Therapy dogs are not uncommon in the world of educational therapy. Many times, they work with special education classes to assist students. These canine companions may help encourage them in speech and language, move with them during physical therapy, or simply be a friendly face that makes them happy. Now there are even more specialized therapy dogs that are able to smell stress. These canines are able to sniff out the subtle scent of the stress hormone cortisol on a person's breath.
In some elementary schools, these service dogs greet children each morning. When they walk over to say hello to a child entering the classroom, they sniff their breath for a hint of cortisol. If they smell some, they are trained to do a move that will let their trainer know to follow up with the child. When they see the dog lean back and stare at the student, they are aware that cortisol is present on the child’s breath.
The Calais School is trying something new with therapy dogs. They have added two stress smelling therapy dogs and teachers to their building. The pre-K to 12-plus special education building has a large number of children on the autism spectrum. In addition to this, other kids are dealing with anxiety, emotional troubles, and mood disorders. The teachers at their school work with the service dogs that are certified through Natural Canine Behavior Rehabilitation.
If one of the dogs senses the cortisol, the teacher will approach the student to follow up. They may say that the dog told them that they were stressed. The kids then get the extra attention they need to get off to a better start in the day. In addition to this, the dogs are therapeutic as well. They calm the children down, and many will talk through what is bothering them.
Each of the dogs at Calais has a different roll. Cali works mostly as a behavior intervention. When she is not catching cortisol scents, she is also available to help when a student has a meltdown. For some of the children, her ability to be there is calming. Cleo works more with the kids during therapy sessions. She assists kids with reading, speech, and occupational therapy. She has a vest that kids can help her to wear that allows them to work on their motor skills.
With the success of this program, other schools may start to look at the benefits of therapy dogs. Now they not only help students, but can let adults know more about the stress levels of individuals. If they can prevent a high stress moment or decrease it, kids will be able to keep their focus and do better work.