4 Legged SEL: How to Start a Therapy Dog Program

Social and emotional learning (SEL) doesn’t always look like a lesson plan, a professional development workshop, or a box of SEL curriculum. Ideally, SEL is part of a school’s culture—you can feel it when you walk through the doors, see it in the hallways and the cafeteria, and hear it in the classrooms and on the playground. SEL is how we build relationships, manage our emotions, practice resilience in the face of adversity, and make decisions.

While it’s important that many of those skills are explicitly taught to students, schools can offer experiences that integrate SEL into nearly every moment of a school day. At my school, those experiences are evident on “Winnie Wednesdays,” when Winnie the therapy dog visits students and staff to spread love throughout the building. SEL looks like a hug between Winnie and an anxious student, it sounds like a squeal of laughter as students gather around Winnie at recess and throw a tennis ball for him, and it feels like emerging confidence from a struggling reader as they quietly read aloud to a nonjudgmental furry friend.

Learn How to Start a Therapy Dog Program at Your School


(Photo: Winnie the therapy dog, hard at work at the author’s school.)