility problems, and diabetes.
The role of therapy dogs is to react and respond to people and their environment. Under the guidance and direction of their owner. For example, an individual may be encouraged to pet gently or speak to a dog to teach sensitive touch and help them be calm.
Therapy dogs can also be used as part of animal-assisted therapy. This aims to improve a person’s social, cognitive, and emotional functioning. A healthcare professional using a therapy dog in treatment can be seen as less threatening, potentially increasing the connection between the client and the professional.
There are also animal-assisted activities, which is a general term that encompasses many different ways that animals can be used to help humans. An example is facilitating emotional and physical mental health and well-being through pet therapy or the presence of therapy dogs. These activities are not necessarily professionally supervised, nor are they specific psychological interventions.
Research suggests using therapy dogs in response to traumatic events that may help reduce symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety.
So what can happen psychologically for people who use therapy dogs?
The Human-animal Bond
The human-animal bond can affect people and animals in a positive way. Research shows that therapy dogs can reduce stress physiologically (cortisol levels) and increase attachment responses that activate oxytocin, a hormone that increases confidence in humans.
Dogs also react positively to animal-assisted activities. In response to the human-animal bond, dogs produce oxytocin and lower their cortisol levels when connected to their owner. Dogs often feel the same when they participate in animal-assisted activities as if they were at home, depending on the environmental context.
Benefits of Therapy Dogs
- Animal-assisted therapy can:
- Teach Empathy and Appropriate Interpersonal Skills
- Help People Develop Social Skills
- Being Calming and the Presence of Animals Can More Quickly Build a professional-client Relationship and
- Improve Individual Skills to Pick Up the Imperative Social Cues for Human Relationships. Professionals Can Process That Information and Use It to Help Clients See How Their Behavior Affects Others.
More recently, therapy dogs have been used as a form of engagement with students at school and university.
Benefits of Therapy Dogs at School
A Report User Featured children working with therapy dogs experienced increased motivation for learning, resulting in better results.
Therapy dogs are used to help children with social and emotional learning needs, which in turn can help with literacy development.
Research In the effects of therapy, dogs in schools shows a number of benefits, including:
- Increase in School Attendance
- Confidence Gains
- Decreases in Learner Anxiety Behaviors Resulting in Better Learning Outcomes, Such as Increases in Reading and Writing Levels
- Positive Changes Towards Learning and Improved Motivation and
- Better Relationships With Peers and Teachers Due to the Experience of Trust and Unconditional Love of a Therapy Dog. This, in Turn, Helps Students Learn How to Express Their Feelings and Enter Truer Relationships.
Despite these known benefits, many schools choose not to have dog therapy programs because of perceived risks. These range from concerns about sanitation issues to the adequacy of the dog’s temperament when working with children. But dogs and therapy owners are carefully selected and undergo a strict testing regimen before acceptance into any program.
The main reason for the lack of acceptance has been related to limited research on the benefits of therapy dogs in schools.
Benefits of Therapy Dogs in College
Researchers have found college students significantly less stress and anxiety, and greater happiness and energy, immediately after spending time in a walk-in session with a dog present, compared to a control group of students who did not spend time with a therapy dog.
In general, therapy dog programs depend on voluntary organizations. An example is Story Dogs, which currently have 323 volunteer dog teams at 185 schools in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, SA, WA, and ACT. In total, they help 1,615 children every week.
Research into these programs is necessary to help better understand the impacts of therapy dogs, especially on student learning and academic performance. Lack of funds is re-establishing this investigation. University associations are a solution to address this.