Story and photos by Jasmine Buttler
A new addition with four legs and golden fur is coming to Marian classrooms.
Since the founding of Therapy Dogs International in 1976, therapy dogs are becoming a popular way to enhance the traditional classroom experience. According to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, having therapy dogs in the classroom has been proven to relieve students’ stress, reduce blood pressure and help stimulate students’ memory and problem-solving skills.
“I think that as the research shows, therapy dogs in classrooms are great in terms of alleviating stress and anxiety for students. There’s just something about having a dog around that’s calming,” English teacher Mrs. Alee Cotton said.
Cotton and her 3-year-old Golden Retriever mix, Tucker, are putting in the work to become one of these therapy dogs. He will train through Pups with a Purpose, an organization that “aims to elevate the behavior expectations of therapy dogs, classroom dogs and emotional support dogs through training and education.”
Tucker has gone through previous training as a puppy through other organizations like Go Dogs Omaha, but training with Pups with a Purpose specifically targets how therapy dogs should behave in a classroom setting.
“It’s things like how to stay resting in his spot during lecturing and when it’s appropriate to go around and visit with kids if they’re doing group work,” Cotton said. “He will love it, but it just takes some time to establish those norms, so that’s what we’re working on right now.”
The training process is individualized for every dog; each animal has a different relationship with their owner. Some dogs are younger than others, and the students’ ages can vary from elementary school to high schoolers. “We started working with Pups with a Purpose this past summer, and then he will complete his last couple of training sessions here at Marian in November and December,” Cotton said.
Some of Cotton’s students are already anticipating the excitement of Tucker’s arrival. “They’re always asking me every single day, ‘We thought you were getting Tucker,’ so it will be fun to see the relationships develop between him and the kids, and I think he’ll really enjoy it,” Cotton said.
Cotton also says that bringing a therapy dog into the classroom will bring a positive change to the classroom culture. “Over the course of the school year, you develop a bond with the people you’re in class with throughout the day,” Cotton said. “I think that having a dog in addition will help to bring the girls closer together and be more engaged in wanting to go to English class.”