Elementary school students in Basehor have seen a new face in their building lately – and it has four legs.

Google, a female black Labrador retriever, is helping students at Glenwood Ridge Elementary School and Linwood Elementary School with their social skills.

“Dogs offer unconditional acceptance and love which, in turn, has a positive effect on the self-esteem of children,” said Wendy Cook, school counselor. “A dog can also improve a child’s feeling of safety which can result in more effective interaction with a counselor.”

Trained by the Kansas Specialty Dog Service, Google lives with Cook and her family. The KSDS breeds its own dogs before they are handed off to puppy raisers who teach the basics of obedience. After that initial training, the dogs are returned to KSDS to become a guide dog, a service dog or a facility dog like Google. This is Cook’s third service dog.

Each litter of puppies at KSDS is named with a different theme. Google’s theme was the internet and some of her brothers and sisters are named Skype, Yahoo, Jeeves, Chrome and Bing.

It took nearly two years for just the right dog to be matched with Cook. Google’s special training is used to facilitate the counseling process, but other facility dogs may be used in nursing homes, hospitals and even funeral homes.

It costs an estimated $25,000 to train a dog before it is matched with the new owner, but provided free to those who meet certain criteria. Google was provided free of charge to the school district. Cook spent a week in Washington, Kansas, getting to know Google and learning how to work with her new dog.

Due to the natural calming effect dogs have on children, that unconditional acceptance helps to build rapport with the children. A dog can be a sort of bridge to help reach some children.

Cook addresses delicate subjects each year with her students, including divorce and death. She sees the dog as complementing the existing counseling program and not just a pet. Students are also using Google as an example of how to show respect when they encounter a person using a service dog in the community.

“Our school children are under tremendous amounts of stress in our modern world. Coping with family issues, school, homework, social media and sports can be overwhelming. I teach children coping strategies for their anxiety. Having Google work with these kids helps them relax,” Cook said. “They walk into the building with a smile on their face now when they are greeted by Google. What a great way to start the day.”

Beth Kornegay is a freelance writer covering news and events in the city of Basehor. If you have a story idea, email her at gabi_kansas@yahoo.com