In recent years, educational establishments have adopted a more holistic approach to teaching and begun to focus more on the emotional needs of students, rather than simply concentrating on academic progress. It has been recognized that the emotional status of the students can have a significant impact on their ability to learn, so considering emotional needs is important. This change in attitude means that new approaches are being used in classrooms. And teachers are open to ideas for new methods that can help their students. One method that is being increasingly used to support the emotional needs of students is therapy dogs.
I Heart Dogs gives the example of Diane Hill, who works at Northern Hills Elementary School in Onalaska, Wisconsin. She has 21-years of teaching experience, and she currently teaches second grade. She identified that one of the problems at the beginning of the school year was anxiety and first-day jitters. This is a common problem that affects many young children and can significantly impact on their ability to transition to a new class and adapt to their new environment. Hill wanted to try something new to help her young students. She decided that bringing her dog Davie to work with her could potentially help her students to cope with their nerves. Davie, a four-year-old Golden Retriever, is already a certified therapy dog that is trained to help humans who are experiencing stressful situations.
Davie was an instant hit with the children, who were delighted to have the dog in their classroom. The dog fit into her role straight away, and she seemed comfortable in the classroom environment. Many of the students said that they felt instantly better as soon as they saw that Davie was nearby. If any of the students seemed anxious or stressed, they were given the opportunity to pet Davie as a way of easing their nerves. Although the initial aim was to simply help children settle on their first day in the class, she was such a comfort to the students that Hill decided to continue bringing Davie to work with her. Since then, the dog’s role in the classroom has developed so that she is much more involved in the school’s daily routine.
She starts her day by greeting the students, which gives them a positive start to the day. She then hangs out with the students when they are having their storytime. Throughout the day, she offers a distraction for students who are struggling with their workload, and the kids can pet Davie throughout the day. According to Hill, these simple interactions between the children and Davie keeps all the children happy throughout the school day and puts a smile on their faces. The benefits of having Davie in the classroom extend beyond offering the students some comfort. Davie has also proved that she can teach the children a variety of useful life skills, such as having empathy towards others.
Skylar Davis, one of the second graders who has spent time with Davie, gives the example of an occasion when a student was crying outside the classroom. As soon as Davie heard the crying through the door, she went straight outside the classroom to offer some comfort to the upset child, who stopped crying as soon as they saw Davie. Davie is the perfect example of how a therapy dog can offer comfort in a school environment. She is not the only therapy dog doing good work in Onalaska as there is also a therapy dog working at Onalaska High School. Furthermore, Davie has an older sister who also works as a therapy dog. Her name is Harley and she often visits a nursing home in the local area to offer comfort to the elderly.
This story is just one of many as there are now schools around the world who use therapy dogs to offer support to their students. Most children like dogs, so it makes sense that introducing a dog into the classroom can offer comfort. The wider benefits of using therapy dogs are now being recognized. Dogs for Good says that there is a wide range of benefits of implementing dogs in schools, and some of these are unexpected. For example, improved attendance has been linked to introducing dogs into the classroom. This is because children feel happier in their school environment, so they are more willing to go to school and participate in learning activities.
It has also been noted that having a therapy dog in the class can improve the students’ behavior, social interactions, and a sense of responsibility. Additionally, it can increase their confidence and give them greater access to the community as they feel safe to leave school on short trips. The benefits also extend beyond the classroom and into other aspects of the students’ lives, such as their friendships and their home lives. For example, their improved social interactions and the way they interact with adults is something that can benefit their home life and how they interact with family members. Students also learn skills related to caring for an animal, and these are skills that they can apply to a variety of situations in their daily lives.
Therapy Dogs highlights that the benefits extend beyond social and emotional benefits, as there are also proven physical and cognitive benefits of having dogs in the classroom. Some studies have shown that the presence of dogs can lower blood pressure, assist with pain management, and provide students with physical stimulation. All of these have positive impacts on the children’s general health. In terms of cognitive benefits, there is evidence that therapy dogs can stimulate memory and improve problem-solving skills. With all these benefits in mind, it is little wonder that so many schools around the world are now introducing dogs into their classrooms so that students can reap the benefits and enjoy a better experience during their time at school.