Can Dogs Provide Therapy for Kids at School?
In our last article we talked about “Dogs at School”, not a school for dogs, but at school for children. In this article we will talk more about Brooke, and the difference she makes and the therapy she provides.
The difference I have seen in the children since we began training has been nothing short of amazing.
For example, Sean, a sixth grader this year, has Autism and is extremely smart, but lacks focus. The calm way he approaches and confidently practices sits and downs with Brooke is 180 degrees different than it was last year.
Six months ago, he would barely participate in training. When he did he would be waving his hands wildly or tossing treats around sporadically, confusing poor Brooke and getting little results.
The teachers and I use positive reinforcement with the students and Brooke, coaching the children on how to give a treat from the palm of their hands, and how give clear and concise directions.
Sean is now confident, knows the correct cue words and hand signals for Brooke. Today he is bonded with Brooke, who looks up at him, calmly awaiting instructions.
Teaching Brooke tricks and skills
We often break into teams, playing games, working collaboratively to get Brooke to perform tricks or learn new skills.
We created a game where the teams spin a wheel, and then choose a colored cue card with instructions on what to do with the dog. When Sean drew the card “Get Dizzy” he joyously sang, “You spin me right round Baby, right round, like a record Baby, right round round round…” while luring Brooke to spin in a circle three times.
One of our first objectives was to teach young Brooke to walk nicely on leash, regardless of who may be holding it. We lined up across the play field, each taking a turn out front with Brooke and played Red Light, Green Light.
The kids were laughing and having a great time; Brooke quickly picked up on the idea and fell into line. Today, even the quietest, smallest little girl can hold Brooke’s leash in the midst of chaos in the hallways and feel safe and confident.
Socialization with Brooke has been one of our biggest projects. The classroom frequently takes field trips to Anderson House, a local assisted living facility. While visiting, the residents enjoy not only seeing Brooke who gives them attention and love, but also seeing the children and how well they can get Brooke to do a myriad of tricks.
We thought that teaching Brooke the individual names of the children and staff frequently in the room would be beneficial. The kids love to play a game where we spread out around the room or up and down hallways telling Brooke to “go find” a certain person. At first, we would call Brooke to “Come” but now that she is good at finding the correct person, we are making it harder by turning our backs to her until she comes to us.
Brooke enjoys reading time, where the kids sit in a carpeted area reading silently or to Brooke. At the musical assembly, Brooke appeared on stage while the children sang a song they wrote about her. She also enjoys escorting students out to the school bus. During their Halloween party, Brooke was dressed up as a pumpkin.
When asked about dog training, and having Brooke in class every day, the students had great things to say:
- “Kids can have fun playing with dogs and in training we get to be friends.”
- Says Senay, whose favorite game is fetch and favorite cue is “Bed” where Brooke runs to her X-pen and lays down. He goes on to say, “I think she knows and likes me because I can talk to her and she listens. Brooke feels like a sister to me.”
- One of Brooke’s jobs will be to assist students by picking up dropped items, fetching things and running papers between Mrs. Russell and Mrs. Gowey, the other teacher in the classroom. Senay says that when he asks Brooke to hand him something, he enjoys giving her a treat, as long as Mrs. Russell says that it is okay to do so.
- Said, a sixth grader this year has been with the program since the beginning, but rarely participated last year, preferring to sit and watch. Now he frequently joins in and is having much success. Said told me, “Training dogs is fun. You learn not to be afraid. Your relationship with Brooke is better because you get to know her and when she learns a new trick, you praise her and give her treats and love.” Said is also glad that Brooke has learned to not jump on people.
- Jairo, who is afraid of dogs, tells me that he loves Brooke and when she runs up to greet him that he enjoys petting her and is no longer afraid of her. This has helped him to overcome some other fears.
- Vince, a returning student from last year says he is amazed at how much Brooke has learned. That she has learned to not do the bad stuff but also to do the good stuff, just like Room 203’s motto.
- Matt, who has been a very active participant since the beginning, loves the opportunity to throw balls for Brooke during her “recess” time. Proudly, he can throw a ball the entire length of the field while using a Chuckit. He remembers and misses Abby, but is grateful for the friendship he has with Brooke and says that training with her has made this a really great year.
- Tyler a fifth grader, who really loves dogs, says, “Learning to train Brooke has made it possible for me to train my own dog at home. You can teach them stuff you want to do and make them a better dog and they listen better. Whenever I’m around Brooke, I’m so happy. I feel protected and I feel really warm in my heart. She is the best dog a boy could ever have.”
A well trained dog is such a pleasure!
Check out the dates for our family friendly dog training sessions.