What’s the Best Way to Integrate a Therapy Dog into a School Program?

In today’s education landscape, schools are continually seeking innovative ways to enhance students’ learning experience and wellbeing. A new trend that has been gaining significant traction is the introduction of therapy dogs into classroom settings. This shift is not without basis. Studies indicate that therapy dogs have a profound impact on students’ emotional, social, and academic development. But how do we ensure a smooth integration of these furry friends into our school programs? This article will delve into the best practices for doing just that.

Identifying the Right Dog and Handler

The success of integrating a therapy dog into a school program hinges on two primary components: the dog and the handler. The onus falls on you, as a school staff, to ensure you select the right dog and an able handler capable of maneuvering the unique dynamics of a school environment.

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The ideal therapy dog should be well-mannered, comfortable around children, and able to respond to various situations in a calm and predictable manner. It’s crucial to work with a reputable therapy dog training organization to ensure that the dog has undergone rigorous training and assessment to suit its new role.

The handler, on the other hand, should possess a deep understanding of the dog’s behavior, student’s needs, and the school’s expectations. They should also be able to maintain control over the dog in all situations and facilitate effective interactions between the dog and the students.

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Training the School Staff and Students

The introduction of a therapy dog into a school program requires an adjustment not only for the dog and handler but also for the school staff and students. It’s essential to embark on an education and training program to equip everyone with the necessary knowledge and skills to interact effectively with the dog.

School staff should receive training on the dog’s behavioral cues and understand the dog’s role within the educational environment. This training will equip them to support the handler and ensure that the therapy dog program runs smoothly.

For students, the training should focus on respectful interaction with the dog. This includes understanding the dog’s behavior, recognizing when the dog needs space, and learning how to approach and touch the dog appropriately.

Establishing Clear Guidelines

It’s crucial to establish clear guidelines on how the therapy dog should be integrated into the school’s daily routines and curriculum. This will not only ensure the dog’s wellbeing but also build a supportive and conducive environment for learning.

The guidelines should cover aspects such as where the dog is allowed to go within the school, when the dog can be interacted with, and how the dog will be included in the school’s learning activities. The guidelines should be communicated to all students and staff and be visibly displayed around the school for easy reference.

Implementing a Gradual Integration Approach

A gradual integration approach is recommended when introducing a therapy dog into a school program. This approach involves starting with short, controlled interactions between the dog and a small group of students, before gradually increasing the length of the interactions and the number of students involved.

By taking a gradual approach, the dog is allowed to familiarize itself with the school environment and the students, reducing the risk of stress and anxiety for the dog. This approach also gives the students and staff time to adjust to the dog’s presence and learn how to interact with it appropriately.

Regular Program Review and Adjustment

The integration of a therapy dog into a school program should be viewed as an ongoing process. A regular review of the program is necessary to assess its effectiveness and make necessary adjustments.

Feedback from students, staff, and the handler should be collected and considered in these reviews. If there are areas of concern, such as the dog showing signs of stress or students not interacting appropriately with the dog, corrective actions should be taken promptly.

In conclusion, integrating a therapy dog into a school program is not a one-size-fits-all process. It requires careful planning, education, and continual review. But with the right approach, the benefits that these furry friends bring to our schools can be immense.

Ensuring the Therapy Dog’s Welfare

The therapy dog is part of the school community and its welfare should be a priority. Schools should ensure that the therapy dog is well-cared-for and comfortable in its environment. Regular health check-ups and groomings are critical to maintain the dog’s physical health and appearance. Simultaneously, mental health considerations should not be overlooked.

A therapy dog’s job can be stressful; hence, they need time to relax and unwind. Creating a quiet and relaxing space for the dog within the school premises can be beneficial. This space can also serve as a ‘safe zone’ for the dog during periods of high activity or stress.

The dog handler plays a significant role in monitoring the therapy dog’s wellbeing. They should be well-versed in recognizing signs of stress or discomfort in the dog. If the dog shows signs of distress, the handler should be able to intervene and provide the necessary comfort or care.

Promoting the Therapy Dog Program

Promoting the therapy dog program is essential to gain acceptance and support from the wider school community. This can be done through various channels such as newsletters, social media, and school meetings. Sharing success stories and positive outcomes of the program can help to build a positive perception and garner support.

Education week could be an ideal time to highlight the benefits of having a therapy dog in school, demonstrating its impact on students’ mental health and learning. Sharing photos and videos of the therapy dog interacting with students on the school’s social media platforms can also be a powerful promotional tool.

The school district can also be involved in promoting the dog program. By showcasing the success of the program, other schools within the district might be encouraged to adopt similar initiatives.


In today’s education landscape, the importance of mental health and emotional well-being can’t be overstated. Therapy dogs have shown tremendous potential in improving the school environment, helping students cope with stress, and enhancing their learning experience.

However, integrating a therapy dog into a school isn’t a simple task. It requires careful planning, continual review, and constant adjustment. The therapy dog, the dog handler, the school staff, and students all play crucial roles in making this initiative successful.

From identifying the right dog and handler, training the school staff and students, establishing clear guidelines for interaction, to ensuring the welfare of the therapy dog – each step is essential for a successful integration.

Even after the therapy dog has been integrated, the school must continue to review and adjust the program based on feedback. Promoting the program is also crucial to ensure its longevity and acceptance within the school community.

With a well-planned and executed program, therapy dogs can significantly contribute to the school environment, making it a more nurturing, inclusive, and positive space for learning. As such, it’s a venture well worth considering for any school district.