Counselors with Fur + 6 Skills Powered by Dogs
At the end of the sun- and fun-filled summer, it’s not unusual for kids to have the “back to school blues.” Yet some students will be excited to meet with their school counselors to help them with their schedules and work through their woes—especially if their counselor is covered in fur and walks on four legs!
Far from the typical classroom gerbil, canine therapy dogs are currently considered an effective educational tool across the country and are used for everything from teaching social skills and responsibility to comforting students in times of grief or personal crisis. But canine counselors must be few and far between, you say? Not necessarily. The leading provider of professional assistance dogs, Canine Assistance, Rehabilitation, Education and Services Inc. (C.A.R.E.S), has connected more than 1,100 trained therapy dogs with schools, group homes and facilities in 39 states and five foreign countries.
Founded in 1994 in Concordia, Kansas, C.A.R.E.S. is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing trained service dogs. When the dogs graduate from the program, they are trained to help support people who are recovering after a bad fall; are taught sign language to assist the hearing impaired; know 43 basic commands; and are even trained for basic search-and-rescue (not only for emergencies, but also as hide and seek partners for children).
But these canine counselors are not just wandering the halls or hanging out on the playground at recess. Often, therapy dogs provide special needs students with unconditional love or a sense of purpose and responsibility for the dog’s care. Therapy dogs might be used in math (weigh the dog and convert his weight from pounds to grams) or reading aloud (dogs don’t care whether you get the words exactly right!).
In addition to being comforting companions, therapy dogs also help to teach kids several other skills:
- Asking for Help—Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society), another organization that trains therapy dogs, said that people with dogs are much more approachable; this includes authority figures such as teachers, counselors and principals.
Better Behavior—Educators tell students that if the dog can behave, they can as well, and everyone in the class wants to mimic the dog’s behavior.
- Improved Memory Skills—To get the dogs to perform tasks, students have to remember a specific sequence of commands.
- Higher IQ—Research shows that children who have regular contact with animals have higher IQ scores.
- Persistence—When the dogs play hide and seek with the students, it’s sometimes difficult for them to locate the students. Teachers use this lesson to teach students that these dogs never give up, no matter how complicated the task.
- Empathy and Respect—Some children are simply not taught to have empathy or treat other living things with respect. In schools where therapy dogs are used, a majority of the students build their own relationship with the dog, which includes wanting to protect their friend. Learning not to harm animals at an early age is key in discouraging future animal abuse.
And these are only a handful of ways therapy dogs benefit the education and health of children. For further info, click here.
Shout Out to LCC K9 Comfort Dogs
Far from the typical “blues,” the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) K9 Comfort Dogs responded almost immediately to the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. These professional therapy dogs deserve more than our heart-felt thanks for helping students, teenagers, parents, teachers and members of the community to discuss their fear and grief with each other and these quiet companions. For more on these amazing animals, click here.