Dogs at School

Can Dogs be Helpful at School?

Dogs at School - Pawsitive Steps Dog TrainingYou might be surprised at what a great asset a dog can be in a school classroom.

This article was submitted to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers for their January 2010 national Train Your Dog Month essay contest in the category of Involving Children in the Training Process.  It finalized and won second place in the contest.

I’ve been working with Brooke, Mrs. Russell and Classroom 203 for nearly 4 years now.  I hope you will enjoy this introduction to Brooke and look forward to hearing more about her progress!

If You Do the Good Stuff

by Gayle Ballinger, CPDT-KA

Abby Russell was not your typical sixth grader.

Although, she loved to run the 100 yard dash and carry the baton in relay races on field day. She would wait her turn to go down the slide at recess and excitedly opened her own birthday presents. First on the scene when one of her classmates was injured, she would offer comfort and reassurance.

A cheerful redhead, Abby greeted her friends on the first day of school in September 2008. No one suspected that her body was riddled with lymphosarcoma, a cancer common in Golden Retrievers, or that she would be saying goodbye to her beloved classmates before Halloween.

Needless to say, Classroom 203 and all of Brookside Elementary, the community and her family mourned her passing and still miss her greatly. Abby had been accompanying her “Mom” and special-education schoolteacher, Therese Russell, to school for 14 years. Abby taught the students patience, friendship and how to give unconditional love.

 No More Dogs at School?

Restrictions set by the school district would not make getting another dog for the classroom very easy.

However, Mrs. Russell knew and believed in the benefits of having a dog like Abby in the classroom, where fifth and sixth grade students with Autism, Asberger’s syndrome, emotional and behavior problems, and significant learning challenges were calmed by Abby’s presence.

Even the most reluctant readers would sit on pillows and read to Abby, who never fell asleep or wandered off.

So Mrs. Russell formulated a plan and petitioned the school district to allow her to get a new Golden Retriever puppy, one that would become a certified animal assistance therapy dog, working with professional dog trainers and organizations such as the Delta Society.

A Dog for School - Pawsitive Steps Dog TrainingShe set out writing grants to get the funding she would need to accomplish this goal, and on March 19, 2009 a pink balloon announced “It’s a girl!” and three month old Brooke Piper Russell was introduced to her classmates.

Brooke has some big paws to fill, but Mrs. Russell says, “The biggest thing is this group gets to train the new dog.

The idea is that these kids will have ownership and start anew so that in two to three years the kids in the program will have a dog like Abby.

Students throughout the school can earn a “Puppy Pass”, positively reinforcing their own good behavior, allowing them to visit Room 203 and Brooke. Everyone envies a Puppy Pass!

Room 203 has a motto the kids know by heart:

If you do the good stuff, you get the good stuff, but if you don’t do the good stuff, you don’t get anything at all.

This fits right in with my beliefs and practices as a Certified Pet Dog Trainer and owner of Pawsitive Steps Dog Training in Seattle, WA.

When local veterinarian staff recommended my services to Therese Russell as a good choice for working with Brooke and Room 203, I was thrilled at the opportunity to be a part of something so wonderful, so powerful and so meaningful.

Room 203’s official “training day” is Friday, when I come in and work with the students and teachers for about an hour teaching Brooke important skills, cues to perform certain acts and how to just hang out, awaiting the opportunity to do her job.

Brooke a Dog at School - Pawsitive Steps Dog TrainingBrooke’s current vocabulary is around 50 words. We practice while in crowded hallways, full of students who all want to stop and pet “their dog” Brooke. During recess, Therese and I have time to practice skills one-on-one, discuss our progress and assess our goals for Brooke.

Don’t be fooled, however, Brooke gets lots of attention and playtime and has bonded with the children throughout the school.

In our next post we’ll talk more about Brooke and the difference she makes at school.

Check out the dates for our family friendly dog training sessions.


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