Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Teaching & Learning


The purpose of this study was to determine whether having a dog as a member of a self-contained classroom for students diagnosed with severe emotional disorders held benefits for these students. This study provided an opportunity to explain or predict the effects that a dog had on students’ emotional well-being and learning in the school setting.

The methods and procedures for this study were qualitatively collected and analyzed. This study was considered a case study, because it explored a bounded system over time through detailed, in-depth data collection, which involved observations, student interviews, and parent interviews. The broad research question that guided this qualitative study was as follows: What happens when a dog becomes a member of a self- contained classroom for students diagnosed with severe emotional disorders? As the study progressed, more specific questions emerged from the data that narrowed the scope of the investigation. The first research question related to how the dog’s presence affected students’ emotional stability with regard to the prevention and de-escalation of emotional crisis, while the second question related to how the dog affected students’ learning.

The participants in this study included six students who were placed in a self- contained special education classroom because of the severity of their emotional disorders. In addition, all six of the students’ mothers, or foster mothers, were selected for this study.

Based on the findings of this study, four assertions were drawn: 1. The dog’s placement into the self-contained special education classroom provided students with a foundation for emotional stability through his ongoing companionship. 2. Students’ attitudes toward school became more positive when the dog became a member of their classroom community. 3. The dog had a calming effect on students, which was influential in preventing and de-escalating episodes of emotional crisis. 4. With the presence of the dog, students’ learning became more broad-based to encompass lessons in responsibility, respect, and empathy.

Recommendations were made for educators, in the field of special education, who work with students diagnosed with emotional disorders, as well as for future researchers.