School Therapy Dogs

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Other Considerations

Considerations for Copper

Both the kids and I would love having Copper come to school with me every day.  However, this isn't in Copper's best interest.  Most days start with meetings at 7 or 7:30am, after school activities with kids run until 4pm and then I need time to unbury my desk from a busy day.  This is simply too long of a day for Copper.  I am fortunate that I live close to the school and can pick him up or drop him off for his 1/2 day schedule.  He currently works Monday AM, Tuesday PM and Thursday AM.  He still runs to the car and waits for me to open the door when he sees that I am carrying his yellow "school" bag.  I interpret that as a sign that he still wants to work at school.

I build his 1/2 day schedule with considerations of his strengths.  He quickly engages in the rally-type work with the kids, being up and moving around.  I break that up with Reading Retriever work where he is expected to lay on the floor and listen to a story.  Each student is scheduled for 30 minutes.  However, that time includes walking to and from their class and a quick break outside.  Work time in the counseling room is actually around 25 minutes per session.  Copper has one longer break scheduled in the middle of his work day.  We spend that time outside without other people.  He knows the command "break".   That means we are heading out the front door of the school for a quick walk.  I have a short waiting list of students who have goals that Copper may be able to help with.  However, once his schedule is full, the waiting list starts.  In the future, I may consider bringing in another dog for different days to help serve more students. 

Copper also knows the word "recess".  He eagerly will head to the side door that leads to the playground.  Once outside, he becomes a kid magnet.  The school expecations of how to approach and how many can pet are strictly enforced.  Copper loves to dig in the sand to find rocks.  More information about recess can be found on the animal-assisted activities page.

Copper has his "dog only" zone in the counseling room where he works.  This provides him the opportunity to take a break if he so desires.  This also provides me with a command "kennel" to ensure he moves to a safe place in the room if a student unexpectedly escalates and becomes physical.  I have not had to use the "kennel" command but we practice it occasionally.   


Having an animal in a school setting does not sit well with district risk management.  I have found that the insuance provided to ASCA (American School Counselor Association) members does not cover therapy dogs.  The insurance through the school district or through the union does not cover therapy dogs.  All of the registry organizations that I am aware of offer insurance for volunteer work.  This covers me for work outside of school.   I have found personal liability insurance under Healthcare Providers Service Organization - HPSO that does cover the Animal Assisted Therapy work as a school counselor in a public school.  The pricing was much more reasonable (about 15% of the costs) through HPSO than other businesses that offer coverage for private practice therapists.

Setting Considerations

Since I work in this school, I get to know the students much better than in a model where the therapy team visits different sites.  This is a strength when working with a student who struggles with escalations.  I have access to their behavior data, behavior and safety plans, and daily school routine.  I can tell if they are having a tough day, what cues to use with them, small signs of escalation, and tools to descalate if needed.  

An elementary school is packed with unique experiences for dogs.  Our school has artwork and papers hanging from the walls, projects constructed with fruit loops or chocolate chips line parts of the hallways and long lines of kids walking to PE or music create a host of smells and sounds.   I bring Copper into the school in August prior to the arrival of the kids.  We then re-visit the school in the evening after the kids have been here a few days and the walls and halls are full of new work.  Copper's first trip into the school when students are here is after I've given my behavior expectations guidance lesson in all classrooms.  

I have not had Copper in the building on the same day as a fire drill.  Since Copper does not work full-time, we have scheduled those outside of his hours.  If we were going to have a drill while he was here, the principal will give me a warning.  My plan is to bring in hotdog pieces for that event and allow Copper to have a piece every few steps as we exit the building. 

The students in my school enjoy taking Copper for walks.  I have a long blue "adult" leash that is always on Copper if we are outside a closed room.  I also have an additional green "student" leash that is much shorter.   The student walks next to Copper, he is in a heel position related to them.  I walk behind both of them.  Often, our hallways have classes walking single file in the hall.  Having me behind the student and Copper allows for other classes to have room to walk. 


I've had a couple readers ask about allergies and how I deal with them at school.  I do have families contact me with concerns regarding allergies and the health aide informs me if there is a potential issue.  We do have a staff member at our school who is allergic to dogs.  She and I work together to ensure Copper doesn't have direct physical contact with her or is in her workspace.  Part of my protocol is to give Copper regular baths, about once per month and to wipe him down with an anti-dander spray every day he comes to work.  The spray or wipes can be found at the local pet supply store.  Be careful not to use the ones with alcohol in them as they tend to dry out the coat.  I also have students wash their hands after working with Copper.  Those actions have resulted in zero issues.  I have heard of rare allergies in which people will have a reaction to the fur or dander on other people's clothing, even if the animal is not present.  Fortunately, I have not had to try to find a way to deal with that.