Dogs Assisting Kids With Wellness & Growth


Recently, I was most fortunate to witness a wonderful dog program being conducted at Skyline Vista Elementary School in Denver.  This program is assisting children with special needs and it brings tears to the eyes to observe how these dogs take their work so seriously.  I was extremely impressed with the program and asked Jennifer Lundman if she would be so kind as to write a short summary of what her and her dog, Luna, are doing for these children.  Following is her entire report.  Thank you Jennifer Lundman and thank you, Luna, for what you are doing:


Skyline Vista Elementary School

Dogs Assisting with Wellness and Growth

D.A.W.G. Project

Jennifer Lundman, MSW, LCSW

Two Bears Pet Services, Inc.

The DAWG Project (Dogs Assisting with Wellness and Growth) at Skyline Vista Elementary School was created in 2007 as an intervention for students with needs beyond the ability of a classroom teacher to meet in a standard day.  It has served for several years as a classroom and Special Education resource for students who need non-traditional instructional supports.  Its intent has been to assist in raising student performance of at risk students.

In recent years, research on the human-animal bond has shown that children can benefit from specific interactions with an animal in the areas of self-esteem, empathy, social interactions, and behavior.  In fact, some emerging research in the field of the human-animal bond indicates that behavior extremes, such as aggressiveness and hyperactivity, can be decreased when regular contact with an animal is provided.  The DAWG Project provides an intensive intervention in a school setting, measured through treatment plan goals or Individual Education Plan goals, to students with identified behavioral or emotional needs that impede education and academic success.

The intent of the DAWG Project is to identify a specific student need and work to increase their skills in that area using the therapy dog as a modality.   Currently, the main component of the DAWG Project is agility work, under the guidance of trainers from Two Bears Pet Services, with two trained therapy dogs.  The students learn how to train the dogs to complete agility tasks and then participate on agility courses.  This training and structured activity with the dog helps aid the development of concentration, focus, and problem-solving skills.  Students who have participated in this intervention have experienced increased self-esteem and confidence as well as reduced behavioral issues in the general education setting.

Goals of the project

1.     Incorporate animal assisted interventions into the school setting to address the needs of struggling students

2.     Incorporate an animal into mental health work with disabled and at-risk children

3.     Utilize animal assisted therapy and activities, such as dog agility training, as modalities for treatment of students with identified mental health and/or behavioral needs.

Research to Date

Success of the DAWG Project is measured in several ways, including a pre and post-assessment from the referring teacher, a self-assessment done by the student at every session, goals set by the student at each session, and a measure of emotional state at each session both before and after working with the dogs.  In the last three years alone, over 40 children have been served through the DAWG Project and data collected over the last two years has shown the following gains:

Overall Rates of Improvement, 2008-2009:***

(Determined by pre and post assessments given to teachers)

Area of Assessment Pre Test Average


Post Test Average


Self Esteem 1.5 2.9 1.4
Self Confidence 1.7 2.8 1.1
Paying Attention 1.9 2.4 0.5
Following Directions 2.0 2.7 0.7
Solving Problems 1.7 2.3 0.6

Overall Rates of Improvement, 2009-2010:***

(Determined by pre and post assessments given to teachers)


Area of Assessment Pre Test Average


Post Test Average


Post Test





Self Esteem 1.9 2.7 3.2 1.3
Self Confidence 2.1 2.8 3.2 1.1
Paying Attention 2.4 2.9 3.1 0.7
Following Directions 2.6 2.9 3.2 0.6
Solving Problems 2.4 2.7 2.9 0.5


4:  Student is exceptional in this area and could mentor another student about it.

3:  Student does well in this area and meets classroom expectations 80% of the time.

2:  Student is working in this area but needs reminders and help sometimes to meet classroom expectations 50% of the time.

1:  Student needs a lot of assistance in this area and struggles to meet classroom expectations 50% of the time, even with help.

Overall Rate of Affect Change for Students in a 4-session Intervention in Spring 2010:**

(Determined by self-assessment from each student before and after participating in a session)


Dog Session


Dog Session

Session 1 7.3 9.6 2.3
Session 2 7.5 9.6 2.1
Session 3 7.8 10 2.2
Session 4 9 9 0
OVERALL 7.9 9.6 1.7

**Scale:           1-10 (1: unhappy/mad/sad; 5: okay; 10: awesome)

Measured on picture scale by each student participant once BEFORE session and once AFTER session

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