School Dogs

Nina. Photo by Dave Robinson, via KQED

From KQED News: Burgundy Farm Country Day School, a K-8 private school in Alexandria, Virginia, has made comfort dogs a regular part of the school day.

Jeff Sindler, the head of the school, said the dogs “go a long way toward improving students’ social and emotional well-being.” They help preserve the school climate that Sindler believes Burgundy embodies: one that is accepting, supportive and curious. He brings his dog, Cameron, a Labrador-Terrier mix to school with him every day. What makes the Burgundy program unique is that they employ “regular” dogs, not those specially trained as therapy dogs or reading dogs.

Research at Yale Innovative Interactions Lab backs him up. Because dogs co-evolved with humans over 30,000 years, they have become adept at understanding social and emotional cues from humans. And according to Yale researcher Molly Crossman, who studies how humans interact with dogs, “there is encouraging, preliminary evidence that dogs might reduce stress.”

While some school districts enact no-dogs rules to protect children who are afraid of or allergic to the animals and to keep school property free of dog waste, a New York City pilot program pairs select dogs from the North Shore Animal League America with participating New York City schools. In addition to offering ordinary comfort, some of the dogs are deployed in teachers’ lesson plans to encourage empathy, cooperation and decision-making as part of the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum.

Nina, a Boxer-Beagle mix rescued from a kill shelter, attends Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. One of her duties is attending therapy sessions. The school has found more children wanting to come to therapy and being more willing to open up about their problems since Nina began attending. Nina is also helpful in de-escalating conflicts between students.

Sindler has found similar reactions to Cameron from the students at Burgundy. Kids seem to relax around dogs, making them more ready to learn.

And I bet the dogs love it, too. A win all around!

Until next time,
Good day, and good dog!

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