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Positive Pick-Me-Ups: Why Kids And Canines Make The Perfect Pairing


Dogs really are a human’s best friend. That’s why it’s no surprise that dogs are increasingly found in schools and hospitals as a unique and impactful therapy tool. Whether it’s helping young people cope with trauma or lending a kind, furry ear to under-confident readers, dogs are proving again and again that they deserve a spot in school.

Companion animals, such as cats and dogs, have been found to positively influence children’s development and bolster mental health. Research on adults living with mental illnesses like depression and PTSD revealed that having a pet offers people a deep sense of ‘ontological security’, a feeling of stability and a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Kids seem to experience a mental health boost when it comes to four legged friends too. A study by the Center for Disease Control & Prevention said that having a pet dog reduced anxiety and was even linked to a lower body mass index in children.

While not everybody can have a pet at home, Mutt-i-grees allows learners and educators to experience the many benefits that animals bring. Mutt-i-grees is a social and emotional learning curriculum that teaches children essential skills for academic and life success, by introducing them to the unique characteristics of shelter dogs. Developed by Yale University and North Shore Animal League, the approach was inspired by research on the benefits of human-animal interactions and in particular dogs’ ability to help people become calm and socially connected. More than simply bringing a dog into school, this is a unique curriculum that uses dogs to explore tricky concepts like emotions, empathy and pro-social behavior. Since kids have a natural affinity with animals, learning about or alongside dogs can make social and emotional learning a fun, relatable and memorable experience.

Teachers who have used animals in the classroom have reported that the pets contributed to increased empathy, as well as socio‐emotional development in students. Mutt-i-grees provides a structured way to ensure that these benefits are maximized. The Mutt-i-grees Curriculum provides lessons around five social and emotional learning themes; Achieving Awareness, Finding Feelings, Encouraging Empathy, Cultivating Cooperation and Dealing with Decisions. 

For children to be socially and emotionally competent they need to have a good sense of self, a strong social awareness, the ability to engage in positive relationships and make positive, safe and responsible choices. Talking about the needs of a dog or about responsible dog ownership can be a relatable way to introduce these ideas. That's why Mutt-i-grees works even if a school isn't able to host a live dog. In fact, simply having a toy or puppet dog in the classroom or even just thinking about dogs is enough to keep student's attention, boost their cognitive abilities and even improve overall happiness. 

The Mutt-i-grees Curriculum takes a whole child approach to education, prioritizing both cognitive and physical development as well as social and emotional learning. Cuddles aren’t the only reason it’s great to have a canine in class. Dogs can actually help to keep kids active.

In many high income countries there is a growing child obesity crisis, so getting kids moving is vital. It doesn’t have to be running round the track, though. Any physical activity, whether it’s playing in recess, dancing to music or moving around during class can contribute to children’s fitness. Several Mutt-i-grees schools have been inspired to choreograph dances to songs like Walk The Dog and The Underdog or some have even put on Mutt-i-grees Musicals! There are a surprising number of dog related tunes out there, so inspiration is plentiful! Other schools encourage their students to take an active role in walking the dog during the school day. Throughout the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum there are games and activites to get kids moving and yoga and breathing techniques are introduced to give learners the tools to manage their emotions and keep calm. 

CBS News recently reported on one New York school where Mutt-i-grees is having a huge impact. A preliminary report revealed that 95% of participating educators thought the dogs reduced emotional distress among students, whilst 90% reported improved student behavior. The dogs were even said to have boosted kids interest in school, something that could potentially impact on attendance and attainment in the long run!

Want to try Mutt-i-grees Curriculum in your school? Visit the innovation page for more information.