Why schools are turning to dogs for student development

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There is no denying the instant feeling of happiness and comfort when a dog cuddles up to you as you pet it. Beyond these obvious perks, the benefits of being around a dog trickles down directly to kids with effects on their psychological development and well-being. This goes to show that dogs are truly a man’s best friend across all ages.

The increasing use of dogs in the classroom

The many joys that dogs bring have been realised by schools across Australia recently. Dogs are being introduced into classrooms to facilitate kids’ learning in a fun and creative way. Not only are dogs useful in teaching students vital skills but they can also foster a positive mental state in the school environment and help kids with special needs.

Improve mental health

Melrose Primary School in Victoria have been strong advocates of dogs in the classroom. This year, they introduced a Dogs in School program which has proven beneficial for both staff and students’ mental wellbeing. Teachers in the school have attested that the introduction of Daisy the dog has helped to create a calm and caring environment among children who are being taught self-awareness and empathy when interacting with Daisy.

Therapy dogs in schools have also been encouraged by Queensland’s Department of Education. They have been used as part of a ‘calm down strategy’ for students who feel stressed or anxious. Helensvale State High School and Bremer State High School have thrived with the introduction of therapy dogs, seeing improvements in the emotional wellbeing of their students.

Learn to read

Primary schools such as Elizabeth South Primary School in Adelaide and Eastbourne Primary School in Victoria have taken advantage of the national program, Story Dogs, as an effective way to teach children how to read.

Dogs are trained to listen to students read aloud, creating a non-judgemental environment as they develop this skill. The program has been successful as teachers notice great improvements among students who have reading delays or who initially lacked the confidence to pick up a book.

Helping kids with autism

Schools are becoming more proactive when catering for children diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Therapy dogs are one of the strategies being adapted by schools to calm children down when they have or are about to have a behavioural incident. Christie Downs Primary School is one of the schools to jump onboard. The school has introduced Pippa the therapy dog as part of their calm spaces to help such students settle down.

The benefits of dogs in your child’s development

Bringing in dogs to the classroom is definitely not a fad to make schools trendy and cool for the kids. The introduction of these dog-centric programs can be backed by several studies showing that dogs can really have a positive impact on a child’s development.

1. A more productive learning experience

The presence of a real dog can improve a child’s cognitive task performance, often being positively related to increased motivation and concentration. In 2012, a comparative study was held to examine two groups of kids where one would complete a task in the presence of a real dog and the other in the presence of a stuffed animal. Results showed that the group of children around the real dog were able to better focus their attention on the demands of the task they were given.

2. Developing a sense of care and responsibility

Dogs can also help children learn a sense of responsibility and independence. Especially for families who own a pet, designating pet-related tasks is a simple yet very effective way to instil responsibility and care as it is one of the only “chores” in the house where another living creature is directly relying on them.

3. Mental health improvements

The strong sense of companionship that dogs provide can lead to ripple effects for children’s mental health in being able to eliminate negative thoughts and encourage positive social behaviours. This was shown in a recent study to test canine visitation therapy on children experiencing pain after an operation. It showed that these children were distracted from pain-related cognition by the dogs’ bringing about more comforting feelings of companionship or a sense of home.

Despite the fact that dogs are guaranteed to cheer you up on any occasion, their benefits stretch far beyond sheer company and cuddles. Let’s hope that more schools jump on the bandwagon of introducing dogs in the classroom as they are able to help kids’ in their learning and mental health development in a way that maybe us humans are sometimes not able to.

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