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School Therapy Dogs

Are you considering how to start a program at your school?  

I have spoken with a few individuals that were going to get a dog or puppy and simply start bringing the dog to school. There are several things that are vital to consider before bringing a dog into a school setting. When you don't have a solid foundation for your program, the risk of an incident increases dramatically. When an incident happens, it closes the door for others who are spending significant resources to establish their programs.

Please see the paper I wrote with Dr. Laura Bruneau at Adams State University titled Pathways for Implementing a School Therapy Dog Program - Steps for Success and Best Practice Considerations.

Starting a program should always begin with a goal. Think about your school or districts goals and objectives. How would having a therapy dog build on those goals? What job will the dog be doing? What programs will you offer? Which students will be served?   

Many schools decide to start with having a therapy dog team volunteer at their school. This allows the school to slowly introduce this modality and work through any hurdles that may present themselves. Pet Partners offers information on steps to complete before working with volunteer team. They are the largest organization in the US with over 15,000 registered volunteer teams in 2017. The most common intervention is having a student read to a dog. Your initial program can be something as simply as having a volunteer team come in to work with 2 students for 30 minutes each, once a week. A registered therapy dog team will have their own insurance and will work without a cost to the school. Pet Partners and Alliance of Therapy Dogs are the two largest registries. Teams registered in these organizations have completed a comprehensive test of their skills and ability to conduct therapy dog work. Intermountain Therapies has a program with teams nation-wide called R.E.A.D. - Reading Education Assistance Dogs. The handlers in this program are provided information on how to conduct a session where a student will be reading to a dog. Pet Partners recently started their own reading program.

While you work on a starting a small program at your school, you can be exploring the idea of having a therapy dog of your own. This model takes more time and resources. The series of pages under the "How to Get Started" tab will walk you though the steps that I took in building the program at my school. The drop down menu at the top of the page will provide a suggested roadmap, tools and documents to consider for your own program.