Therapy Dogs at School

Jennifer Kim

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Imagine: the clock strikes twice at 2 AM as you look at the endless piles of homework on your desk that you haven’t even touched yet. You know that all the assignments are due tomorrow, but you’re fighting a losing battle to keep your eyes awake.

 

Unfortunately, this is a common scenario that many, if not all, students find themselves in at some point in their lives. With the end of summer right around the corner, students feel an overwhelming amount of stress as they’re forced back into a routine of waking up early, spending most of their day at school, coming home to assignments that need to be completed, and going to bed at ridiculous times. Instead of feeling motivated to learn, the pressure that comes from teachers, parents, and even peers fills students with dread.

 

Research shows that due to the chaotic schedule of students who have to balance school, work, and/or sports, they are not getting the recommended amount of sleep, which is 8 to 10 hours per night. Their circadian rhythm, the internal clock in their body that regulates sleep, is being disrupted and affected. The lack of sleep doesn’t just lead to dark circles under the eyes and feeling groggy all day. Extreme exhaustion also leads to detrimental health issues as stated, Nearly half of American teenagers report sleep difficulties that affect their daily functioning, according to findings published in the Journal of Adolescence. Exhaustion from lack of sleep can lead to negative health outcomes, including depression, obesity and accidental injury.”

 

As data is collected for the correlation between stress from school and the student’s mental health, researchers are looking for ways to reduce anxiety that students may feel at school. One method that numerous schools and colleges around the United States have adopted is having therapy dogs around campus or in the school’s library. “Research indicates that positive interactions with dogs can create a sense of calm and well-being in a person, Olga Solomon, an occupational therapy professor at USC, told the university news service in 2016. Even just petting a dog can increase serotonin, beta-endorphin and oxytocin ― chemicals and hormones that make people happy ― and decrease the stress hormone cortisol.” Therapy dogs are trained to adapt to various environments and to follow along with the emotions humans are feeling. To students who are feeling extremely stressed and anxious, therapy dogs are an escape from reality as they are comforted, feel happier, and feel driven to come to school.

 

The benefits of having therapy dogs at school are not limited to just feeling motivated and less anxious, as research shows that students who interact with therapy dogs at school heighten relationships with their peers and teachers, gain confidence in themselves, and learn to open up to others. The benefits gained from therapy dogs are worth more than the costs that schools must take to ensure the presence of the dogs. Our students should go to school feeling excited about the day and have an opportunity to relieve any stress they might be feeling by seeing a friendly therapy dog waiting to greet them.

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