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It is unethical to compromise a dog's working conditions for the benefit of children!

It is unethical to compromise a dog's working conditions for the benefit of children!

The other day, I was conversing with someone who asked me what I do for work.

I proudly shared, 'I'm the founder of a unique business that brings therapy dogs into schools, providing crucial support for students' mental well-being.'

Interestingly, the lady I spoke with also had a therapy dog at her child's school. She shared with pride that the dog is a communal 'employee' working with different teachers at school and a shared pet, going home with different staff members and families at night and on weekends.

...I changed the subject quickly before lecturing the poor woman about the questionable ethics of such practices.

So, instead, I'll get on my soapbox here.

We are increasingly concerned about the rising trend of in-school therapy dogs owned by schools and passed around to different staff members as a matter of policy by schools. Yes, the school may feel as though it owns the dog because they invested the funds into its upbringing and training. But dogs do not work that way! Evidence suggests that this practice is not in the best interest of the dogs' well-being. They need a small pack of people to call their own. Dogs require stability, routine, and consistent relationships to thrive, and frequent changes in caregivers and environments can lead to significant stress and anxiety. To ensure the health and happiness of therapy dogs, it is crucial to provide them with a stable home environment where they can form strong, lasting bonds and enjoy a predictable routine.

Based on the evidence that dogs experience less stress and greater well-being when they live with a consistent family, it would not be best practice nor ethical for a school to own a dog that stays with different people on weekends and is handled by many individuals during the week.

Here's an explanation:

1. Attachment and Bonding

"Dogs form strong attachments to their primary caregivers. Frequent changes in caregivers can disrupt this bond, leading to increased anxiety and insecurity in dogs" (Julius et al., 2013). In a school setting where a dog is passed around to different homes on weekends and handled by various people during the week, the dog would be unable to form a stable attachment with any single person. This lack of a stable, primary bond can lead to feelings of insecurity and anxiety in the dog.

2. Routine and Predictability

"Dogs, like many animals, thrive on routine and predictability, which provide them with a sense of security" (Mills & Hall, 2014). An inconsistent environment, such as a school where the dog is handled by many people and stays with different families on weekends, disrupts this routine, causing stress.

3. Behavioural Changes

"Changes in a dog's living situation can lead to behavioural issues such as separation anxiety, aggression, and destructive behaviour" (Bradshaw et al., 2012). These behaviours often stem from the insecurity and stress caused by an unstable living situation.

4. Cortisol Levels and Stress

Research indicates that "dogs with a stable living situation have lower cortisol levels compared to those frequently rehomed" (Coppola, Grandin, & Enns, 2006). Elevated cortisol levels are a clear indicator of increased stress and anxiety in dogs.

5. Shelter Stress as a Parallel

"Dogs in shelters or those frequently fostered exhibit higher stress levels than those in permanent homes" (Hennessy et al., 2001). This stress is due to noise, unfamiliar people, and lack of routine. Similarly, a communal working and living experience for a dog with its inherent instability could cause similar stress levels in dogs.

6. Quality of Owner-Dog Relationship

"The relationship quality between a dog and its owner significantly impacts the dog's well-being" (Payne et al., 2015). A strong, positive relationship where the dog feels loved and understood helps reduce stress. Frequent changes in ownership or handling hinder the development of such relationships, leading to increased stress and anxiety.

This rising trend of schools owning therapy dogs must be revised, the dog's needs must come first!

Evidence suggests that this practice is not in the best interest of the dogs' well-being. We are concerned that if it becomes the norm in schools, it will be seen as ethical - which it is not.

At Canine Comprehension, we do things differently. Our therapy dogs are seen as having an intrinsic value and are treated with respect, dignity, empathy, and compassion. As Animal Therapies Ltd.'s Code of Conduct states, 'Animal welfare should be the concern of all persons associated with an animal-assisted service. However, formal oversight of the animal’s health and well-being must be designated to a single person (most often, the handler or owner). Handlers must not allow other persons to work with their animal in their absence.'

So, Canine Comprehension therapy dogs are trained, owned, and live with their mentors and families. They become part of that family and bond like a pet dog. When they work, they go into schools to run sessions with the mentor, their owner and handler. Working conditions like this help further the trusting bond and allow the dogs to be both physically and mentally safe in their sessions.

It is not fair for the dog to dislike or tolerate their working and living conditions for the benefit of the school community!


- Bradshaw, J. W. S., Pullen, A. J., & Rooney, N. J. (2012). Why do adult dogs ‘play’? Behavioural processes, 89(3), 441-450.
- Coppola, C. L., Grandin, T., & Enns, R. M. (2006). Human interaction and cortisol: Can human contact reduce stress for shelter dogs? Physiology & Behavior, 87(3), 537-541.
- Hennessy, M. B., Voith, V. L., Mazzei, S. J., Buttram, J., Miller, D. D., & Linden, F. (2001). Behavior and cortisol levels of dogs in a public animal shelter, and an exploration of the ability of these measures to predict problem behavior after adoption. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 73(3), 217-233.
- Julius, H., Beetz, A., Kotrschal, K., Turner, D. C., & Uvnäs-Moberg, K. (2013). Attachment to Pets: An Integrative View of Human-Animal Relationships with Implications for Therapeutic Practice. Hogrefe Publishing.
- Mills, D. S., & Hall, S. S. (2014). Animal-assisted interventions: making better use of the human-animal bond. Veterinary Record, 174(11), 269-273.
- Payne, E., DeAraugo, J., Bennett, P., & McGreevy, P. (2015). Exploring the existence and potential underpinnings of dog-human and dog-dog personality trait associations. Behavioural Processes, 110, 113-125.