The call for Kid Reporter applications is now open! Click here to learn more.

New York Schools Welcome Comfort Dogs

Bailey, a Comfort Dog at M.S. 114 in New York City, helps kids feel more engaged in their classes.

In many homes, dogs are beloved family pets. Canines are now playing a role in educational environments, too. Since 2014, the New York City Department of Education has certified a Comfort Dog program. Run by the Good Dog Foundation, the program trains comfort dogs and their human handlers for use in schools.

The Comfort Dogs program began as a way to help students feel more engaged in their classes and to alleviate feelings of anxiety, fear, and isolation. At East Side Middle School (M.S. 114) in Manhattan, Bailey the Comfort Dog is now working alongside her human handler, Laurie Posner, the school psychologist.

In a recent interview, Posner described the social and emotional benefits of the program. With Bailey on campus, students have an additional way to express their feelings. “People socialize in different ways depending on who they’re with,” Posner said. “It could be with adults. It can be with students.”  


School psychologist Laurie Posner wants students at M.S. 114 to feel free to visit Bailey. 


After a year-and-a-half of virtual learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, many kids have felt disconnected from their peers, Posner said. A lot of young people haven’t had a chance to develop social-emotional skills, like sharing and taking turns. At M.S. 114, Bailey will be involved in such lessons throughout the school year. 

Bailey and other Comfort Dogs have different roles at different schools. In addition to being involved in social-emotional lessons, Bailey “is supposed to work on specific goals,” Posner said. Students who have had difficulty going from a hybrid or virtual learning model back to an in-person setting, for example, can join a small group with Bailey.

“Sometimes, people feel calmer when they have a dog to pet,” Posner said. “Or they can talk about the dog, or she can be really silly and really goofy, and that’s something they can laugh about.” Posner explained that the program will measure specific goal through surveys, asking how students feel at certain points of the year. 


Bailey went through intensive training to become a Comfort Dog.


In addition to facilitating small groups, Bailey will have an open-door policy, Posner said. Anyone who is having a hard day will be welcome to come and see Bailey.

“You need somewhere to decompress and just pet a dog, or talk to a dog, someone who is not going to judge you,” Posner said. “That’s what she is for.”

Bailey went through intensive training in order to become a Comfort Dog. Each dog must know basic commands and pass a test to qualify for a classroom setting. The dogs’ interactions with children, how they walk in hallways, respond to the ringing of school bells, and take treats are all tested. 

Researchers are finding that having Comfort Dogs in school leads to higher levels of empathy and a more positive school climate.

So far, Bailey is a hit at M.S. 114. Posner expressed a great deal of excitement about the Comfort Dog program, as did East Side Middle students. 



Photos courtesy of Laurie Posner