School Therapy Dogs

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Site Evaluation

Once you have the support of your administration, the next step is to conduct a through site evaluation.  This step will help outline what aspects of your school need to be changed prior to bringing a dog onsite.  The best tool by far to accomplish this is the Standards of Practice for Animal-Assisted-Activites and Animal-Assted-Therapy that is published by Delta Society  .  My copy of this publication is worn from the multiple times I've referred to it for step by step walk checklist to develop standards for my school. 


There are 3 primary areas that I focused on in a site evaluation. 


School Layout and Typical Activities -  I needed to consider and plan movement through hallways full of students, classrooms, outside access for bathroom breaks,  playground equipment and counseling room set-up.  Copper and I work primarily out of the counseling room.  I'm very fortunate to have a room where I can keep a kennel next to my desk.  It's the dog-only zone.  This is where Copper goes when he needs a break from the session or activity. I also needed to consider what would happen during a fire alarm or lock-down.  So far, Copper's schedule has not coinsided with a fire alarm drill.  My plan, with my prinicipal's support, is to be notified in advance of a drill.  At the moment the alarm is pulled for a drill, I will ensure we are not working with a student, are near an exit and that I have a handful of hotdog bits for positive reinforcement.   


Student Assessment -  I have discovered that more students respond positively to Copper than any other reward system I've ever tried.   However, there are students who have aversions to dogs.  I am aware of a student who was attacked by a dog when she was young. This is vital knowledge to having a dog working in a school.  I obtain this type of information in several different ways.  One way is to advertise at the beginning of the school year about having a dog in school.  I include my email and phone number and request that families contact me with any concerns.  I also include a statement in my first guidance lesson of the year. I have students drop a message in my locked "mailbox" if they have concerns.  I also stress that it's OK if they don't like dogs.  They are very important to me and their feelings of safety at school are my highest priority.  I do have certain classrooms that Copper is not allowed to enter.  If we are working with a student from that class, we wait at the door and have someone else get their attention.  


It is also important to note in this section about checking for allergies and negative physical behaviors.  There have been a small handful of students that do not meet the protocols for working with Copper. They have a history of hitting, kicking, biting and/or throwing items at peers and staff.  I do not consider having these students work with Copper until we have addressed the physical behaviors and they have proven they can use a safe replacement behavior when feeling overwhelmed or angry. 

 

Staff Assessment - There is a staff member at my school who has an adversion to dogs.  She and I were able to work together to established a set of expectations so that she felt comfortable.  Copper is not allowed in her classroom and is always on a leash inside and outside the building.  The only exception is when he is working in the counseling room and the door is closed.   I am very grateful for her willingness to work with me.  She has referred several of her students to work with Copper and has seen the success of the program.