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Schools Turn to Service Dogs for Happier and Smarter Students



Quick Smiles:

  • Many elementary schools in Michigan are now using service dogs full-time as joy emissaries, aiming to decrease student anxiety and improve educational experiences.
  • ‘Priority Pups’ is one such initiative, launched by a health insurance provider in Michigan. This program is already demonstrating a substantial improvement in students’ academic performance.
  • Assisted by organizations such as Canines for Change, these programs also help boost students’ reading scores, foster a more positive learning attitude, and assist with managing emotional outbursts in children with special needs.

Whether you call it puppy power or canine charm, the decision to introduce service dogs as full-time joy ambassadors in several Michigan elementary schools is certainly having a positive impact.

Aiming to reduce anxiety and enhance learning, these delightful furry assistants are not only bringing cheer but are also notably improving academic outcomes. Students are reportedly “already observing a significant improvement in their academics.”

The introduction of these canine helpers occurred with ‘Priority Pups’, a program launched by a Michigan health insurance provider in September. This program placed Goldendoodles in two of Michigan’s school districts “with more to come.”

One of these fortunate recipients was Shelby, a student at North Godwin Elementary School. “I love you, Meeka,” Shelby quietly expressed during a moment with the pup that switches classrooms daily.

Research indicates that the presence of a trained dog can greatly lower a child’s stress levels, promote a more positive attitude towards learning, and even facilitate smoother interactions between classmates. This is greatly beneficial in Michigan, where a 2023 report from Mental Health America highlighted a lack of mental health treatment for many youths diagnosed with clinical depression.

Shelby’s mother, Laurie Uhl, spoke about the difference Meeka has made for her daughter. “Shelby was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called Fragile X Syndrome, along with autism and ADHD. Here at school, she sometimes has difficulties dealing with her emotions. She can get angry and cry or scream uncontrollably.”


However, since Meeka’s arrival, there is a reliable comforting tool to soothe Shelby. “I’ve observed Shelby in the midst of a meltdown and when Meeka is brought into the room, I can see an immediate change as she calms down and finds comfort.”

It’s not just students like Shelby who are gaining from this. Studies indicate that spending time with the dog during the day or reading to dogs may enhance reading scores. A fifth-grader commented: “My math was super hard. But then Meeka came in and after a break with her, math became really easy.”

Dr. Nikki Brown, a school psychologist for the Lansing School District in Michigan, is the driving force behind these remarkable programs. Dr. Brown, founder of Canines for Change in 2005, first brought her Corgi to school to work with special education students and noticed a significant improvement in their skills and behavior.

After joining forces with another trainer to provide service dogs for children with special needs, Dr. Brown’s venture attracted attention from the local Grand Ledge School District. They requested a Facility Dog for each of their nine school buildings. Subsequently, Priority Health started funding their own school program, Priority Pups. Since then, this innovative idea continues making learning a joyous experience.

Now, isn’t this a paw-some idea to propose to your local schools?


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