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Using Therapy Dogs as a Tool for Healing

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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?

Contributor Tera Rowland

Tera Rowland is the vice president of Soliant and has worked in the healthcare staffing industry for almost 20 years in public relations, social media, marketing and operations. In addition to Soliant, Tera worked at the Mayo Clinic as an internal communication manager and for the Children’s Miracle Network. She is a member of the American Marketing Association and the American Staffing Association. Also, Tera has served on the board of directors for the Jacksonville Women’s Leadership Forum as part of the communication committee. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations as well as a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from the University of North Florida and has been published in the Huffington Post, Healthcare Finance News, Healthcare Traveler Magazine, and Scrubs Magazine. Make sure to read the rest of Tera's blogs!