It’s no surprise to see therapy animals, such as therapy dogs, in public spaces like cafes, libraries, or airports. There may even be a passenger on a plane ride who requires their therapy dog to fly with them. But these supportive canines are also making their way into classrooms and on campuses to help students stay calm. Therapy dogs are even being used on college campuses to reduce stress in medical students taking exams.
And while there are upfront benefits of having dogs join students on campus to help stress levels stay low, they are also in the middle of debating around possible risks. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons being presented to having therapy dogs at schools.
In a report from Delta Society, children who work with therapy dogs experience increased motivation for learning, which can help their educational outcomes in the end. Therapy dogs are also being used to support children with social and emotional learning disabilities and helping those with anxiety and high stress levels improve their learning outcomes, attention, and emotional needs.
Therapy dogs can also enhance relationships with peers and teachers due to experiencing trust and affection from therapy dogs. This can help students by teaching them to express their feelings more naturally and enter into trusting relationships with each other.
For students with special needs, such as autism, the classroom presents a series of challenges that are unique to them. Because of the wide range of intensity in their autism, behaviors in the classroom can be unpredictable and unique to each individual student. Therapy dogs have been able to help students with autism be more social, patient, and willing to listen in class.
Following the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in 2012, therapy dogs were sent out to the community to help survivors, their families, and the surrounding community cope. Therapy dogs were among the first responders after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, as well as on the campus of Virginia Tech after 32 students and staff were killed by a gunman.
While having therapy dogs presents these benefits and more, there are some who have come out against having an animal of any kind in the classroom. There may be some students who have had negative experiences with dogs in the past who are not comfortable and could have their learning disrupted by their presence. Allergies and asthma are another important factor to continue.
However, when school leaders are aware of the responsibilities and potential problems that come with having animals to school, they can head off possible complications. Not all employees or students will welcome their presence either because of fear, allergies or other considerations, so care needs to be taken to have a way to keep animals away from these individuals. The animals themselves also need adequate provisions and a place to be away from contact with humans. And the legal ramifications of issues need to be thoroughly addressed before pet therapy programs begin.
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