Who Let the Dogs In? Support Dog Programs at Three International Schools!

Science and personal experience tell us that support dogs positively influence the emotional state of those they interact with. Thus, bringing trained service dogs into schools to support students, teachers, and sometimes even parents (e.g., think parent-administrator meetings) makes a lot of sense.

We interviewed three international educators who have been leading the effort to bring support dogs into their schools. 

Brenda Manfredi - International School of Prague

Jackie Valenzuela - International School Bangkok

Ian Lally - The International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile

Here are their biographies and support dog program descriptions: 

Brenda Manfredi began her counseling career at Southold Junior/ Senior High School on the North Fork of Eastern Long Island, New York. After happily working in public education for 11 years, she moved with her family to Bangkok, Thailand, to work at NIST International School. The idea was to “just sample” international life; however, after six incredible years in Thailand, they relocated to Hanoi, Vietnam, to work at UNIS Hanoi, which provided them with a fantastic opportunity to live, eat, and breathe the UN Sustainable Goals through education and practice. 

As Brenda’s daughter was about to leave her childhood and adolescence, they moved to Prague in the Czech Republic to allow her to experience Western life before setting out into the world alone. She is now entering Grade 10 at the International School of Prague, where Brenda currently counsels and works with Brodie, her support dog (age 5). 

Life in central Europe has allowed Brenda to return to some of her passions from life back in the USA, including snowboarding, mountain biking and playing as many sports as her body will tolerate! 

Program Description

ISP’s comfort support dog program comprises two support dogs, Brodie and Sundae.  The program supports both students and teachers and began after the COVID shutdown. When Brenda and her counseling partner started working together, they discussed bringing their dogs in to help support their work. Brodie and Sundae now work out of ISP’s student life center on opposite days.  

All counselors are able to use both dogs to help in their therapeutic practice; they are shared throughout the whole school counselor program. The dogs are invited to many events, and they participate in many supportive and celebratory activities. ISP’s admissions and advancement departments share information about the many aspects of the comfort support dog program with the community. 

Jackie Valenzuela began her career as a Licensed Mental Health Therapist, specializing in work with adolescents in the Seattle area. In 2010 her husband took a job at International School Bangkok. Once there, Jackie opened a private practice, but decided a couple of years in to pursue a license as school counselor. A high school position unexpectedly opened at NIST, where Brenda worked, in the Fall of 2012. Jackie worked there for two wonderful years. In 2014 she moved to International School Bangkok, where her husband worked and kids attended school, and has been there ever since. What was meant to be a two-year stint in Thailand has turned into 14 years! Her family has found a second home there.

Program Description:

ISB’s Panther Pups program includes Charlie and Xena, both golden retrievers; Poe Poe, a Westie, and Simba, a lab/cattle dog. The program began halfway through the 22/23 school year as post-Covid support of the high school students and faculty. This coming school year the program has formally expanded to the middle and elementary divisions. 

With their handler, the dogs visit classrooms and Advisory (teachers/students specifically request dates/times). They also walk through the halls as students are moving between classrooms, and they hang out in the counseling office to allow students to stop by to visit between classes and during their lunch break. The dogs also attend larger events at the school where they are always a hit! 

Ian Lally: Being a School Counselor has been Ian’s only career. He started his journey in a Bill and Melinda Gates charter school in East New York. After working two years with families in crippling poverty, he moved to Berlin, Germany. He worked as the Director of University and School Counseling in Berlin for five years and welcomed his beautiful daughter, Eden, into the world.  He and his family then moved to Santiago, Chile. Jonah, his son, was one of the many gifts of that beautiful country. WIth his family, Eden (now 11), Jonah (age 9), Luna (his support dog, age 5), and wife Katie (grade 5 teacher), Ian has now lived happily at the base of the Andes mountains for nearly 11 years.  

Program Description: 

Students interact with the dogs in the following forms: in the counseling office on an as-needed basis, in the classroom during a lesson or pre- or post-assessment, checking out the dog for a walk with parental permission (only in high school), or through the Paws for Pawsitivity club, also with parent permission. Teachers of grades 1-12 can invite a dog to class,  for example, for an SEL lesson, student learning support, pre- or post-assessment, or check one out for their personal wellness. 

The guiding question for the episode was, “What does a support dog program look like at an international school, and how might a school set one up?”

Brenda, Jackie, and Ian unpacked how they each developed their programs, offering a variety of strategies for other international educators to start their service dog efforts. 

Here are a few aspects of the programs that we learned about: 

  • The dogs bring in more student self-referrals to the counseling offices. 

  • The dogs provide a calming “bridge” for students and adults in counseling sessions. 

  • A natural outgrowth of the program is for staff (and students!) to request to bring their dogs to school. An evaluation and training system thus needs to be in place. 

  • A service dog program description and procedures are essential. 

  • It is a good idea to work with experienced dog trainers. 

  • Implementers of this type of program should be ready to troubleshoot some potential roadblocks. 

  • A lesson learned is that dogs can become fatigued due to their giving nature. Rest times and not overscheduling are critical to their wellbeing. 

  • One can use scientific research on the emotional effects of dogs upon those they interact with to support the case for bringing service dogs into schools. 

  • Students naturally want to support the program, so look for ways to include them. Forming a student group as minders and walkers of the dogs is a good starting place. Students naturally exercise life skills of discipline, responsibility, and the character strength of social awareness. 

This episode was recorded on August 6, 2023. 

Contact Info:

Brenda’s Program Social Media and E-mail: Instagram > foxy.sundae

Ian’s Program Social Media: Instagram> School Account nidodeaguilaschile  

Categories: School Life | Wellness

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