What are therapy dogs?
Therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs focus on their owner to the exclusion of all else. The role of the therapy dog is to react and respond to people and their environment, under the guidance and direction of their owner/supervisor. For example, an individual might be encouraged to gently pat or talk to a dog to teach sensitive touch and to help them be calm.
Why have a therapy dog in a school environment?
Extensive research points to the benefits of such a program for all involved. The human-animal bond can impact people and animals in positive ways; therapy dogs can reduce stress physiologically (cortisol levels) and increase attachment responses that trigger oxytocin – a hormone linked to trust building. It is widely documented that, in order for children to learn, physiological and psychological needs (security, safety, relationships) must be met first. Therapy dogs can assist with meeting these needs.
HOW WILL OUR THERAPY DOG BE UTILISED AT SCARBOROUGH PS?
Our complete focus for this program is on the benefit that such a resource has on our students. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Assisting students who lack confidence with reading and writing
- Assisting students with socialising, relaxation and communication
- Providing sensory stimulation to those who need it, particularly when working on behaviour goals
- Providing a non-judgemental ‘listening ear’ and acceptance of the students
- Helping students to gain awareness of pro-social behaviour in regards to treating others respectfully and considering their needs
The therapy dog will be involved with individual, small group, class and whole school activities, identified to be of benefit to students as well as respecting the needs of the dog.
What about students with allergies to dogs?
Pet allergy sufferers are sensitive to a protein called Can F1, which is found in a dog’s dander (dead skin flakes), saliva and other secretions. All dogs have dander, but some breeds produce fewer allergens or shed less, including poodles. Wilson is a poodle.
No child will be expected to make contact with the dog unless they want to do so.
What about students who have a fear of dogs?
No student will be expected to come close to the dog if they do not feel comfortable. It is worth coming to have a conversation with Erica about any existing fears.
Therapy dogs can often be used as a good way to work on addressing fears, particularly as we have such a structured way for students to approach and interact with the dog.
It seems very risky to have a dog in school. What if someone (or the dog) gets hurt?
There certainly are risks involved in bringing an animal into school. We have worked hard to complete a thorough risk assessment and have liaised with other schools that have similar programs to ensure we mitigate risks as much as possible. Our therapy dog has undergone training specifically designed to teach him how to interact in a non-home environment with people unknown to him.
The therapy dog will never be unattended whilst at school, and students will learn the safe way to approach him, how to read dog body language and to respect when the dog needs to be left alone.
Why are we getting a therapy dog now?
There is a growing bank of research that shows a strong connection between the presence of animals and improved academic, social, emotional and behavioural outcomes for students. We have recently been given the opportunity to work with a therapy dog and his owner, both of whom are willing to come and be part of the Scarborough PS community. A second dog has been identified for training that will hopefully be joining us once ready.
Will every student get to interact with the dog?
Student s will be taught the etiquette for approaching the therapy dog, which will be out and about in the playground at recess and lunchtime, when in school. In negotiation with staff, and taking into account student and dog needs, our therapy dog may well be entering the classrooms during learning time to listen to readers, help build confidence with public speaking etc.
Some students will access the therapy dog on an individual or small group basis, as needed.
Who will look after the dog?
Wilson, our first therapy dog, will initially come into school with his owner, Crystal Timmcke. Crystal is a qualified counsellor and therapy dog handler. As with all of our volunteers, Crystal has a Working with Children card and has also signed a Confidential Declaration. Once Wilson is used to the environment and is trained to work with Erica Salt, he will spend his time with her. Wilson will only be in school for short sessions throughout the week, as negotiated between the owner and school.
What if my child becomes too attached to the dog?
Forming an attachment with an animal has huge mental health benefits. Our therapy dog will only be in school for short periods of time throughout the week but will hopefully be available for all students who are interested in interacting with him. By not being in school all the time, there will not be an expectation among the students that he is always around.
Experiencing the presence of a dog at school opens up many conversations around respect for animals, how to approach unknown animals and how to care for an animal.