How Comfort Dogs Can Support Students’ Well-Being
When the guidance department at this New York City high school brought in a comfort dog, students felt more comfortable about seeking help, and school spirit—and attendance—increased.
“I had no idea what a comfort dog was,” says Maspeth High School assistant principal Jesse Pachter. “I thought a comfort dog was going to be walking around the school the entire time and allowing students to pet them. That is actually the complete opposite of what a comfort dog is. A comfort dog is going to be utilized in specific settings, as a targeted intervention.”
Since completing training required by New York City’s Department of Education, Eli the comfort dog has been coming to Maspeth three days a week, along with his owner, school social worker David Blauner. Eli assists students in a variety of settings—from one-on-one and group counseling sessions to help students combat anxiety, to obstacle course training to help students with communication disorders work through their own social and academic challenges. Blauner refers to Eli as a “rapport accelerator.” His presence helps students feel more relaxed and open up sooner if they are dealing with issues at home or in school. Eli also helps break down the stigma of going to see a school counselor. “If I do ever have any issues,” says one student, “I would go to him [Mr. Blauner].”
Says Pachter, “We have seen students’ attendance improve, solely because they know Eli is going to be here.”
To learn more about the comfort dog program at Maspeth, read Jesse Pachter’s Edutopia article, “3 Benefits of Having a Comfort Dog in School.” Find information about comfort dogs at the elementary level in Laura Wheeler’s Edutopia article, “4 Legged SEL: How to Start a Therapy Dog Program.”