Whenever I visit a new school that is interested in having the Community Therapy Dog Society (CTDS) program, the first question I ask the Principal is “what is your biggest challenge at the school?” Without fail, the answer I get back is “stressed out students”. Without delving into the multitude of factors that cause stress for students, the general consensus is that students have never been as stressed out as they are nowadays. True or not, that is the perception. It was with this in mind that CTDS created the “Caring Tails” program 3 years ago. Designed for all age group, this program has been particularly popular in schools.
So how do therapy dogs help students? We have found that just having that human-dog interaction, whether on-going or in a one-off situation helps the de-stressing process. Students can just “park their problems at the door” for a period and lose themselves in the dog. Maybe it’s the act of stroking a dog, feeling secure enough to talk to a dog about what’s stressing you out or getting a lick from a dog: the dog is giving the student its attention and providing a comforting environment.
A lot of schools have asked that the therapy dogs come every week as they have a number of students that could benefit from our dogs’ care. The age range of the students is elementary through to senior high and the type of stress is often reflected in the students’ age.
We also get requests to go to schools during certain times of the year or following a tragedy that has befallen a particular student or group of students. For several years CTDS has visited the Chestermere High School over exam time in January and June and that has now expanded to St Gabriels and Henry Wise Wood Senior High. The most effective use of the dogs’ time with the students is directly before they are due to write their exam papers. My dog Finn was one of 3 dogs we took to St Gabriels last month and the impact of having the dogs there was significant. Without any prompting, students expressed to us how much more relaxed they felt after being around the dogs. All 3 dogs enjoyed the attention as well! In the recent past, we have also taken the dogs into schools when students have their shots. There has been more than one occasion when having a dog with a student who is “nervous of the needle” has enabled the student to get through the ordeal: without the dog being there the student would not have had the inoculation.
When tragedy strikes, it can impact students suddenly and severely. Fortunately, in the last 5 years, CTDS has been in the position of being able to comfort students through our therapy dogs when the need has arisen.
Dogs can’t fix all our problems but they sure play a big role in comforting us when the going gets tough. You could say “when the going gets tough, the dogs get going”.