Novelties in Teaching Project Part 1:
The Role of the Trained Dog in the Classroom
A PUBLICATION of buyhavanese.com
Not only in the literature, but also in professional dictionaries, we find different terms used in the description of the dogs participating in therapeutic interaction. There are dogs for mobility, therapeutic, rehabilitation and support. They all have in common the purpose of helping people and facilitating different, and in some cases, very serious and complex situations.
A special group of the socially vulnerable groups of children we deal with consists of a.) chronically ill children, b.) children with disabilities, c.) children with special needs, d.) abused and/or neglected children, and e.) children with elements of trauma.
Over the past many years, there has been ongoing research about the interaction of people and animals, especially with regards to the relationship between humans and dogs. As well, the role of animals with people with disabilities and special needs has been mentioned in the research literature over the past twenty years. To produce the expected results, a dog must be trained, so today there are different forms of work and trainings for dogs for a variety of purposes.
Scientific studies have proven that the presence of animals creates a positive atmosphere where animals provide love and support to human participants. In this context, a child is not disgraced because the dog doesn't judge when a child reads something wrong. In Croatia, in our project, dogs are placed in classes where there are no pupils with great developmental difficulties.
Through professional education, I met and started cooperation with the Project Manager of Novelties in Teaching Project: The Role of the Trained Dog in the Classroom, Renata Friedrich, Professor, Special Education - Speech Therapist. Through this project we have focused upon "the role of the trained dog working with abused and/or neglected children, and children at-risk for child abuse (children with developmental difficulties and/or disabilities and chronically ill children)".
Over the past three years, we have observed, in practice, proven, successful interactions between key children and the assigned therapy dogs. As a result, the Program has been intensively promoted by a non-governmental, non-profit organisation called The Society of Our Children, Sisal. The Society Our Children, Sisak, was established in 1955. It promotes children's rights and implements activities with children and for children.
According to the guidelines of the overseas centres, this program started with the work of training three dogs that were of the breed, Bichon Havanese. Two of these dogs, Evie and Heidi, successfully passed the exams required of them in 2014 in Croatia. These dogs were trained in the application of a holistic approach to children, with the encouragement of empathy which contributes to better interaction between the dog and the child.
The Project was successfully realized with the support of the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports, the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth, a recommendation of the Ministry of Health, and the consent of the Ministry of Justice in Croatia.
Last Autumn, the Project was applied within the 2nd year in a class in a primary school in Davorin Trstenjak, in Hrvatska Kostajnica. The teacher was Lidija Prpić and, with the consent of the Headmaster, Prof. Medina Omerovic, and the pupil’s parents, it was successfully implemented. Joy gripped the classroom with silent laughter as the children and teacher watched as Evie and Heidi started to get used to them!
It is difficult to describe in words the joy on the children’s faces, and the peace in the classroom. While working during Art class, there was a decent talkativeness in the class in the Croatian language. Art works are always extremely successful. Even so, the pupils were constantly watching everything that Evie and Heidi were sniffing as they sat quietly in their seats and listened carefully to the teacher's instructions. In the meantime, Evie, during Art class, situated herself next to the pupil with a specific diagnosis. This pupil continued to cuddle her on and off while writing his schoolwork."
The therapy dogs, Evie and Heidi, helped open the doors to education for all of the children by encouraging, through emotional connection, the development processes.
From my personal experience, I can tell you that the dogs spread and strengthened the professional network within the classroom while encouraging personal growth, a priority of each teacher. Their presence created a stimulating and peaceful environment for learning and creativity. In addition, along with the presence of the puppies and learning how we should treat them, we learned to accomplish some tasks of Civil and Health Education where we teach our children to be responsible and to be empathic to animals.
With joy we look forward to each new encounters with Evie and Heidi every day!
Teacher Lidija Prpić
Elementary School-Davorin Trstenjak
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