Monash research goes to the dogs – and students reap the benefits

(From L-R): Hannah Schena, Louisa Trainer and Felicia Lee with Bronson and Daymon. picture supplied.

By LAUREN ROSENBERG

Research being carried out by Masters students at Monash could see therapy dogs used more widely across universities.

Masters of Education and Developmental Psychology student Hannah Schena said the research was being conducted with an already established program to make the evidence “more widely applicable”, but the therapy dogs were already popular among students.  

“Every time they are out, all the students flock to them,” Ms Schena said.

Masters student Louisa Trainer agreed: “It doesn’t really matter what people are going through, if you’re really stressed at uni, to go and sit with an animal, pat it, [it’s] a good time.”

Ms Schena said the dogs could be used as “someone to talk to about uni work and to teach them” or to release pent up emotions.

Daymon the therapy dog. Source: Felicia Lee

Monash University has two resident therapy dogs: Daymon the black Labrador and Bronson the Labradoodle. They belong to the supervisors of this program, Dr Linda Henderson and Dr Christine Grove, respectively. 

Daymon is an ex-stud – he fathered more than 60 puppies – and Bronson is a legacy, as both his parents were also therapy dogs.

As well as helping out at Monash, both dogs do other work, Masters student Felicia Lee said.

“Bronson works in schools now, as well as private therapy in a clinic. Daymon is retired – he’s a story dog now,” she said.

Ms Schena, Ms Trainer and Ms Lee are working with Story Dogs, a non-profit organisation that pairs therapy dogs with children who struggle with reading, in the hopes that their research will see therapy dogs more widely used.

Data collection on the children participating in Story Dogs will begin at the beginning of the first semester in 2019.

The study will measure the child’s, teachers’ and parents’ wellbeing pre and post-program to measure the benefits of the dogs on reading progress.

All three students are provisional psychologists, and Ms Schena said that in their own (future) practices, they may use therapy dogs regularly.

“Who knows what kind of influence therapy dogs will have on our own practices,” Ms Schena said.

Ultimately, these students aim to publish work that will see therapy dogs used much more widely in the future.

Louisa Trainer, Felicia Lee, Dr Linda Henderson, Dr Christine Grove and Hannah Schena with therapy dogs Daymon and Bronson.

To qualify as therapy dogs, the dogs have to go through an intensive training session with their handlers, who are usually also their owners.

They have to pass multiple tests, including staying in one place for up to an hour.

Ms Schena said it was the lack of education and publicised knowledge about therapy dogs that made people sometimes scared of them.

A presentation in Education Week by the student’s supervisors detailed examples of fake therapy dogs who, because they hadn’t been trained and vetted, might’ve “bitten someone or they might bark”, Ms Schena said.

“I think that misconception of ‘oh it’s just anyone’s dog’, or ‘I can bring my pet in’, is I think a massive limitation in why they haven’t kicked off,” Ms Schena said.

“Having a real distinction between what a therapy dog is – and dogs are great in general – but what these dogs are trained to do, will I think alter a lot of people’s attitudes towards it,” she said.