What’s a four-legged, tail-wagging bundle of fun doing at Woodstock Elementary School? Becoming a valuable, well-loved addition to the school community, of course!
Tank, a 22-pound certified therapy dog owned by Onteora Occupational Therapist Michele Darling, began visiting the school in January. On his first day of school, the ebullient Boston terrier was the guest of honor at several grade-level assemblies. “First we talked to the students about how to introduce yourself to a dog and to let him sniff you to get to know you,” Ms. Darling recalled. “Then we talked specifically about Tank.”
Ms. Darling, who adopted Tank in June, had him certified through TDI (Therapy Dogs International) to ensure he would interact safely with children. “He had to pass a test, and I had to pass a written test,” she explained.
In addition to being friendly, patient, and gentle, therapy dogs should not startle easily, she noted. Tank, she reported, passed the TDI test with flying colors. “He loves kids, and he loves people,” she said. “He also loves to ride on my motorcycle.”
When Tank is at school—approximately once a week—his presence is announced by a poster emblazoned with the message “Tank is in the house!” (The message on the flip side of the poster says “Tank is home resting.”) The excitement in the building on the days when Tank is visiting is palpable, Ms. Darling said.
So far, most of Tank’s appearances outside of the Occupational Therapy room have taken place during recess or at lunchtime. “We also use him as a reward for good behavior, and to comfort children if they need it,” Ms. Darling said. When a child recently tripped and fell, for example, Tank quickly managed to banish the student’s tears.
Katie, a Grade 3 student, is one of Tank’s many fans. “He’s so adorable!” she exclaimed while petting the pooch during a recent visit with Ms. Darling. Katie, like the rest of the student population, has learned that when Tank is happy, he makes a low guttural sound—much like a purring cat. “The kids love it when they pet him in just the right spot and get his happy sound!” Ms. Darling said.
Proof of Tank’s popularity is also evidenced by the many dog-inspired drawings displayed near Ms. Darling’s room. Many children who had previously been afraid of dogs now count Tank as a friend, according to Ms. Darling.
Therapy dogs have been shown to have a range of benefits in educational settings, Ms. Darling noted. Among these benefits are helping to reduce stress and anxiety, and increasing children’s excitement about attending school.
“We are still new at having a therapy dog so we don’t know what direction we will go with him, but right now the main thing that I can say is that he definitely puts a smile on the kids’ faces when they walk in the door,” Ms. Darling concluded. “I can also tell you that Tank loves to come to school and is always in a good mood (but exhausted) after a school day.”