The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" February 2006
Research Theme:" A Trial of Animal Assisted Education at a School Using a Dog "
Taro Yoshida
Religious Education Director, St. Margaret's Elementary School
In fiscal 2003, Taro Yoshida introduced an animal assisted education (AAE) program using a dog into St. Margaret's Elementary School, where he is teaching. Yoshida planned and prepared for the program carefully. Before he started the program he explained the method and purposes to other members of the teaching staff as well as parents in an effort to win their support. He selected the dog breed suitable for an AAE program with the help of experts and then found a breeder that can supply an appropriate puppy. He had the puppy receive necessary socialization training and ensured appropriate hygienic management in cooperation with veterinarians. In addition, Yoshida gave school children basic knowledge about the nature of dogs and man's relations with them in his classes while working closely with the healthcare room staff and school counselors. He spent two years on preparations before launching the program.

Yoshida selected a female Airedale terrier, a breed often used as a police or rescue dog, as the companion animal for the program and named her "Buddy." Every morning, Buddy, kept at Yoshida's home, goes to the school with him. She attends his classes with children. She spends the first three minutes on interaction with children and then sleeps or otherwise remains quiet at a corner of the classroom for the rest of the time. "Since the children have been told by an expert that dogs hate noises they keep themselves from talking to avoid disrupting dozing Buddy," Yoshida says. "As a result, children show greater concentration during classes."

When Yoshida is not teaching a class, Buddy spends time in her own room created at a corner of the teachers' office. During breaks between classes, children come to Buddy's room and enjoy relaxing interaction with her. Buddy takes part in various school events, including marching in athletic meetings, evacuation drills, school excursions and the taking of commemorative photographs during graduation ceremonies. Buddy's attendance makes children more eager about participating in these events. When children visit local welfare facilities for elder people for volunteer work as part of a school program, Buddy accompanies them and helps their interactions with the elders.

The biggest of the benefits that have been gained from the program is that Buddy's presence makes school more enjoyable for children, according to Yoshida. "Buddy is serving as an agent that helps make communications smoother and catalyzes the establishment of better human relations," he observes.

When a school adopts an AAE program, it won't be enough just to have a dog inside the compound, Yoshida argues. What is crucial, Yoshida says, is to ensure that the dog can serve as an agent for communication safely and effectively. That requires appointing a single person to take care of the animal as a leader. Preparations for such a program should include measures to deal with children allergic to animals and prevent bites as well as arrangements to cover the cost of keeping the dog. These measures must be planned carefully while securing the support by the people involved. Since he couldn't find any previous example of AAE to refer to, Yoshida had to go through constant trial and error. From now on, however, his experience will offer a good example for people who want to adopt this approach.