Local school districts are turning to therapy dogs to support students’ mental health
PHILADELPHIA – Local school districts are using dogs as the latest strategy to help students and staff overcome mental and emotional issues and stress at school.
Puppies and adult dogs trained with their owners at Fallsington Elementary School in Levittown on Monday morning after the Pennsbury School District said its latest goal is to have a therapy dog in every school in the district after recent statistics showed interaction with dogs can benefit people’s mental health.
“We run mental health and suicide prevention programs, and dogs are involved in every one of our programs,” said Tricia Baker, director of Attitudes in Reverse Therapy Dog Training.
Baker and her daughter Katelyn work with dogs to train them to provide a sense of calm and comfort in a counseling session or an emergency. The mother-daughter duo spends dozens of hours each week traveling to different schools to teach a 40-week program involving dog owners and their pets.
“It’s nice to be able to turn the knowledge we had from teaching about dogs into even more,” said Katelyn Baker.
Nine administrators and teachers from Pennsbury School District have volunteered for the 11-month intensive training course to meet their goal of assigning a dog to every school in the district. Superintendent Thomas Smith says he wants the dogs to be at school regularly.
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Studies show that there are physiological benefits when students interact with dogs. Students can read to the dogs, pet the dogs, and talk about their problems, which Smith says is helpful at a time when children are concerned about safety at school.
“During times of stress or crisis, the dogs support the students,” Smith said.
The Bakers’ Princeton-based dog training business began after Tricia’s son took his own life. This tragedy led the Bakers into the animal therapy industry and the two have trained dogs for eight different school districts to date.