When you walk into a room with a therapy dog in the Dansville Central School District, you will see the dog and the children’s responses to the dog. What you cannot see unless you are in the room for a long time is the calm mood, low anxiety and well-being of the people in the room.
Our trainers’ “best friends” have become our students’ best friends, and our staff enthusiastically embraces the positive results of DCSD’s Therapy Dog Program.
There is an increase in mental health problems in schools. With overexposure to social media, cyberbullying, digital media, violent images, and more, some students can experience extreme feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. With 1 in 6 6-17 year olds in the US experiencing a mental health disorder and suicide being the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34, implementing a program to improve the mental well-being of our children is critical and necessary. (National Council on Mental Health).
Another thing you may not notice is the increase in academic performance. A University of California study of canine reading programs found that students who participated in one program increased their reading ability by between 12 percent and 30 percent (National Association of Secondary School Principals).
Dansville Central Schools now boasts nine therapy dogs! Our primary school has two, EBH has two, and high school has five. In addition, several retired therapy dogs have passed through our doors. We are in our fourth year of the therapy dog program.
EBH teacher Christina Gullen said, “The best part of my day is watching a student light up when they see a therapy dog in the hallway. Our kids love these dogs and our dogs love them too. Our program is designed to do just that – to promote a positive and nurturing school environment.”
Kaylee Walker trains most of the therapy dogs approved to be in the class. Kaylee is the owner/operator of K’s Canine on Route 36 in Dansville. According to Walker, “We work hard to ensure that dogs love their work and that they are a good fit for the classroom or office. Training takes a lot of work from an employee and I couldn’t be more. proud of their time and effort. Dogs bring a sense of calm. I think sometimes they offer motivation in the classroom. Children understand the behavior of dogs better. It even helps in children’s lives outside of school. This is one of my favorite programs to work on and I’m so grateful to see it grow!”
DCS also hosts dogs trained by retired teacher Deb Fenton. Deb is a certified dog trainer and Tester/Observer for the Therapy Dog Alliance. “Therapy dogs are a great asset in an educational environment,” says Fenton. I have seen students who are physically unable to concentrate on their work complete tasks without difficulty with a dog sitting at their feet. Dogs also calm down students who are upset and can’t say why. They hug or hold the dog and immediately feel better. The relationship between dogs and people is extraordinary.”
Each dog undergoes extensive training, and their handlers must complete an additional 250 hours of training on their own.
The Dansville Foundation provides funding for Education and the investment is evaluated annually.
Our current dog sitters are:
Middle School: Bucket and Handler Lynne Blum; Cassie and handler Holly Carson; Daisy Duke and Tracy Gregorius; Elise and manager Kari Evans; and Sophie and Julie Drolette. Remington and handler Katie Bancroft, Daisy and Erin Smith are therapy dogs at an elementary school. Our primary school has Toffee and handler Sheila Cripps, Lyla and handler Tina Gullen.
The benefits of therapy dogs in an educational program are the improvement of a person’s physical, social, emotional, thinking and intellectual skills. The program is targeted to individual students when applied to unique educational settings. Improving verbal skills, attention span, etc. as a special purpose is intended. The process is documented and evaluated.
Dr. Purina’s chief scientific officer. Reading to pets can help children improve their reading skills, says Annie Valuska. She says it can improve reading fluency, boost reading confidence and overall self-confidence.
Superintendent Dr. Dansville. Paul Alioto is committed to the program. “A small group of teachers started talking to me about therapy dogs five years ago. We visited other regions with the programs, saw the benefits and thought we could do the same. At the time, Deb Fenton was an active teacher at DHS and she was the strongest advocate for therapy dogs and what they can do for our children and adults! Later, as a member of the DCSD School Board, Deb continued her advocacy and the program grew. People see dogs, servants, children and lots of smiles. They may not realize how much work goes into training and planning. We express our gratitude to the teaching staff who took this responsibility.”
Perhaps the most significant benefit of therapy dogs in the classroom is the impact on students’ social-emotional development. Cute and cuddly dogs are non-judgmental friendly companions and good listeners. Children bond quickly with these gentle creatures, helping them feel more connected and confident. This leads to a decrease in negative behavior and aggression.
Elementary AIS teacher Katie Bancroft (Remington’s handler) said, “The therapy dog program was one of the things that drew me to Dansville. I know how much better (calm) I feel when my dog is with me. Especially after the stress and uncertainty of the last few years, I’m even more convinced that having a therapy dog around is a great way to teach our little ones a lot. She naturally helps me discuss topics such as feelings/emotions and is a good model for being calm and focused when we work. I’ve often found Remington to be super calming for kids who are having a rough day or transition. I love bringing it to work and sharing it with the DPS family. I am grateful to Dr. Alioto for the opportunity and Kaylee for all of her training and constant support.”
Mrs. Williamson’s 1st graders say Remington “keeps us safe,” “keeps me calm and comfortable when I’m scared,” and “he makes me happy when I pet him.”