Date of Award

Spring 5-19-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Philip O. Pendley

Second Advisor

Tamerin Capellino

Third Advisor

Jonathan Greenberg


Purpose: The purpose of this phenomenological study is to determine and describe the academic and social-emotional effects of classroom service dogs/specialized therapy dogs with handlers on student learning and behavior in K-12 special education students in Emotionally/Behaviorally Disturbed (EBD) placements as perceived by their teachers.

Methodology: This study utilized qualitative data from semistructured, open-ended interview questions to analyze the research questions regarding the perceptions of teachers and educators on service dogs/specialized therapy dogs with handlers on student learning and behavior in K-12 special education students in EBD placements. The population for this study included educators working in special education classrooms from three schools in New Jersey and one school in California.

Findings: The data collected from the 12 participants established that having therapy dogs with handlers in a classroom with K-12 special education students in EBD placements benefitted their academic engagement and time on task and positively affected the behavior of students. The effect of student success rates on statewide achievement tests was deemed negligible based upon participants’ responses as unable to address this question due to little correlation in this area.

Conclusions: The findings from this phenomenological study led the researcher to conclude that despite the procedural challenges of implementing a service dog/specialized therapy dog with handler program, the overwhelming benefits supersede the difficulties. All participants pointed out the dogs’ calming and destressing effect and how the therapy dogs often assisted students in averting an escalation of crisis behaviors.

Recommendations: It is recommended that further research be conducted wherein the educators’ perceptions be supported by empirical verification. Future studies should isolate core components and compare results in academic and social/emotional/behavioral domains between groups that had the therapy dog interventions and control groups with no dog present. Finally, the researcher recommends that a study of the perceptions of parents be conducted to determine student behavior changes at home and across environments.