School Therapy Dogs

Education Professionals Working with Registered Therapy Dogs in a School Setting

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 possibly a quick break outside.  Work time in the counseling room is actually around 25 minutes per session.  Copper has one longer break (5 to 10 minutes) 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.  I have worked around decreasing the waiting list by having a volunteer therapy dog team work at our school for an hour on Fridays.  


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.   

Insurance

The primary therapy dog registries have insurance policies for the teams that are registered with their organization for volunteer work.  However, if you are using the model of bringing in your own dog to work and getting paid for that position, the insurance policy does not cover you. 

I spent quite of bit of time trying to find a policy that was affordable.   There were several options for private practice but they costs upwards of $1500 per year.   I did find a policy through HPSO - Healthcare Providers Service Organization.  I've had their professional liability coverage for several years now and it runs be roughly $150 per year. 

As of January 2018, there may be options available through Pet Partners and ATD for professional liability insurance for those of us that get paid to work with our canine co-workers.  

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. During the school year, Copper walks past lunch boxes filled with interesting smells and the gym with 30 basketballs bouncing at the same time.  He understands those are "leave it" situations and he continues with whatever we were doing.  

Copper has experienced 3 fire alarms in his time at BF Kitchen.  I coordinated the first drill with an ample supply of hot dogs.   Copper was then rewarded for exiting the building through a loud alarm and flashing lights.   Outside of that time, I coordinate with my administrator so Copper is not in the building during the alarm.  I will take him for a walk outside as the alarm starts.  We then line up with all the students who are exiting the building.   There was one instance where the alarm went off due to an unknown cause.  In that case, Copper and I followed our protocols and exited the building with everyone else.  He did great and was able to provide positive interactions with our younger students as we waited outside for the fire department to clear the building and allow us back in. 

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. 

Allergies

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. 


I have been contacted by parents that wanted Copper to work with their son who had an allergy to dogs.   We worked together to minimize the impact.  The student used hand signals to communicate with Copper and did not physically touch him.   We worked in a space that Copper typically doesn't spend time in and the student washed hands both before and after the interaction.   It worked out beautifully!  The parents were happy and the student demonstrated significant growth on their goal.