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Wellbeing Dog

Research has shown that having a well-trained dog can be beneficial in various situations. Scientific evidence supports the idea that being near a dog can reduce stress and anxiety while also lowering the heart rate. When it comes to children, animals can help regulate emotions, facilitate social connections, and improve communication skills. Furthermore, dogs can help students feel more comfortable in school, which can aid in their academic performance. Our initial observation was that neurodivergent children become calmer and more attentive when a dog is present, especially during group activities. In addition, children who experience severe separation anxiety have shown immediate improvements. For adults, dogs can assist with managing trauma, anxiety, the escalation cycle, leadership, and communication. They can also foster empathy, increase social awareness, and reduce reactivity.



Background

The Dog Connect Program was initially established in Victorian school communities. More than 250 schools across Australia have adopted the program, introducing well-being dogs, resulting in improved attendance and a greater eagerness to learn among students. Both students and staff have reported increased happiness and a reduction in anxiety throughout their communities. Although a few schools in Canberra have implemented this program, we have yet to receive accreditation. We have decided to try the program first to avoid a significant financial commitment. It's important to note that the well-being dogs are specifically chosen for each environment and are not therapy or assistance dogs.



Frequently - Asked - Questions

1. Are these dogs trained for obedience or companionship? No, they are not service or companion dogs. They are well-being dogs chosen for their gentle and friendly nature, as well as their ability to interact with children.


2. What is an emotional support dog? An emotional support dog is a type of assistance dog trained to provide comfort and support to individuals suffering from mental health conditions or emotional disorders. These dogs are not the same as service dogs, as they do not have specific training to perform tasks related to a person's disability. However, they are trained to provide emotional support and companionship and are often used to help alleviate anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Emotional support dogs are often used in therapy settings, but they can also be used in private homes or other settings where emotional support is needed.


3. How are visits to classrooms scheduled and managed? Once the visit is over, where does the dog go? Is it taken home or kept in a kennel on-site or staff room? To ensure that the children do not overwork the dog and have limited access to it, we have created a schedule to rotate the dogs and monitor age appropriateness. The dogs are kept on a lead most of the time and under the control of their handlers. We may allow the dogs off the lead for a short period during a nature walk, provided we feel comfortable. During each scheduled visit, the handler will remind the children about the proper approach to the dog, introduce themselves, and observe signs of safety before approaching. We do not allow the dogs to run around freely. Depending on the dog's situation, it will either go home or stay with the handler until the end of the work shift.


4. Have the staff in each room received training on how to help kids interact with the dog/handler? We are in the process of developing a program that a dog behaviourist will deliver. Furthermore, the official dog program includes six months of online staff training.


5. In the event that the dog displays aggressive behaviour, like growling or nipping at the children, how will the situation be handled? Will the dog continue to be allowed in the classroom? Our Centre prioritises positive reinforcement in disciplining behaviours and does not condone physical punishment. While we do not anticipate any incidents of this nature occurring, if such an incident were to appear, we would remove the dog from the classroom and evaluate the situation to determine the cause. This is a part of our policy and procedure.



As an educational facility, we prioritise the safety and well-being of the children in our care. To achieve this, we have implemented specific policies and procedures that are designed to mitigate risks and ensure everyone's safety. Our program also focuses on teaching children about dogs and how to handle them properly, which helps to reduce accidents and anxiety within the community. So far, we've been having great success with the program. It is very closely monitored, and senior staff is always present when the dog is brought to the classroom. So far, the most significant benefits we have observed in our junior preschool are many children with challenging behaviours and neurodiversity.


Our team relies on Arya and Marissa's three dogs, who have been with us for a long time. They are well-acquainted with the children and the premises. Additionally, one of our committee members has offered her hypoallergenic dog a visit to assist children with allergies. We prioritise the children's comfort and safety, and if they exhibit any reluctance or fear, our staff will not compel them to interact with the animal but instead provide assistance. The children are free to approach the dog at their own pace and in their own way. At our Centre, we have an open and honest relationship with families. We welcome families to inform us about any fears or allergies their child or family may have. We are always willing to provide alternative program options for the children. Moreover, we will display posters on our front door to inform visitors that a dog is present on the premises.


At this stage, we are the very beginning of this program. We decided that the dogs would be joining the nature walks and potentially slowly being introduced in classrooms for extended periods later in the year.


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