Invite a Dog to Teach Social Skills in the Classroom

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Rosie is part of the faculty of education...sort of. She is a highly trained therapy dog who has been an active assistant in teacher training with Dr. Ty Binfet at the University of British Columbia Okanagan[1]. Dr. Binfet uses Rosie to help students understand approximations of learning in children. In other words, by teaching Rosie, students experience accepting mistakes from their “subject” during the learning process. They also get a chance to practice applying techniques such as encouragement and feedback to guide her learning.

In addition to helping students develop their teaching skills, Rosie’s presence adds to a positive, social and low-stress learning environment. These benefits are reflected in the literature[2] examining the use of companion animals, especially dogs, with children and youth. Across studies, spending time with therapy dogs has proven to have social, emotional and physical benefits to children and youth. One of the key findings is that when therapy dogs are introduced in small group settings (e.g. one dog, one handler, and several students), the dogs serve as “social lubricants” or social catalysts that facilitate children’s interactions with each other.

Consider enhancing your child’s school experience by organizing a class visit from one or therapy dogs! This is a unique opportunity to support the social and emotional growth of students.

What You Might Do:  

Invite an existing Animal Therapy Program[3] into your School. Most urban centres will have organizations who facilitate and oversee animal-assisted visits to hospital settings.

Why Might You Do This?!

Although therapy dogs may certainly reduce stress in children and adolescents, regular organized interactions can prevent stress from occurring in the first place.  Research shows[4] that both proximity to dogs and hands-on contact with companion animals is (among other things) beneficial in reducing stress.

The B.A.R.K. program (Building Academic Retention through K9s) at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus use therapy dogs who are evaluated to ensure they respond to their handler’s commands, display calm behaviour in public, resist temptations (e.g., dropped food or medication), have a calm and even temperament, and enjoy working with a variety of new people.  

Read or watch the video about the B.A.R.K. program

The results from this meta-analysis support the long-held impression that animals can help in the healing process. Positive, moderately strong findings were observed across medical well-being, and behavioral outcomes as well as for reducing Autism spectrum symptoms. 

eMentalHealth.ca is a non-profit service in Canada linking individuals with mental health supports. Search for Animal and Pet Therapy supports in your region. 

The article initially concentrates on the value of animals for short- and long-term physical health, before exploring the relationship between animals and psychological health, focusing on the ability of dogs, cats, and other species to aid the disabled and serve as a “therapist” to those in institutional settings. The paper also discusses the evidence for the ability of dogs to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of specific chronic diseases, notably cancer, epilepsy, and diabetes.

  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.