Therapy Dog Program

Dogs are miracles with paws, according to counselors, teachers, social workers and administrators at Lincoln Public Schools who bring four-legged critters into their schools and classroom.

The dog program at LPS was launched years ago by Dick Spearman, former principal at Mickle Middle School, who convinced teacher Jean Keister to bring Riley the Dog to school. Today there are now 44 pet therapy teams at LPS and more in training.

How to sign up

Get information here and for follow-up contact John Neal.

"We are a model for schools in the country because of the dogs and the people."
John Neal
Associate Superintendent for Civic Engagement

How to become an approved pet therapy team

  • Pre-approval from building principal and your supervisor.
  • Successful completion of a pet therapy certification program.
  • Submit all required documentation to the District Office.
  • Obtain a certificate of liability insurance for you and your dog.
  • Maintain current pet therapy certification, AKC Canine Good Citizenship, vaccinations, liability insurance and established pet therapy guidelines.

Benefits of the program

  • Increases positive hallway behavior.
  • Increases concentration and work completion.
  • Improves school attendance.
  • Gives student an incentive to meet academic and behavioral goals.
  • Reduces anxiety.
  • Provides students with a nonjudgmental partner.
  • Increases motivation for physical activity/occupational therapy.
  • Elevates mood of staff and students.
  • Provides emotional support during times of stress.
  • Creates a warm school environment.

Impact of Therapy Dogs on students

Sugar Bear

Sugar Bear is a therapy dog in training – the fourth therapy dog for Susie Mahoney from Randolph Elementary School. “Zeke was my first dog, one of the first in the school district, and he did a lot of listening to beginning readers, often reluctant and struggling readers…In fact, we had one eighth grade boy come back to Randolph and tell us that Zeke was the only reason he had become a good reader.”


“Betsy has a way of connecting with children, she senses when kids are stressed out and I’ve seen such a huge transition with calming down kids,” said Schyler Lindekugel-Sullivan, a school social worker at LPS who often brings along her therapy dog, Betsy.  


Shawnie Motschenbacher, a teacher at Lincoln North Star High School, brought Peanut to the Learning Lunch Tuesday and pointed out: “Many of my students are nonverbal…and I’ve seen students who are agitated…but as soon as they see the dog, and pet the dog, you can just feel the student starting to calm down and de-escalate. No words and no judgments.”


Pound Middle School teacher Steve Spieker said he saw a profound impact in bringing Ellie to school: “This year we have a number of students who have lost loved ones, and when they come to see Ellie it’s just a comforting place to be. They can talk to her; they know she’s there for them.”

Video: Dogs, A School's Best Friend

Meet the Team