Therapy Dogs Are Playing a Huge Role in NJ Schools

therapy dog

The past few years have been challenging for everyone involved in the public school system. Teachers, administrators, and support staff have not known from one week to the next if they would work from their regular buildings or if the instruction would move to an online format. The pandemic turned the education system on its ear. Parents and children have also struggled to cope with the myriad of changes. It’s an ongoing situation but we’ve somehow managed to adapt. A New Jersey school has found an interesting way to provide emotional support for struggling students through the use of therapy dogs.

Therapy dogs are staff at a New Jersey public school

NJ.com reports that the Hopewell Valley Regional School District has added a new element to its student support programs. They’re just one of many public schools that are adding therapy dogs to their list of therapeutic modalities to helps students cope with their issues. It’s a novel approach that has been getting high marks for its success so far.

Are dogs allowed in schools?

Under normal circumstances, dogs have traditionally not been allowed on the campuses of public schools without the express written permission of the superintendent of the school district. Everyone associated with public schools has been deeply impacted by the raging Covid-19 pandemic, and we’re still in the middle of the battle. School counselors and administrators were looking for new ways to help not only students cope with the stress, but also the staff. The therapy dogs at the Hopewell Valley Regional School district are fully approved and legal. In addition, they’re not just visitors. They’re considered to be working members of the staff. Dogs are now permanent members of the support team staff and it looks like they may be there to stay.

Not all dogs are eligible

The Hopewell Valley School District wasn’t looking for a cute mascot to make people ooh and ahh. The therapy dogs that are seen on the campus are not your average mutt off the streets. Each animal has been highly trained and certified as a therapy dog in advance of its inclusion in the student assistance programs. These dogs come from the Attitudes in Reverse AIR Dogs: Paws for Minds program. One of the overarching goals of the organization and the schools is to help prevent suicide and to foster n environment that is conducive to good mental health. During high-stress periods, the dogs are trained to go up to affected students and break through any walls they may have up. The dogs participate in various therapeutic activities from support for grieving students and staff to private counseling sessions and discussion groups. So far, the district has reported that the results have been positive. They’re seeing students respond positively to the therapy dogs.

Therapy dogs in schools is a growing trend

According to The National Association of Secondary School Principals, therapy dogs are becoming a more popular choice for student and staff support program inclusion. The charisma and soothing effects dogs have on humans make them the perfect addition to support staff teams. The NASSP has concluded that the results of using these trained work dogs have already shown its effectiveness on the morale and mental wellbeing of students and staff. The new modality has been in force for just under a year and administrators are happy to report that they’re seeing major improvements. The challenges of living life in a crazy world seem to melt away, if only for a few moments when the dogs are present. They’re captivating and gain the attention of students and staff who get to enjoy a few moments of lightheartedness.

Why therapy dogs are so badly needed

Recent studies have shown that nearly half of all men and women in the work world exhibit some symptoms of anxiety and depression. Schools are experiencing increases in mental health issues among their students. Violence, bullying, stress, anxiety, and depression are also high among children. Something had to be done that goes beyond the traditional forms of support because they simply were not enough to alleviate the problems. While there is no fast or easy fix to the current social issues, therapy dogs bring about some much-needed relief.

Research is ongoing

School Therapy Dogs is an organization that offers a network about therapy dogs and their work in schools. It was founded by a school counselor in Colorado who uses her registered therapy dog to help kids cope with their emotional issues. She has been using this modality since 2011 and has seen remarkable results. If you’re interested in learning more about the documented positive impacts of using therapy dogs in schools, visit the site to learn more. This is a valuable resource for school administrators considering the addition of therapy dogs for their student and staff support programs. The organization works in conjunction with the Colorado State University and Human-Animal Bond in Colorado in graduate-level research on the topic. It’s a great network where professionals can learn about the benefits and share their experiences.

Final thoughts

Therapy dogs are making the news in New Jersey Schools, but it’s certainly not a new concept. For the past decade, a few school counselors have secured permission from their respective districts to bring therapy dogs on as staff members. The current trend among public school districts is to identify and implement any new strategies with the potential for helping students and staff more effectively cope with their stresses and anxieties. This is a new component that we’re likely to hear about more and more as the news of the effectiveness of therapy dogs in school settings spreads. Therapy dogs are making a positive impact on the mental health and well-being of students and staff in New Jersey schools and it’s a model that can be replicated almost anywhere.

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