School Dogs Boost Students’ Academics and Mental Health

To help reduce anxiety and promote learning, several elementary schools in Michigan have enlisted service dogs, and students are already seeing improvements in their academics, according to WXMI-TV 17.

In September, Priority Health, a Michigan health insurance provider, launched the Priority Pups program, placing goldendoodles in two school districts with plans for further expansion. These dogs visit different classrooms daily, providing comfort and support.

Research shows that the presence of trained dogs reduces children’s stress, encourages a positive attitude toward learning, and improves interactions between classmates. This initiative is especially timely, as a 2023 report from Mental Health America revealed that many young people in Michigan with clinical depression did not receive mental health treatment.

Shelby, a student at North Godwin Elementary School, has directly benefited from the program. Diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, autism, and ADHD, Shelby struggles with her emotions at school. Her mother, Laurie Uhl, described the difference the goldendoodle Meeka has made.

“When Shelby has a meltdown, Meeka’s presence immediately calms her down,” Uhl explained.

The program’s success is due in part to Canines for Change, founded in 2005 by Dr. Nikki Brown, a school psychologist for the Lansing School District. Dr. Brown noticed significant improvements in skills and behavior when she brought her Corgi to work with special education students. She then partnered with another trainer to offer service dogs for children with special needs.

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