School Therapy Dogs
This site was created and maintained as a place to network and share information about Therapy Dogs that work in schools. I am a school counselor at B.F.Kitchen Elementary, a small public school in Loveland, Colorado. I have been working with Copper, my registered Therapy Dog, in my school since October 2011. During that time, I've been able to document the positive impact of having Copper interact with students, staff and families. Working with a dog in school has numerous applications and reaches an extremely diverse group of students.
If you are thinking about starting a program or want additional information about ethical programs, please see the paper I wrote with Dr. Laura Bruneau at Adams State University. Pathways for Implementing a School Therapy Dog Program - Steps for Success and Best Practice Considerations.
My experience with Animal Assisted Therapy started in 2009 when I partnered with Colorado State University and HABIC (Human Animal Bond in Colorado) in a graduate level research project. We had one HABIC team work with a student. That student blossomed and I was convinced that I needed to learn more. I spent a significant portion of time on the internet trying to find more information about this work. The resources at that time were scarce so I took what best practices I could find and slowly started developing a solid foundation for this work. It was 18 months later that Copper first entered our building. I hope the information on this site shortens the entry time for other professionals interested in this modality and provides best practices to those of use who are breaking ground with their own programs.
For the 2019-2020 school year, we have 6 therapy dogs teams working at our school. Five of those teams are volunteers that come in for one hour per week. We work with individual students on a wide variety of goals. Copper continues to do amazing work at B.F. Kitchen Elementary and works with me one day per week.
We were very thankful to have 5 volunteer teams come into our school for the spring semester of the 2020-2021 school year. Copper worked a small handful of students each week for about 2 hours total. He is loving semi-retirement! I've started training Toby and hope he loves this work as much as Copper does.
I have started a closed Facebook group for education professionals. That group consists of several hundred education professional from across the globe that share research, best practices, stories and resources. Please search for School Therapy Dogs on Facebook and ask to join.
Research is vital to the positive growth of this work. If you are working with a therapy dog in your school and are interested in partnering in research, please contact me at [email protected]
A Dog in School?
A Dog in School?
I've had people respond to this question in several different ways. There has been the enthusiastic crowd who is excited at the possibility of having a dog in the school. There is the cautious group that is concerned about allergies, insurance and injuries. The skeptics respond with a look that says, "You just want to bring your dog to school with you, don't you?" The fearful give you a pleading look and wide eyes. There is a substantial amount of work and knowledge that needs to be in place before bringing a dog into a school. This website is dedicated to providing a foundation for professionals who want to start their own programs and a place for established programs to share best practices and the tried and true tools that support that work.
There are a few different models that are used when having a dog work in a school setting. The majority of this website was built using the model where the school professional is also the handler and the animal works primarily out of the same building. Copper has additional training beyond basic therapy dog courses that is specific to working in a public school. He works at the school 3 days a week. I like this model because I can educate all the people in the building about behavior expectations when Copper is working. I also know the students that Copper works with. There is more information about this under the How to Get Started tab.
Another option is to have a certified team of handler and dog, work with the school professional and the student(s). In this model, the dog and handler typically come to the school as volunteers to work with a specific student under the guidance of a school professional. After that session they leave the building. The dog and handler may work at several sites in a typical week of volunteering. I have added this model to my school counseling program for the 2017-2018 school year. I have several requests for animal-assisted interventions but am limited by Copper's schedule. BF Kitchen is very fortunate to have therapy dog team Christine (handler) and Leila (golden retriever) visit our school each week.