The Impact of Pets in Educational Settings

Charlotte Miller

In recent years, the presence of pets in educational settings has transformed from a novelty to a well-researched pedagogical approach, with numerous studies highlighting the benefits of integrating animals into learning environments.

From primary schools to universities, educators are increasingly recognizing the positive effects pets can have on student well-being, engagement, and learning outcomes. This blog post delves into the growing trend of pets in educational settings, exploring the benefits backed by research and considering the practicalities and challenges of implementing such programs.

The Case for Pets in Education

The push towards inclusive and holistic educational environments has led to innovative approaches to support student learning and emotional well-being. Incorporating pets into these settings is supported by a growing body of research.

A study conducted by the University of California found that reading to dogs in educational settings can significantly boost reading proficiency and self-confidence in children. Another report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines multiple health benefits of pet ownership, such as decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and feelings of loneliness, which can translate positively when pets are included in educational environments.

Emotional and Social Development

One of the most significant impacts of having pets in schools is on students’ emotional and social development. Pets provide a sense of comfort and reduce stress and anxiety in students. They can act as social catalysts, encouraging interaction among students who might not otherwise engage with one another.

The presence of an animal in a classroom can foster a sense of responsibility, empathy, and care for others, which are crucial social skills. According to a study published in the Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, therapy dogs in educational settings have been shown to improve socialization skills among children with special educational needs.

Enhancing Learning Outcomes

Beyond emotional and social benefits, pets can positively affect academic achievement. Engaging with animals has been shown to increase attention and motivation in students.

For example, programs that involve children reading to dogs have demonstrated improvements in reading rates and comprehension, as noted by the American Humane Association.

These activities provide a non-judgmental audience for students, reducing the pressure and fear of making mistakes and thereby encouraging a more relaxed learning experience.

Practical Considerations

While the benefits are clear, integrating pets into educational settings requires careful planning and consideration of several factors:

  • Allergies and Phobias

It’s essential to consider the health and comfort of all students, including those with allergies to animals or phobias.

  • Animal Welfare

The well-being of the pets themselves must be a priority, ensuring they are comfortable, well-treated, and not overwhelmed.

  • Appropriate Animals

Not all pets are suitable for educational environments. The choice of animals should be based on temperament, size, and the ability to interact safely with children. Certain animals such as rabbits and birds are suited for classrooms with small children, while for therapeutic settings, cats and dogs such as Labradors and Poodles are especially suitable.

  • Policy and Procedure

Implementing a pet program requires clear policies and procedures to address care, health and safety, and the role of pets in the educational curriculum.

Case Studies and Success Stories

In the United States, the integration of pets, particularly therapy dogs, into educational settings has seen remarkable success, with numerous programs across the country demonstrating the positive effects on student well-being and learning outcomes.

1. Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) Program

One pioneering initiative is the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program, which involves trained therapy dogs assisting children in improving their reading skills. Launched by Intermountain Therapy Animals, the R.E.A.D. program has become a model for similar initiatives worldwide.

Studies have shown that participating students exhibit significant increases in reading proficiency and, equally important, in their enthusiasm for reading. The non-judgmental presence of a dog provides a comforting and encouraging environment that boosts confidence and reduces the stress associated with reading aloud.

2. Yale University’s Therapy Dog Program

At the higher education level, Yale University’s Law School introduced a therapy dog program where students can “check out” Monty, a certified therapy dog, for sessions to relieve stress, particularly during exams.

The program’s success has sparked interest across various U.S. universities, leading to an increase in on-campus therapy dog programs aimed at supporting student mental health and well-being.

3. The PAWS Act of 2019

On a legislative level, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act of 2019 underscores the recognition of the therapeutic value of assistance animals. While focusing on veterans, the act’s passage signals growing acknowledgment of therapy animals’ benefits, setting a precedent that could influence educational policies and programs.

4. Therapy Animals in Special Education

In special education settings, therapy animals have been particularly impactful. For instance, the inclusion of therapy dogs in classrooms for children with autism spectrum disorder has been shown to promote social interaction and reduce anxiety, leading to more inclusive and supportive educational experiences.

Schools across the country have documented improvements in student engagement and social skills, underscoring the therapeutic potential of animals in specialized educational contexts.

Looking to the Future

As research continues to support the benefits of pets in educational settings, it’s likely that more schools and educational institutions will explore ways to incorporate animals into their learning environments. The future may see a more standardized approach to pet integration, with training programs for educational therapy animals and guidelines for schools to follow, ensuring that both students and pets benefit from the arrangement.


The inclusion of pets in educational settings offers a unique opportunity to enhance learning experiences, support emotional and social development, and create a more engaging, inclusive, and supportive learning environment.

As we move forward, the key to success lies in balancing the benefits with careful planning and consideration of the needs of all participants—students, educators, and the pets themselves.

With ongoing research and a growing number of success stories, the role of pets in education is poised for expansion, promising a future where learning alongside our four-legged friends becomes a valued and integral part of the educational experience.