Special education students at Jamestown High School in Virginia have been working with a therapy dog each week since November 2013. Teachers in the classroom say that Louie has brought something new to their students during this time. With the therapy dog’s assistance, these high school students have worked on exercises, fine motor work, speaking, and counseling.

Students in this class practice their literacy skills by reading aloud to Louie, who never judges them. They are also able to learn responsibilities and help with the therapy dog. Children that had been afraid of dogs are no longer anxious, and students that were hyperactive have calmed with their furry friend. The dog’s presence has helped to bring out the best in students who are more comfortable working on skills when he is in the classroom.

In Ohio, a program called Agility Ability has been working with some schools using their therapy dogs that are also trained in agility to work with children. Their mission statement:  To provide a therapeutic animal-assisted activity that encourages children with developmental delays to build self-esteem, as well as motivate physical coordination and mental focus by utilizing the skills of therapy certified agility teams. The program has helped children on the autism spectrum, along with speech and anxiety concerns. The kids socialize with the dogs, handlers, and other children in their group. The children have shown growth in basic skills while expanding their self confidence.

Schools that are interested in integrating therapy dogs into their special education classroom should reach out to local therapy dog groups. Therapy Dog Information has a listing of organizations that you may contact to get additional details within your state or local community. While some districts may not want to purchase their own therapy dog, they may be able to team up with groups like Agility Ability to create programs that would meet the needs of your students. While the use of therapy dogs is an added expense, look for grants that may also be available to assist in this area.

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