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EducationScience & Tech

Puppy Love: Introducing a New Breed in Teaching

Between Lassie, Beethoven, Benji, Toto, and Scooby Doo, “man’s best friends” have been stealing screen time – and our hearts – for over a century.  Hunters, herders, protectors, police and military assistance, service aides for handicapped individuals, medical disease detectors, and even astronauts are among the numerous important roles that pups play within human society (both on and off set), prompting these lovable pets to truly “work like dogs”.  Our multitalented pooches rank top dog when it comes to task performance, attributed to their immense capabilities for job-specific training  and attunement to human behavior.

Puppy Love: Introducing a New Breed in TeachingLaika, shown here in her flight harness, was the first animal launched into orbit in 1957, paving the way for human spaceflight. (Courtesy of Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Although summer is now long gone, the “dog days” of the school year may not yet be over, as, remarkably, experts now propose that our canine companions have warranted the label of “teacher’s pet”, as well.  New research may now fur-ever change the way dogs are involved in education systems around the world, once again evoking the age-old question: who let the dogs out… into the classroom?

Puppy Love: Introducing a New Breed in Teaching
Courtesy of Medical News Today

Scientific research conducted last year studied how the presence of a dog in a classroom affected the emotional stability and learning performance of children diagnosed with severe emotional disorders. Over an 8-week period of qualitative analysis, the study concluded that the dog’s presence in the classroom:

  • Supported students’ emotional stability by preventing and reducing the intensity of episodes of emotional crisis
  • Boosted students’ attitudes toward school
  • Promoted lessons in responsibility, respect and empathy

Puppy Love: Introducing a New Breed in Teaching

Courtesy of Autism Speaks

In another study, the students’ individual interests in the dog and their behavioural responses varied widely; however, there were some consistencies within the group, such as decreased incidents of behavioural extremes (e.g. aggressiveness and hyperactivity). In addition, individuals who once appeared withdrawn from the group benefitted from increased social integration. These effects were more pronounced in male students than female. The students also directed more attention toward the teacher, despite the additional  time spent observing and interacting with the dog.

Overall, the study determined that a dog’s presence within the classroom may promote positive social congruence and improve teaching conditions.

Another study suggested that interventions involving dogs could be used to encourage social engagement and reduce isolating or repetitive social practices in students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This research reaffirms the favourable influences dogs hold over children with autism, and reinforces the suggestion that in-school dog-interaction sessions could facilitate involvement and communication between students and teachers.

Puppy Love: Introducing a New Breed in Teaching

Courtesy of Expat Living Singapore

The recently developed Animal-Assisted Activities program implemented in 41 Australian classrooms last year consisted of 8 weeks of animal exposure to children with ASD in the classroom, along with 16 20-minute animal-interaction sessions. The results showed increases in social approach behaviours and social skills, as well as decreases in social withdrawal behaviours. Throughout the program, over 50% of parents reported that their children expressed increased interest in school attendance.

Programs, such as the Animal-Assisted Activities prototype, utilize a relatively uncomplicated and cost-effective approach to improve the social functioning of children with ASD. Fido and Buddy make it paws-ible to ultimately provide new hope to students, teachers, and parents — though be cautioned, it might cost you a liver snap — proving yet again that even an old dog can win “best in show” by learning new tricks, both in and out of the classroom.

Author

Puppy Love: Introducing a New Breed in Teaching
Jordyn is a recent graduate from the University of Guelph's Biomedical Sciences program, and currently works for Bell Canada Supply Chain.