6 Ways Therapy Dogs in Schools Help Students Succeed

August 15, 2022 6 min read

6 Ways Therapy Dogs in Schools Help Students Succeed

How Therapy Dogs in Schools Benefit Students by Improving Mood, Performance & Quality of Life

Our nation’s children are growing up in unprecedented times. Between the ongoing threats of school and community violence, racial reckoning, and pandemic fears, kids are experiencing an onslaught of trauma. It is time for us to prioritize the mental health and well-being of our students. When we think about cost and accessibility, therapy dogs make the most sense in schools.

Dogs are Changing the Face of Education

Therapy dogs are changing the face of education and giving kids a better opportunity to learn and feel safe at school during tumultuous times. Therapy dogs should play an important role in the work that schools engage in to help our young people grow up into healthy and whole adults.

Dogs have long been referred to as man's best friend, and even those who don’t live with dogs often love being around them and seeing them around. They provide companionship, love, and support. Science has shown that their presence also has numerous health benefits for people. Studies indicate that therapy dogs can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, as well as promote positive social interactions.

The benefits of using therapy dogs to improve mood, performance and quality of life for students at school are numerous. We'll discuss six ways that therapy dogs in schools can benefit students and help improve a school environment. Learn how your community can benefit from having therapy dogs in school.

What is a therapy dog? 

A therapy dog is a canine trained to provide comfort, support, and affection to children and adults. These dogs provide their services in environments like hospitals, nursing homes, and retirement homes. You can also find therapy dogs in schools, libraries, hospice centers, and areas that have suffered disaster. 

Therapy dogs are a bit different from assistance or service dogs. While therapy dogs are trained to interact with anyone from all walks of life, service dogs are trained to help patients that need special and specific assistance in performing daily tasks. 

The history of therapy dogs 

Humans have used domesticated animals to provide therapy at least as far back as the 18th century. Physicians were the first group of professionals to realize the positive effects of therapy dogs on their patients. Florence Nightingale has been credited with discovering that introducing small pets in the nursing psychiatric wing helped both children and adults recover more quickly. 

Renowned neurologist Sigmund Freud also used his own pet dog to improve communication between himself and his patients. In England, the first Therapy Dog Organization was established by nurse Elaine Smith in 1976.All of this goes to show that the comfort given by therapy dogs to those in need is not a new phenomenon… doctors and scientists have appreciated and used therapy dogs for a very long time! 

Today, you can find community therapy dogs in some schools in both the USA and UK. Therapy dogs in classrooms have proven effective in providing comfort and companionship to students. 

Benefits of therapy dogs in schools 

Therapy dogs reduce stress and foster a supportive environment more conducive to learning 

Research on therapy dogs in schools has demonstrated that providing pet therapy in classes can offer extra physical, emotional, and social support to students provided there are guidelines for implementing this approach.  

The presence of a therapy pet helps reduce the levels of stress hormone cortisol in the body. Less stress helps support greater well-being and improves memory and ability to recall information, which in turn helps students to focus more easily during school. The presence of a therapy pet can also be used to stimulate higher engagement in reading via dog-assisted reading programs, yielding better literacy attitudes, greater confidence and ultimately higher literacy rates.  

Therapy dogs in schools help make learning more exciting and can even reduce the incidence of absenteeism. Young students may look forward to school more when they know that their favorite furry friend will be joining them in class. Besides reducing the number of kids who miss school, therapy dogs in classrooms can also help cut down on negative behavior such as task avoidance or pupil aggression.  

Therapy dogs in schools can boost attentiveness in class 

Staying focused in class can be difficult at times, but therapy dogs have been known to help improve the concentration of students in school. One might assume that therapy dogs could distract students from their schoolwork, but therapy dogs are trained to be attentive, encouraging kids to do the same. In the UK, a dog named Jack helps increase the attention spans of students at St. Edwards Primary School. The students are encouraged to be attentive as they watch the dog listen keenly during classroom story sessions.  

Therapy dogs can also participate in classroom activities to help foster learning and improve concentration in class. Here’s another example from the UK: students of Penybont Primary School take turns reading to Riley the border collie, which helps them learn to read faster and more easily as they bond with Riley in class.  

Therapy dogs help instill a sense of responsibility in students 

Having therapy dogs in schools helps teach students the importance of responsibility, focus, and even empathy. From a young age, students are taught how to care for animals through bonding with therapy pets and catering to their needs. 

At St Edwards in the UK, students have a schedule for feeding and taking care of Jack the therapy dog. The students read to the dog, feed him treats, and take him for walks during break time. By doing so, the children learn how to care for these gentle and lovable animals. Students grow up with a greater sense of compassion and understanding for dogs and other pets. 

Therapy dogs help increase social interaction 

Pets make the best ice breakers and often spark conversations among pet lovers. Having therapy dogs present in schools helps create the same atmosphere to boost interactions among students. Not only does the mood of students improve by having a pet around, but it also increases their self-esteem as they share positive experiences with the therapy dog and other students. 

Another school in the UK called Burton Salmon CP School has introduced therapy dogs into their curriculum, too. Therapy dogs are often used to foster teamwork among students to increase problem-solving skills, especially while playing classroom games.  

 Therapy dogs in schools help improve the moods of the students 

Having a dog around can greatly improve students’ moods while in the classroom. Therapy dogs in schools have been used to help special needs students, especially those suffering from social anxiety or anger issues. These dogs improve student-to-student relationships and even teacher-to-student relationships. 

In Portland, Oregon, a dog named Archie serves as a therapy dog in Franklin High School. Archie was introduced to the school in 2014 as a therapy dog for special needs students. After Archie was introduced, teachers noticed significant mood improvement in students that were struggling with anxiety. Archie still has a full-time job at the school helping students with special needs and is also the unofficial school mascot.  

Therapy dogs help replicate the family environment 

Many students grow up with pets at home, so seeing therapy dogs in their classrooms replicates that aspect of the family environment that they are used to. This can help make school a more relaxed environment for students - which in turn fosters learning. 

Therapy dogs can help make it easier for kids to connect at home with their own family members after the school day is over. Therapy dogs can be an exciting topic for kids to talk about at dinner tables, increasing bonding and helping parents also get a firsthand experience of the positive impact that therapy dogs can have on their children. 

Create a more supportive learning environment today

Schools are beginning to see the importance of therapy dogs and explore the various ways in which they can contribute to school environments. From reducing stress and promoting positive moods to improving socialization skills and creating a fun learning environment in which students feel safer, these furry friends help students succeed both inside and outside the classroom. 

Therapy dogs in schools are a great way to bring joy and happiness into the lives of students while helping them build relationships with those around them, which leads to better mental health overall. It’s clear that therapy dogs can have a significant impact on students’ lives, both on their mental and emotional health and also on their academic success. With more emotional support and an environment that reduces aggressive behavior, children perform better in school. Learning to coexist with pets in school also creates more opportunities to cultivate empathy and nurture compassion for animals as well as people.

If you’re looking for ways to create a more supportive and welcoming school environment, consider bringing in therapy dogs. Already have therapy dogs in your school? Share your story with us to be featured!


  1. (2022). Retrieved 20 April 2022, from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1173578.pdf 
  1. Grové, Christine et al. “Therapy Dogs in Educational Settings: Guidelines and Recommendations for Implementation.” Frontiers in veterinary science vol. 8 655104. 8 Jun. 2021, doi:10.3389/fvets.2021.655104 

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