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Effective Implementation of Animal Assisted Education Interventions in the Inclusive Early Childhood Education Classroom


The use of therapy dogs as an animal-assisted education (AAE) intervention in the early childhood special education classroom (ECSE) is a growing phenomenon. Research reflects the potential of using canines to support the academic and functional performance of young students with disabilities. Using therapy dogs in a classroom setting to support AAE might seem simple, but the author encourages ECSE teachers, principals, and handlers to adopt certain practices that will ultimately promote safe human–animal interactions and effective educational opportunities. The effective implementation of AAE with therapy dogs in an ECSE classroom requires the discussion of appropriate protocol; careful planning between the handler, principal, school staff; and reflective practice. A protocol will ensure the safety and well-being of young students with disabilities and the canine. Handlers and ECSE teachers should embrace a co-planning approach that synthesizes the content knowledge of the ECSE teacher and the canine expertise of the handler. Reflective practices along with co-planning will ensure both teacher and handler implement an intervention that potentially optimizes student learning toward an academic or functional performance goal. Collaboration among professionals is critical to meeting established student learning outcomes. A lack of collaboration may result in the implementation of ill-planned, ill-implemented practices that are misaligned to established human–animal interaction standards and may have negative consequences for student and canine health and behavior. This article will discuss strategies that will help school staff and therapy dog handlers promote appropriate practices during the implementation of AAE interventions.

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Correspondence to Dawn D. Sandt.

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Sandt, D.D. Effective Implementation of Animal Assisted Education Interventions in the Inclusive Early Childhood Education Classroom. Early Childhood Educ J 48, 103–115 (2020).

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  • Therapy dog
  • Animal-assisted education
  • Early childhood special education
  • Canine-assisted interventions
  • Human–animal interactions