School stress levels were at an all-time low on Friday, thanks to a few furry friends.
Building Academic Retention Through k9’s (B.A.R.K) visited Watson Elementary School on December 11th to show students what therapy dogs do. The program is run by a group of volunteers at the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus. There are 45 therapy dogs and they help stressed out and homesick college students.
Even though the grade 3 and 5 students are definitely not in college yet, two students at Watson Road Elementary volunteer for B.A.R.K and convinced them to visit the school.
John-Tyler Binfet, assistant professor in the Faculty of Education and creator of B.A.R.K said the two siblings Cohen and Riley Bydlowski help with picking what therapy dogs are chosen for the program.
“Part of our assessment protocol is that we access our own dogs. We have children as part of the assessment process, just to make sure these dogs are fine with children.”
Cohen Bydlowski said he loves working with B.A.R.K.
“I want to help them pick the dogs that are supposed to be handled at B.A.R.K. My stress goes down a lot too when I’m with the dogs.”
Ten certified dogs visited the school, ranging from a Greyhound to a Newfoundlander. Students had the chance to interact with the dogs and talk to the owners as well about their pets. Binfet asked the students to mark down their stress levels before and after the puppy cuddles. Binfet also asked students to say one word about the experience.
“I think the adjectives used by the kids, calm, loving, warm, exciting, really captured their experience.”
Both dogs and handlers have to pass a number of tests before being approved.
“We’re looking for a match between the dogs personality, temperament, and skills, and the handler. We have dogs that pass but the handlers don’t pass,” Binfet said. “People have to be able to manage their dog and facilitate interactions with stressed or homesick university students.”
Currently there is a waiting list of dogs to be entered into the program.