Schools throughout the country are adopting therapy dog programs to assist their students from elementary to high school manage anxiety, stress, and overcome behavioral challenges. Seeing the positive effects of canines in schools over the last several years, Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent, Julie Lauck, wanted more schools in her district to have the opportunity to benefit from a therapy dog onsite. She learned about the opportunity to have nine golden retriever puppies sponsored for the schools through a local veterinarian, who sponsored one of the first dogs, “June”, the last few years. “As soon as I learned about the opportunity, I started making calls to people who have been huge supporters of our schools,” said Lauck. “Within four hours, I raised enough money to start the ball rolling on getting all nine puppies sponsored for the upcoming school year.” One of those calls was to Nate McVicker, founder of Guard911 and Hero911. “It was an absolute no brainer, I’ve seen how positive service animals can be to officers and smiles they put on kids faces,” said McVicker. “Having a therapy dog in school to help these kids with cognitive, physiological, and social and emotional support is a special thing, and we’re honored to be a part of it.” According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), having a dog present in the school promotes a positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body. The simple act of petting a dog has the effect of lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Pet therapy also reduces stress hormones, like cortisol, and increases oxytocin. In other words, just being in contact with a therapy dog calms kids down when they’re upset and helps keep their anxiety at bay. And reducing feelings of anxiety and depression enables them to focus on learning. Besides boosting morale, the benefits of having therapy dogs in school include: Physical benefits. Interaction with therapy dogs has been shown to reduce blood pressure and provide physical stimulation by assisting in pain management. Social benefits. Having a therapy dog onsite day-to-day promotes higher self-esteem and focused interaction with students and teachers alike. Lauck has seen first-hand that students enjoy talking with the dog in the office before school and often get excited to visit the dog if they’ve earned enough points from doing their homework and accomplishing other classroom goals. Cognitive benefits. Therapy dogs stimulate memory, reading, and problem-solving skills. Emotional and mental health benefits. A recent national survey of adolescent mental health found that 8 to 10 percent of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder. Having a therapy dog around can lift moods and create laughter. These dogs are also there for students (and staff) to offer friendship, a quick pick-me-up during the day, or a listening ear when it’s been a bad day. Though the dogs are still just puppies, they’ll be completing their puppy training with their handlers, who are school faculty, in the next few months before heading to service training. Lauck and her team encourage other school officials, who are considering a therapy dog program, to do their due diligence and research first. Talk to others who have implemented a program in their schools because it’s more than just having a cute dog in school; it’s a commitment for the school and the school faculty handler. “We can’t thank Nate and Guard 911 enough, not only for sponsoring a dog but for the service they provide our county and our schools, we really appreciate it,” said Lauck. If you would like to get involved in the Valparaiso Community Schools Viking Puppy Project, please visit this link for more information on how to donate. All donations go to sponsoring more dogs for the remainder of the schools in the district as well as training classes, food, toys and grooming. No donation is too small!