Why Have a School Dog?
With Sir Antony Seldon (Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University, educationalist and political author referencing the benefits of school dogs and Damian Hinds recognising their role in helping children’s mental health and wellbeing we thought we’d bring you our School Dog Blog.
In recent years it has become increasingly common for schools to have a school dog, but ‘Why?’ I hear you ask!
There are a lot of articles about the benefits of having a dog in school, from increasing children’s understanding of responsibility to supporting children with managing their feelings and behaviour. Alongside the impact of a school dog on pupils, research also suggests that interactions with a dog can have benefits for staff too. Research shows that interacting with a dog can moderate stress by reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and other observable supportive signs of anxiety (Katcher, Friedmann, Beck, & Lynch, 1983). However, as the Dog Trust saying goes, “A dog is for life not just for Christmas”.
So, before we opened our school gates (and hearts) to a school dog there were many considerations to be made:
- The breed: It is important to consider the breed of dog most suitable to our school to ensure that they are a good fit and that we can accommodate all of its needs. Temperament and exercise requirements are a big factor here.
Bernard is a Norfolk terrier, whose mum is already a therapy dog. He comes from ‘Stable Lives’. Stable Lives is a Community Interest Company based at Parbold Equestrian Centre. Volunteers at Stable Lives recognise the devastating effect that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Mental Health Trauma can have on an individual and their family. They use therapy dogs and horses to bring real comfort to adults and children suffering from a wide range of physical and psychological challenges.
Bernard is from a dog family with a proven track record of working in a calm, safe place where people can come to mentally rest, relax and reconnect into society and family life. Bernard is a very calm steady breed type, known for their great affinity with children and who will remain small and cuddly. He comes from highly regarded lines, is Kennel Club registered and fully insured. He will follow a training plan devised by a specialist canine trainer.
- Cost: Dogs aren’t cheap – there are vet bills (especially if you get a puppy with all the training and inoculations required). The regular costs of medication such as, flea treatment, health checks, insurance, food, training and grooming need to be considered to name a few. With school budget’s decreasing, we will need to carefully consider whether a school dog is a good investment and a priority for your school in terms of their potential impact. Fortunately for us, Mrs Vayro has purchased Bernard herself and will incur any of the costs related to Bernard, his care and training.
- Allergies: Children and adults have a range of allergies. It will be important to be aware of children with allergies to pet hair. Consideration needs to be made on how we are going to support and manage these situations as they occur?
When Bernard is at the stage where he can walk around school, we will consult with parents on any medical considerations that must be taken into account. Equally, the idea of a dog is not for everyone. There is already a long line of staff and children who want to become involved with a share of Bernard’s care, but some staff and children may not wish to come into contact with a dog. It might seem obvious to state, but getting to know Bernard or having anything to do with him is not compulsory!
- Death: Death is inevitable. However, it is far better to be prepared for this eventuality than have to make decisions when both children, and staff, might be upset. Acknowledging the end of a pet’s life can provide a gentle introduction to loss. We would inform parents immediately of the event and outline what will be happening to support children through this potentially upsetting time.
However since Bernard is only a puppy, he will hopefully have 12-14 years of love in him before we even think of saying goodbye!
We’ve got our dog, now what do we do with it?
Once Bernard is trained and familiar with school life there are a wealth of activities he can do. Such as…
- run the ‘daily mile’
- join in at relaxing times like Collective Worship and Gospel assembly
- listen to readers - this practice originated in the US in 1999 with the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) scheme and initiatives of this type now extend to a number of countries, including the UK, for example, the Bark and Read scheme supported by the Kennel Club schemes like this support the thinking that dogs are non-judgemental, and that children are less stressed, less self-conscious and more confident reading to dogs
- Support vulnerable children. One school reported that their school dog had improved a family’s attendance at school “because they are going to be greeted by a furry friend every day who is always pleased to see them”.
The effect dogs have on children’s behaviour is also evident, there is much research to point towards dogs, lowering stress levels and supporting non-verbal children in making and developing relationships. If you would like to read more about the research into dogs and wellbeing please see:
Every dog has her/his day
Whilst the debates around school dogs continue it is important to always consider the impact. The impact of school dogs can be great and far reaching in school communities. Interestingly, the Department for Education has no idea how many dogs are currently working in classrooms and does not require schools to register or train their animals. However, our decision to choose to have a school dog, has not been taken lightly and it is a long term commitment for all parties involved. All necessary risk assessments are in place and much research and visits have
For further information on dogs as pets and school dogs please see:
School will regularly update the community on Bernard’s progress, with pictures and the new friends he has made. Watch this space!!!