Therapy dogs in school


Students working with a therapy dog. (Creative Commons)

Max Winkler, Co-Marketing Manager

Every student and faculty member at Weber has experienced stress or anxiety at one point. Something as simple as a dog could help decrease this common problem in the school. Studies have shown that therapy dogs can positively affect an environment, including schools.

Service dogs are used to help an individual if they have a disability, a mental illness, or a need for comforting. There are three different types of service dogs: a standard service dog is used specifically for people with disabilities including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, blindness, or hearing disorders. The other types include emotional support dogs used for people with phobias, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Lastly, therapy dogs are used more generally to bring comfort to individuals who are experiencing stress. The Australian Companion Animal Council has been studying how service dogs can help children at schools, both by improving a person’s social skills and confidence, along with teaching students “responsibility, compassion, and respect.” Therapy dogs have also been shown to decrease anxiety, which is common in teenagers.

Recently, the use of therapy dogs is becoming more popular at schools. In 2013, The University of Georgia began a program through the Student Health Advisory Committee and the Atlanta Pet Partners to bring therapy dogs around the campus during exam weeks. The therapy dogs interact with students before classes and greet students as they walk into their buildings. The Atlanta Pet Partners found that “spending even a short amount of time with an animal may significantly decrease one’s overall anxiety level.” The University of Georgia claimed the event was “a huge success” because students were able to engage with the animals during their most stressful time of the year. Today, the program has expanded, offering students the opportunity to train puppies to become service dogs before leaving for professional training in New York. During the year, these dogs follow students to classes, dorms, and other activities. Alumni Mallory Nelson trained two service dogs during her years at the University of Georgia. Nelson stated that the program “teaches them [the dogs] how to adjust to different environments, remember basic commands, memorize new routes, locate physical structures-such as doors, chairs, ramps and elevators-and react appropriately to safety concerns.” Other colleges, such as Yale University and the University of Connecticut, own both dogs and cats to help students relax and deal with their stress and anxiety.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), studies show that over forty million adults suffer from anxiety. ADAA also stated that “85% of college students reported they felt overwhelmed by everything they had to do at some point within the past year.”  ADAA also reported that 41.6% of those surveyed stated that anxiety is the biggest concern among college students.

High school students experience similar amounts of stress. At Weber, the originally scheduled Shabbaton in the fall planned an activity for students to work with therapy dogs, an event that was unfortunately cancelled. Two of Weber’s teachers have had experience with therapy dogs. The Dean of Science, Sairina Merino Tsui, owns a therapy dog. When asking how she felt about therapy dogs at Weber, she responded, “We all know that seeing a dog or any furry creature will make people happy and we want our students and teachers and we can bring more of that into Weber, even if it includes very well trained dogs, would be great for the school.” Literature teacher, Holly Chesser, is currently adopting a shelter dog to train him this summer to receive his certificate as a therapy dog. Chere Stadler, the school counselor, supports bringing service dogs into the school. Although she doesn’t have any personal experience working with therapy dogs, she claims that there can’t be anything wrong with bringing in a dog to help students who have anxiety, as long as students with allergies don’t engage with the dog. She added that bringing in service dogs is high in demand for both students and teachers. Rabbi Harwitz stated that he has “yet to study about how schools incorporate them into classes and the daily life of students and teachers.” He concluded, stating that he is interested in learning more about schools that have brought in therapy dogs. For anyone interested in learning more, Melissa Fay Greene’s most recent book, “The Underdogs,” highlights the powerful connection dogs can make in the lives of children, especially those who have experienced “grief, emotional, physical, and cognitive disability, and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Recently, Weber brought in Greene to speak about her other book “The Temple Bombing” during Kehilah. Both books are available in the media center. Bringing therapy dogs into Weber could be in the near future; if students and faculty do enough research it is possible that one day, four legged creatures may be walking around the school, too.