Why every school should bring dogs
into the classroom
Aug. 21, 2015, 12:00 PM 10,581
Dogs are bottomless pits of love and they forgive us
even when we're at our most morally bankrupt.
So shouldn't bringing dogs into schools — to listen to
us, to learn from us, and to ease our stress — make as
much sense as traditional education? Emerging research
into dog therapy and dog-assisted education suggests
that's the case.
Consider the essential skill of reading.
For toddlers, learning how to read can be a supremely
frustrating process. It doesn't help when teachers,
parents, and other students — especially those further
along in the reading process — get impatient.
tales for tails Santa Cruz Public Libraries/Flickr
But do you know who doesn't get impatient? Dogs.
Programs like Readers of the Pack and Tales for Tails
bring trained therapy dogs into school libraries to do
nothing but sit and listen as children read. Kids can
work through tricky vowel sounds without feeling like
they're pressured to hurry up. And instead of
disapproving looks, they're met with the eager face of a
polite and furry listener.
Reading to dogs has repeatedly been shown to offer kids
a leg up.
One study conducted at the University of California,
Davis, found a 12% boost in reading proficiency when
kids read aloud to dogs for 10 to 15 minutes per week.
Another study found therapy dogs could raise literacy by
at least two grade levels.
Dogs can also learn from us.
College students at Ben-Gurion University in Israel help
puppies learn the ropes in becoming seeing-eye dogs. The
school partners with the Israeli Guide Dog Center for
the Blind, which began training dogs in Hebrew in the
late 1980s to accommodate Israel's non-English-speaking
population. Roughly 50 to 60 dogs graduate from the
program each year, 25 of whom get their start on BGU's
bgu dogs1Dani Machlis/BGU
From the time they're only a few weeks old until they
hit their first birthday, the dogs shadow students
everywhere they go: to class, to the dorm, on buses, on
shopping trips. All the while, they learn the basics of
staying quiet and obedient around large groups of
people. Once the year is up, they move on to more
advanced training outside the university.
Similar programs have popped up at Ithaca College,
Muhlenberg College, and Hartwick College.
Dogs have also have gained popularity with colleges
during grueling exam weeks. With their sanity hanging by
a thread, students can find comfort in the dogs' soft
fur and open faces.
At Harvard and Yale, law students can check out in-house
therapy dogs like they would a library book. At Kent
State University, where the Dogs on Campus pet therapy
program has been growing steadily since 2006, students
can meet with dogs on a regular basis to ease the
separation anxiety of being far away from their own dog.
Whether they're trotting dutifully beside us or simply
lying at our feet, the effect of being close to dogs is
clear: They make us healthier.
In 2001, for instance, scientists found people with high
blood pressure could better control their physiological
health during times of stress if they owned a pet.
Petting a dog (or any pettable animal, for that matter)
can help reduce the body's production of cortisol — the
so-called stress hormone — and increase levels of
oxytocin, which promotes feelings of bonding.
Currently, 21% of American adults read at or below a
fifth-grade level and another 9.5% suffer from anxiety
disorders. Dogs can't resolve those complex issues in
full, but, if used creatively, they do seem capable of
making life a little bit easier.
Not that anyone needed science to tell them that.