How a Dog Eases Kids’ Stress

A Rhodesian Ridgeback helps special needs children reduce stress in a New Jersey school.

By Cari Jorgensen | Posted: October 24, 2014, 1:30 p.m. PST

Roughly 85 children attend Calais School in Whippany, N.J. A lot of these children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. They live with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit disorder and some have challenges that result in difficult emotions and anxiety.

Cali the Service Dog

The Calais School

Every morning they walk through the school’s doors and pass by Cali, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, careful not to distract or pet her. Cali is, after all, working.

At 18 months old, she already has a pretty important job. She’s there to detect the children’s cortisol levels. The stress hormone rises when we’re stressed or anxious. If Cali detects high cortisol levels in one of the K-12 students, she subtly informs her handler, Casey Butler. Her alerts are so subtle, in fact, that the students and other teachers rarely notice them.

When Cali detects a child is stressed, she points her nose at them and stares. Then she and Butler work to help the child. Butler is not only Cali’s handler, but a health teacher as well as a certified animal adaptive therapy and natural canine behavior rehabilitation specialist.

"The children feel safer with Cali around,” Butler told the New York Times. "They tend to open up more.” She added that the children often tell her nothing’s wrong when she asks, but when she responds that Cali said differently, they become a little less guarded.

"Cali can help us cope with our problems so that we don’t have to get through it by ourselves,” a ninth grader said, according to the NY Times.

Not only does this highly-trained dog detect stress in students as they arrive at school, she also detects it during school hours.

While in Butler’s office, Cali began pacing, nudging the health teacher and going toward the door. Butler followed the dog out of her office and up the stairs to the other side of the building. A student there was on the verge of a breakdown. After a few minutes with Cali, the student’s nerves eased.

If agitated students become calm enough to not hurt Cali, they are allowed to brush, pet and occasionally walk her.

With her great sense of smell, Cali can detect when a student really needs help and when they’re just faking. Bad news for the kids who just wanted out of class or to not have to take a test, but it’s great news for those in need.

Calais School is adding another service dog to their payroll: Cleo, a beagle. Students will read to her to improve their social and oral skills, as well as open and close her harness’s snaps and buttons to hone their fine motor skills.

Do you think service dogs like Cali and Cleo should be in every school? Let us know in the comments.

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Eileen - 249708   Port Perry, ON

10/26/2014 3:45:54 AM

Yes I do think service dogs should be in every school, libraries and hospitals as well as colleges, universities and visiting the elderly. My dog is a Therapeutic Paws of Canada dog and it is amazing what dogs can doto help people.

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