Date of Conferral
Children's undeveloped social, emotional, and behavioral skills have long been a concern in early childhood classrooms. Numerous studies have illuminated how therapy dogs in pedagogical settings support children's holistic development, yet there is scant data on the integration of therapy dogs into the early childhood classroom. This study was guided by the progressive education theory and the concept of the human-animal bond, which collectively lay the foundation for how young children develop critical life skills in the presence of a therapy dog. A qualitative collective case study was used to examine how 3 early childhood educators used therapy dogs and viewed the support these dogs provide for the social, emotional, and behavioral development of children. Two educators from three Indiana public schools and 1 educator from an Indiana independent early education program participated in semi-structured interviews on their use of therapy animals in early childhood classrooms. Classroom observations, children's artifacts, and researcher field notes were used to triangulate the data. A within-case analysis was conducted for each site, followed by a cross-case analysis for comparisons and generalizations. Three themes resulted: a therapy dog (a) is an innovative teaching tool; (b) supports children's social, emotional, and behavioral development; and (c) enhances children's experiences. It is expected that these findings may give program administrators and early childhood educators the mechanics of effective therapy dog practices. Knowing the mechanics of therapy dog usage in the classroom and understanding the potential outcomes for young children, administrators and educators could build on this process, develop a more effective plan for their own program, or opt out of a therapy dog program entirely.