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Start a therapy dog program in your school

Students from Minford High School in Ohio visit with therapy dog Bella after a fellow student was killed.
Students from Minford High School in Ohio visit with therapy dog Bella after a fellow student was killed.

Here are some tips from Jen VonLintel, of School Therapy Dogs: 

Find studies that show benefits. A binder of research and examples of dogs working in schools can be key to gaining the support of top administrators and/or the school board. Include insurance documents, training data, vet certificates and reports on progress made by students who have worked with therapy dogs.   

Conduct site evaluation. Consider school layout and the daily environment—for example, how will a dog react to playground equipment and crowded hallways? Dogs may want to take breaks in a specially designated place away from students.

Educators must also assess students and staff who might be fearful, have allergies or not like dogs, and work specifically around those problems. Provide email addresses and phone numbers of the therapy dogs’ handlers so they can answer questions. Administrators can require the dogs be on leashes at all times or bar them from certain classrooms. 

Select the right dog. You must have a dog that enjoys being in the middle of large groups and that students respond positively to. Other key characteristics include obedience, size, age, health, adaptability to change and breed. 

Set schoolwide expectations. Students, teachers and others should approach therapy dogs slowly. They should first ask to pet the dog, wait for the trainer’s response and then let the dog smell their hands.