Dog being pet by young students during a Buckeye Paws event

Students at the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning visit with Brienne, one of the therapy dogs participating in the Buckeye Paws program.

Visits by therapy dogs to educational settings have been associated by researchers with many benefits. These include improvements in children’s behavior, reduced anxiety, increased self-esteem, enhanced motivation and overall well-being. Those improvements in turn can facilitate learning and contribute to gains in learning outcomes, such as reading.

This is why the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning, part of the college’s Schoenbaum Family Center, brings in therapy dogs to interact with the infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

In early 2020, Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center began the Buckeye Paws program to provide therapy dog services to its staff. Requests for Buckeye Paws dog visits quickly came in from other parts of the university. However, there was a need to test the program outside of a health care environment. That’s when the first connections were made with the A. Sophie Rogers School.

service dog being pet by young students during Buckeye Paws school event
McDuff gently interacts with toddlers of the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning.

Aimee Mitchell, Buckeye Paws program manager, said the school was among the first non-hospital settings to receive visits.

“They reached out to us even before our official launch university-wide (in March 2022),” Mitchell said. “And we knew this was a perfect opportunity to see how our dogs would interact in a different setting.”

Buckeye Paws visited the school on five occasions before the program’s wider launch, starting in February 2021. Since then, the visits continue.

The format of a Buckeye Paws visit to the school varies depending upon the number of dogs visiting and the time of year. Sometimes, up to four dogs and their human handlers arrive at the school together for a visit. Other visits involve only a single dog. Dogs might visit individual classrooms, or dogs might be in a common area or outside where students can come to meet them.

Therapy dog visits support themes for teaching and learning  

The Buckeye Paws visits also are integrated into the school curriculum. Preparing for the visits provides teachers with a topic that engages children’s language skills and creativity. In advance of one visit, students wrote letters to the dogs. After another visit, students were asked to describe meeting the dogs.

“I really liked it when I was petting the dogs. He was really soft,” one child said.

“I wore my most favorite dress for them so they would like me as much as I like them,” another child said.

“He whacked my body with his tail!” a third child exclaimed. 

Preschool team lead teacher Meredith Schilling shared that, "When (Buckeye Paws) visited our classroom, the children were overjoyed and we, as teachers, were excited to hear the children’s questions and comments, as they were curious about each dog, and eager to share their experiences with the dogs.”

“Many of the children were surprised to learn that the dogs were the same age as them! As a teacher, I am grateful for the positivity the therapy dogs’ visit brought to our school community, and I enjoyed the stress relief that the dogs provided. The visit from Buckeye Paws really was wonderful for all of us, and we talk about it frequently."

A child's handwritten note to one of the Buckeye Paws dogs after a visit
One student wrote this letter to a Buckeye Paws therapy dog in advance of a visit to the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning: “Crockett, I hope I get to meet you! I’d love to pet you. Will you lick me?” – Chase

Cascade, the retired racing grayhound, basks in children’s attention

In addition to visits from Buckeye Paws, the school library also hosts a monthly story time with Cascade, a retired racing greyhound. Cascade’s owner, Carrie Anne Thomas, has been bringing her to the Schoenbaum Family Center for two years. 

The young students adore Cascade, and they love placing their hands on her and arms around her. Thomas says this is Cascade’s favorite part of the visits: the physical affection she gets from the children.

“Cascade loves ‘holding hands’ with them,” Thomas said.

But the visits are not just opportunities for the children to give and receive affection. Cascade’s presence also creates a warm, nurturing environment for the children to expand their literacy experiences. 

During the visits, Sarah Simpson, the Schoenbaum Family Center’s family education and literacy specialist, reads a story to the students. Sometimes Cascade’s visit creates a theme for the story time.

In November, the students used the visit to celebrate Cascade’s ninth birthday. The children created birthday cards for Cascade, and Simpson read a story about birthdays during that visit.

Cascade’s gentle nature puts children at ease and creates a positive learning environment.

Grayhound dog wearing a pink birthday hat
In November, Cascade celebrated her ninth birthday with children at the A. Sophie Rogers School. The birthday provided the theme for that week’s story time.

“She is a very calming presence for the kids. Even children who are somewhat hesitant around dogs really feel at ease with Cascade,” Simpson said.

Cascade’s current “job” as a therapy dog is quite distant from her earlier life. She was once a racing dog, trained to chase a mechanical rabbit around a track. Upon her retirement from racing at age 2, Cascade was adopted by Thomas, who currently is a doctoral candidate in the college’s Literature for Children and Young Adults Program.

Thomas was immediately struck by Cascade’s loving personality, which inspired her to become involved in therapy dog work.

“When I adopted Cascade, she was so sweet and social that I knew she would make a great therapy dog. Although I had never been a therapy dog handler before, I had met some and read about them. So, I trained Cascade, and she got certified as a therapy dog when she was 4 years old,” Thomas said.

While Thomas and Cascade make therapy visits to other facilities, their visits to the Schoenbaum Family Center are special.

“What I find most fulfilling about Cascade’s visits to the Schoenbaum Family Center is that it intersects all of my passions: children, books and dogs. ...” Thomas said. “Volunteering with Cascade while being a graduate student at OSU has been one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences I have had as a Buckeye.”

As research continues to suggest important benefits to early learning through therapy-dog visits, such contact will continue to be another tool the A. Sophie Rogers School uses to improve the educational and developmental outcomes for its students.

Buckeye Paws Video

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