We all know the wonderful feelings we receive when connecting with a dog. Joy. Excitement. Fun. We all know that feel-good moment when we are the recipient of their love and loyalty. While the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum does not require a dog in the classroom, dogs can add boundless benefits in the pursuit of education and wellbeing. Let’s examine this question, “Why a rescue dog in school?” Some of the proven answers are:
- Improve school attendance
- Encourage nurturing
- Build self-esteem and resiliency
- Promote empathy
- Teach responsibility
- Stimulate learning
- Enrich the classroom experience
- Cultivate healthy relationships
All of the above are great reasons and a rescue pet certainly has the potential to deliver. Because, it’s important to remember we are the guardians of our pet. They are our pet partner. Your Mutt-i-gree is not there to only give, but to receive, as well. It is a reciprocal relationship based on trust, loyalty, and respect. With the proper care, training, and love you give your pet, together, you can cultivate critical skills learned in the classroom and beyond. Your rescue dog is a pathway to bridge the head with one’s heart and teach to the whole child. This is what students will experience. Can you think of a better lesson than that?
How Do We Do It?
Before your Mutt-i-gree has her/his first day at school, you want to ensure everyone is safe and comfortable. You want buy-in from everyone in your school community. You want everyone to understand why your school’s new “teacher” may be a dog. Many think it’s about that “feel good” moment. Fun. Nice. But, we want to move beyond this ordinary thinking to extraordinary results. We know it’s nothing new to have a dog at a school or hospital. They visit for an hour and leave. What is the impact? What do the students learn? What do they remember? With the Mutt-i-grees School Dog Program we are deliberate in establishing a full school day wrapped in social emotional learning around the experience of the rescue dog.
Training & Security
- Begin with a positive behaviorist to learn basic commands: heel, sit, stay, come, down, leave it, look at me, with accompanying hand signals.
- Certify your rescue dog when training is complete.
- Establish “Care Teams” (2 – 5 handlers) to support your Mutt-i-gree at school.
- Create a school web site with all of your Mutt-i-gree School Dog information: vaccination records, veterinarian contact, handler’s contact information, dog’s working schedule.
- Care team meets with school administration to determine the dog’s schedule, assigning jobs and services.
- Post your Mutt-i-gree’s schedule in the main office.
Training never ever stops. A working dog needs consistency and training must be consistent from school to home and from home to school. We can’t ask our beloved pet to behave one way at school and then at home let all training fall to the wayside. If you expect your Mutt-i-gree not to jump up at school, you can’t let him/her jump up at home.
Notifying Your School Community
- Announce your Mutt-i-gree School Dog Program to everyone in your school from the faculty to the custodian to the lunch room staff and security guards. Let families know via newsletters, website, emails and social media.
- Hold a PTA meeting with your Mutt-i-gree and the students to demonstrate the program and answer questions.
- Create a letter where a parent can opt-out if they choose.
- School administration and health services identify students who have opted out, identified health or religious concerns and create accommodations where the students can be involved in other ways to feel part of the program.
School Set-Up for Your New Staff Member
- Designate the dog’s home base(s) and place gates across each area so your dog can see out and people can see in. Never leave your dog alone with the door shut. Make sure your pet partner has a bed, toys, food, water and a secluded resting space. A rest place may be on a bed under the desk or a crate or tent.
- Place signage at your school entrance, in the main office and at the home base(s) to let everyone know that you have a school dog on your premises. You can create signage that’s warm and welcoming with a photo of your Mutt-i-gree and the students.
- Show your Mutt-i-gree around. Let your pet partner experience the sounds of a fire drill, the bell ringing, and the noise of excited students.
Integration of Your Mutt-i-gree School Dog
- Staff and students receive orientation on proper interactions with their new staff member. This is the opportunity to talk about how your dog is a rescue pet and what that means. Describe the rescue pet’s journey and the origins of the human-animal bond. This opens a discussion on what we can learn from rescue pets. What can dogs teach us, such as how to be empathetic, build resiliency, and create mindfulness. Ask: How do you think the dog is feeling? How can you tell? Discuss how the dog is a pet partner – why we use that term. Why we are their guardian.
- Begin slowly integrating your rescue dog into the school day. Start with one-on-one visits or bring into a small group where you let the dog explore without the children approaching. You bring the dog to them on leash or in your arms if a small breed.
- Plan allotted time during the school day to let your pet partner rest, walk outside and have a chance to play.
The Mutt-i-grees Curriculum makes this a 360 degree experience by wrapping social emotional learning around the experience. So, whenever you are working with your students and your Mutt-i-grees School Dog be sure to utilize our turn-key lessons. Remember, the lessons were written based on five themes to be taught sequentially: Achieving Awareness, Finding Feelings, Encouraging Empathy, Cultivating Cooperation and Dealing With Decisions. Before we can identify feelings we need to develop awareness of oneself and others. Then, we can begin to understand what it means to empathize, work together and make ethical decisions.
We hope this orientation helps you with your first steps in integrating your new staff member! Please stay tuned for recommended lessons that directly tie into working with your Mutt-i-grees School Dog.