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Therapy Dogs in Schools

Education, Property & Casualty

School districts are beginning to use therapy dogs to combat the growing mental health crisis among students and staff.

According to the Frontiers in Veterinary Science1, “there is preliminary evidence which suggests that therapy dogs can enhance children’s well-being in a variety of settings from schools, hospitals, airports, and courtrooms. Therapy dogs have been found to reduce physiological symptoms of stress through lowering cortisol levels, increasing positive emotions, and promoting engagement in learning activities.” As schools adopt the use of therapy dogs, there are several risk management issues to consider.

Risk Mitigation Strategies for School Districts

Training

Ensure that every therapy dog entering the school received prior training and has the ability to withstand crowded environments. Schools are filled with stimulating distractions for dogs, such as smells and sounds. Proper training to handle this environment will allow therapy dogs to feel more comfortable and behave in a predictable manner.

In addition to dog training, staff members should also receive training on how to handle therapy dogs. Instill confidence in students and staff by offering training on appropriate and productive ways to interact with the animals.

Communicate

Districts should communicate the use of therapy dogs with all parents and guardians through an email or newsletter. This allows districts to discuss the positive impact therapy dogs can have on mental health, while addressing any concerns. To further alleviate worry, districts should incorporate cases when therapy dogs would be excluded from the classroom:

  • Not effectively controlled by their handler
  • Become a distraction in the classroom
  • Poses a threat to the health and safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable modifications

Parents and guardians have the opportunity to disclose their child’s allergies when school districts announce incoming therapy dogs. School districts must keep all students and staff with allergies far away from therapy dogs to mitigate risk of an allergic reaction. Individuals who have anaphylactic reactions to dogs should be known to all staff members so additional precaution can be implemented.

Waiver and Insurance

Prior to therapy dogs entering schools, we encourage districts to require signed waivers indemnifying the district against injury to person or property caused by an animal. In addition, the therapy dog handler should be required to have insurance and list the district as an additional insured on the policy.

Coverage with additional insured status is available at a reasonable cost. Share this application with dog handlers as a resource to apply for liability coverage.

Key Takeaways:

In schools, therapy dogs are being utilized to improve the students and staffs mental health and well-being. As school districts begin to implement therapy dogs into schools, districts must remember the following to mitigate risk:

  • Dogs must have proper training
  • Staff and students must be trained to interact with therapy dogs
  • Notify parents and guardians to determine allergies and address concerns
  • Require a signed waiver
  • Require the dog handler to have insurance and list the district as an additional insured on the policy

Source:

1Frontiers in Veterinary Science

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