#077: Social Emotional Learning with Cara and Little Dude

by | April 3, 2023 | Therapy Dog Talk

Therapy Dog Talk - Cara + Little Dude

Cara is creating social emotional learning curriculum inspired by her experiences volunteering with her dog Little Dude.

In this 77th episode of Therapy Dog Talk, I chat with Cara Zelas and her charming Shih Tzu Bichon Poodle mix, Little Dude, about their inspiring work in social-emotional learning and therapy dog support. We discuss how Little Dude’s big personality led Cara to become a therapy dog handler, and how it influenced her children’s book series, “Big World of Little Dude.”

Cara shares her journey of adopting Little Dude and how his outgoing nature made her realize the power of therapy dogs. She then turned their experiences into a book series focusing on social-emotional learning for children. We also discuss the important role therapy dogs play in reducing anxiety and stress, helping with emotional regulation, and building social skills.

Throughout our conversation, we touch on The Good Dog Foundation, which provides training, certification, and resources for therapy dog teams. We also explore the increasing importance of social-emotional learning in schools after the pandemic disrupted in-person learning and socialization.

Cara explains how her books include guides in the back with activities and resources for parents and families to engage in discussions about social-emotional learning. She also shares her excitement about launching the Humankind curriculum, a 10-week social-emotional learning literacy-based program for schools and afterschool programs.

Finally, we discuss how therapy dogs can comfort patients in hospitals, help children improve reading and literacy skills, and the various requirements of therapy dog organizations. By the end of this episode, you’ll be inspired by the incredible work of Cara and Little Dude, and gain a deeper appreciation for the power of therapy dogs in social-emotional learning.

In this episode, we discuss …

  • How Cara’s experiences volunteering as a Therapy Dog team inspired her to author a series.
  • What Cara enjoys about volunteering through the Good Dog Foundation.
  • Why it’s important for children to access social emotional learning at home and in school.

Key moments you won’t want to miss:

Note that the timecodes match the video, not the podcast.

  • [01:29] Cara Zelas is a writer, teacher, and works with her dog, Little Dude, as a therapy dog team. Little Dude inspired her children’s book series called “Big World of Little Dude.”
  • [02:32] The books focus on social emotional learning topics like kindness, empathy, and friendship. They are for kids in pre-K to third grade.
  • [05:19] Little Dude became a certified therapy dog with The Good Dog Foundation. He and Cara visit hospitals, schools, and other places to give comfort and support.
  • [12:57] When they visit, their therapy work is separate from promoting their book series. They focus on their role as a therapy dog team.
  • [14:01] The pandemic showed how important social emotional learning is in schools, as kids missed out on socializing and interacting with others.
  • [15:25] Cara’s books can be used at school or at home. There’s a guide in the back of each book to help explore the themes more deeply.
  • [15:57] If you want to become a therapy dog team, Cara suggests checking the dog’s personality and being ready to volunteer regularly.
  • [17:10] Being consistent is important when volunteering with a therapy dog. It helps the dog keep their skills and builds relationships with the people they visit.
  • [14:01] As a therapist, I share that I think social emotional learning in schools is great. It can help kids and adults who might not have had this training before.
  • [18:02] Cara is excited for the upcoming launch of the Humankind curriculum. It’s a 10-week social and emotional learning program for schools, afterschool programs, or homeschool parents. You can find more info on her website and Instagram page.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I do. Give it a watch or a listen and then let me know in the community which part you found the most helpful!

Mentioned in this episode:

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Therapy Dog Talk is a podcast where I interview a different team each week via Instagram Live. If you enjoyed this episode please find us over at Apple, Google, or Spotify and give us a follow after you leave a review.

Do you know someone who would make a great guest? Be sure to reach out and let me know.

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