Therapy Dog Pilot Program

Hastings Secondary College Westport Campus

New South Wales


Lloyd Godson


Bonnie Neil,

Jarrod Mackenzie,

Cameron Halmi,

Satina Torres,

Karlee Osborne,

Step 1 FEEL

After forming the Design for Change team, the students were asked to think about the challenges or problems that they would like to address and bring their ideas to the next meeting for a vote. The students listed the following: - Improving the toilets - Reducing plastic pollution - Decreasing the mosquito population in certain areas of school - Addressing student wellbeing (alternative approaches) - Improving student support for students with learning difficulties - Improving school security - Introducing a Pet Assisted Therapy program into the school

We decided to work on a Pet Assisted Therapy project because it would also potentially address student wellbeing and improve support for students with learning difficulties. It was decided that this project would maximise the number of people impacted by our solutions.

Most of us had heard reports of other students not feeling comfortable talking with school counsellors or feeling anxious and stressed at school; especially those making the transition to secondary school from primary school. Some of us were directly affected by the problem. This concerned us, so we wanted to create a project that enabled all students to feel safe and supported. We had read reports about therapy dogs decreasing anxiety and stress in students because they knew they would not be judged so decided to research this possible solution further.

Step 2 Imagine

Therapy Dog/s Horses helping Humans program delivered in school Class pet Reading Circles (using chickens and/or dogs)

Use of a Therapy Dog in School Research has shown that therapy dogs support psychological and academic growth while increasing social skills and self-esteem in children and adolescents. Therapy dogs have been trained to provide emotional support which positively impacts reading skills, emotional functioning and communication skills. In addition, the use of therapy dogs may decrease anxiety, improve self-esteem and increase overall academic achievement in students. A therapy dog will work with students identified by the school. The handler is a volunteer and owner of the dog. The handler will remain with the dog at all times and assumes full responsibility for the dog’s care, behaviour and assessment of ability to interact with students and others in the school.

Step 3DO

Our first step was to get the school Principal supportive of the project by showing him the research supporting our idea. He gave us some feedback and suggested we present our idea to the school executive team for their approval. Once approved, we completed the required paperwork and made staff aware of our plans and to seek their input (e.g., recommending student candidates for the pilot program).

The result has been very positive, not just with the students but also with the staff. Several staff members have come forward with ideas and suggestions for the future and ways that it could be used to reduce student anxiety (e.g., before exams). The demand to spend time with our Therapy Dog has been extremely high.


"Being with your dog has seriously just made my day!" "I love spending time with Biskotouli. He is the sweetest dog. When is he coming to school again next?!"

Working through all the policies and procedures related to bringing a dog into school was probably the biggest challenge. We overcome this by talking with the principal and other staff and finding out who could best help us find the answers to some of our questions. Time management was another hurdle we had to overcome. We meet every Lunch 1 at school and need to be organised and efficient to get everything done in a timely manner. This project has helped us to be more organised in that sense.


Good health and well being

Our team focused on improving student well-being and improving mental health at school.

Step 4 SHARE

We shared our project with a local Police Liaison Officer who works with our school. He shared his experiences working with animals in the Police Force and gave us some advice and encouraged us. This meeting was great for helping to build relationships with police officers in our community. We also shared the results with Mrs Leslie Williams, a Member of Parliament who visited the school to learn more about our project. We also shared our story by doing an interview with ABC Radio. Within our school community, we shared our story via the newsletter, Facebook, emails and daily notices to staff and students.

More than 100

At the conclusion of Term 3, we will evaluate our project and begin planning for Term 4 based on the feedback we receive. Our team has set up an online fundraiser with Schools Plus Australia to receive tax deductible donations for the project.