Using Therapy Dogs as a Tool for Healing

by Tera Tuten on January 22, 2013

Using Therapy Dogs as a Tool for Healing

With the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, many educators, therapists, school nurses, and school psychiatrists are asking how we can treat our children in the wake of a tragedy. Perhaps a student body has suffered the loss of a classmate, professor, or friend. Using therapy dogs as a tool to aid in healing, awareness, and mental health is a great way to help students recover from any ailment. Therapy dogs can be used to combat stress, ease mental distress associated with a close personal loss, or even simply provide comfort and a calming presence to an overworked teen during final exams.

Therapy dogs are used in schools for a variety of tasks. By far, the most common of these is in a speech related capacity that often has even adults trembling in fear: Reading aloud. Oftentimes, students will balk at reading aloud to their classmates, but will be able to complete the task and even flourish when asked to read to a canine companion. A dog won’t judge a student if they pronounce a word incorrectly, and the confidence boost is often all a student needs to get them on a path toward enjoying reading aloud to their peers.

Therapy dogs are also becoming increasingly common in special needs classrooms and alternative school environments. A friendly canine can be a very welcome companion for a student with social anxiety disorder, or perhaps an autistic student who does not have very many friends within their social circle. Often, therapy dogs are seen as a working part of the classroom, and having a dog befriend these students gives them a conversation starter or a boost in self esteem to find common ground with other students and foster friendships and connections.

Rest assured, therapy dogs are not loose inside a school and left to wander as they please. Often, the dogs go through a vigorous training schedule and are able to learn and recognize over 40 vocal commands. The dogs can act as a sturdy brace to assist a child who may stumble in the hallways, or even find and retrieve items in a classroom. Often, therapy dogs have to undergo stringent training requirements that vary on a state by state basis before they are allowed to enter an educational setting. Therapy dogs are professionals, despite being of the four-legged variety.

Therapy dogs are not only companions for their caretakers, but also for students around the globe. Does your school have a therapy dog program? What are some of the benefits or downfalls to having one in place?

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