The development of the Taxi Dog Program was guided by applied developmental theory and research. The program’s creation was informed by several scientific and educational fields of study including: child development, social and emotional learning, play-based learning, executive functioning, risk and resilience, media use in education, puppetry, learning disabilities, classroom-based primary prevention, and classroom climate.

Research Highlights

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

Students with experience in SEL programs:

  • Report fewer instances of depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal (Whitcomb et al., 2012, and CASEL, 2013)
  • Are nearly 50% less likely to be involved in a fight, and up to 19% less likely to act violently in school (US Department of Education, 2007 and Gutner, et al., 2012)
  • Exhibit reduced rates of addiction, mental illness, and incarceration and improved academic achievement by 11 percentile points (Durlak, et al., 2011, and Hawkins, et al. 2008)
  • Demonstrate greater motivation to learn, improved relationships with peers, better classroom behavior, a deeper connection to their school, and increased attendance and graduation rates (CASEL, 2013)
  • A 2002 study by the National Center for Education Statistics determined that more than 90% of the major reasons former high school students gave for dropping out of school were related to social and emotional factors; a follow-up study reported that many of these students said they would have stayed in school had they been taught SEL skills. (Bridgeland, et al., 2006)
  • A recent national teacher survey on SEL revealed the following findings: (1) Teachers understand, value, and endorse SEL for all students; (2) teachers believe SEL helps students succeed in school and life; and (3) teachers identify key accelerators for SEL (for example, school wide programming, professional development, inclusion in learning standards) (Bridgeland, Bruce & Hariharan, 2013)

Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation

  • Research has shown that executive functioning ability is a stronger predictor of school readiness than IQ (Bierman et al., 2008)
  • A longitudinal study that followed 1,000 children from birth through age 32 found that the individuals who showed good self-control skills in childhood had better physical health, reduced substance dependence, better personal finances, and reduced criminal offending behavior later in life. (Moffitt, et al., 2011)
  • Recent research indicates that strategies including mindfulness-based approaches, physical activity, some computer games, and Montessori approaches aid in the development of executive function of children. (Diamond & Lee, 2011)

Classroom-Based Primary Prevention

  • Prevention and intervention tools such as SEL skills are most cost-effective when applied in early childhood development years. (SRCD, 2002)
  • Young students who develop effective social skills show better literacy two years later than their peers who did not receive instruction in such skills. (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2006).
  • Given that behavior problems during the early school years can be potent warning signs for later more serious forms of mental illness, the early elementary school years are considered to be the best time for primary prevention efforts because early instances of problems may be more amenable to prevention efforts than their later manifestations (Greenberg, 2010)

Risk and Resilience 

  • Resilience is defined as positive adaptation in spite of adversity.  Resilience has been considered as an individual difference characteristic, meaning the ability to be resilient in the face of adversity may exist in all of us, yet vary between us (Maston, 2001)
  • Research tells us that there are factors both internal to the individual (for example self confidence, intelligence, hope and optimism) and in the external environment (for example, the presence of one significant adult, involvement in extracurricular activities, school and community support) that promote resiliency, and that these factors do no operate alone but instead interact with one another to help children avoid negative consequences (Luthar, 2006; Masten, 2007)
  • Resiliency research offers a promising framework for efforts to reduce and prevent risk factors by focusing on examining the ways in which individuals, despite the presence of risk factors, develop in healthy ways -- are resilient and "beat the odds" (Masten, 2001; Schonert-Reichl & LeRose, 2008)

Media in Education

  • Children over two learn cognitive skill development and academic achievement from moderate exposure to educational media (Kirkorian et al., 2008, and Richert et al., 2011)
  • Television programs designed to promote positive social behaviors help develop altruism, cooperation, and tolerance (Brooks-Gunn et al., 2008)
  • Media characters are effective at modeling emotions and empathy for children. (Wilson, 2008)

Puppets in Education and Play-Based Learning

  • Appropriate use of puppets in the curriculum can increase student motivation, classroom involvement, and academic success (Zuljeyic, 2005)
  • Children engaged in puppetry demonstrate increased communications as well as better self-insight, which enables them to express themselves more freely (Caputo, 1993)
  • Puppets provide a safe barrier for many children between the self and experience, allowing them to safely express a range of emotions including fear and hope (Gendler, 1986)
  • There is convincing and comprehensive evidence that play-based learning contributes to improved verbalization, vocabulary, language comprehension, attention span, concentration, impulse control, curiosity, problem-solving strategies, cooperation, empathy, and group participation (Smilansky and Shefatya, 1990)
  • Learning-based play helps children develop empathy, creativity, resilience, and focus (Barblett, 2010)


Bishop and Glynn, in Culture Counts: Changing Power Relations in Education (1999), acknowledge:

  • Storytelling is a learning tool that allows for students to make sense of experiences using the specific and unique characteristics of a particular culture.
  • Storytelling also has the capacity to support and enhance relationships among students by creating new knowledge, and
  • Sharing and processing stories provides students with opportunities to develop authentic relationships with their peers.

Social Emotional Learning and Special Populations

  • 6,483,000 public school students ages 3-21 years (13.2% of total enrollment) were identified as having a disability (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009)
  • 85% of these students have disorders with a high occurrence of SEL deficits including autism spectrum disorders, nonverbal learning disorders, language learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, and traumatic brain injuries (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009; Strain and Smith, 1996)
  • Of families that have a child with a disability, the most commonly expressed desire is for the child to be able to develop relationships with peers (Turnbull & Turnbull, 1993)

The Importance of Supportive Classroom Environments

  • Children's engagement or disengagement in schools, depends largely on whether children's fundamental needs for belonging, autonomy, and competence are being fulfilled (Ryan & Powelson, 1991)
  • Children who have supportive relationships with their teachers enjoy school more and get along better with their peers.  These children are able to play and work on their own because they know that they can count on their teacher to respond to them if they get upset or experience difficulties (Hamre & Pianta, 2006)
  • Better implementation of SEL curriculum occurs when a teacher has enhanced SEL competencies.  In fact, better student-teacher relationships are possible when teachers have stronger SEL competencies.  A positive feedback loop is created via the teacher's ability to model appropriate social and emotional behavior in the transactional relationship (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009)

Stress and Burnout in the Teaching Profession

  • Teachers have the highest burnout rate of any public service career, with 25% leaving the profession after only 2 years, and 50% leaving after only 5 years. The most commonly cited reason is behavior problems among students. (National Center for Education)
  • Teacher attrition in the United States costs taxpayers an estimated $7 billion annually in funds to recruit, hire, and train new teachers. (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future)

Additional Resources


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