From the October 2019 issue

Dakoda the Therapy Dog Helps Walled Lake High Schoolers

Walled Lake Western High School has a new and non-traditional employee – Dakota the therapy dog. Meet Dakoda and find out how she helps students and staff.

Dakota the therapy dog sitting with two cheerleaders

High school can be a very stressful time. Students often have too much homework, pressure about their futures and social issues with their peers.

In her 20 years as a social worker at Walled Lake Western High School, Ann Gray has seen the impact, from students collapsing in tears to fights in the hallways.

That’s why she worked with the school board to bring a new stress-reducing element to their school: a yellow Lab retriever named Dakoda.

After nine months of intensive training, Dakoda is well-qualified for the position of student soother – and she holds the title of Oakland County’s first high school therapy dog.

5 benefits of therapy dogs

Here’s what Walled Lake Western High School social worker Ann Gray has seen since therapy dog Dakoda entered the scene this school year.

1. Lower performance/social anxiety

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“I saw one student crying in the office, she was very stressed, depressed and just sitting on the floor,” Gray says. “When Dakoda approached, her demeanor changed, she relaxed. I have a hundred stories just like that.”

2. Reduce fights and incidents among students

“Some of the areas in the hallways have had high incidences of violence in the past. You can feel drama building when you walk past. But teens know when the dog is around, and they don’t want to disrupt that. (Dakoda) brings the angst down.”

3. Form bonds between students

“In the hallway, you can tell who’s withdrawn. When Dakoda approaches, those kids are suddenly talking to others and the dog. Before they would walk through the halls with their heads down.”

4. Help teachers perform better

“She is great for the staff. She calms them down, and helps them be more open to teaching,” Gray says. She also says that personally, thinking about seeing Dakoda makes going into work more enjoyable.

Dakoda Fast Facts

  • Age: Turned 1 year old on Aug. 15
  • Breed: Yellow Labrador retriever
  • Favorite toys:Chew toys and tennis balls
  • Favorite activities:Running around her host family’s yard

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