One of the features of school life this year that my Year 1 son loves is that he now gets to walk the school dog. It’s a definite step up from YR. Being trusted with this task is a confidence booster like no other for a young boy who has always been cautious of dogs, and it is wonderful to see.
Dogs for Good is a charity which aims to help explore ways in which dogs can help people overcome specific challenges and enrich and improve lives and communities. It has community dogs and specialist handlers who help people to improve wellbeing, independence and skills. Community dogs can work with pupils in schools in a variety of ways. Helping to calm children is an obvious benefit, but they also work with children in physiotherapy sessions and help them to develop responsibility especially when they have a role to play in the dog’s care.
Community dogs can become a part of a school’s heart and soul. The dog and handler can participate in lessons or work with individuals, and those who have participated in such school dog programmes can feel genuine benefits. According to Dogs for Good, some of those benefits include:
- Greater enjoyment at school, improved attendance and an enhanced willingness to learn
- Improved behaviour and responsibility
- More effective therapy sessions
- Knowledge about dogs and their care
- Access to and experience of their environment (through dog walking)
- Improvements in communication between pupils, and between staff and pupils.
Cherryl Drabble is Assistant Head at Highfurlong Community Special School in Blackpool, which provides education and care to children aged 2-19 with a range of physical, medical and neurological conditions and associated learning difficulties. Highfurlong introduced a school dog a few years ago and has not looked back.
“We loved introducing our puppy to school,” Cherryl explains. “The children had no idea it was happening and it was a lovely surprise for them. I had sought permission from the head and apart from her no one else knew.” The puppy was a Schnoodle called Doodles. Cherryl took him in after half term as an 11-week old puppy and he was totally spoiled from day one!
“The children were immediately smitten,” said Cherryl. “The main reason for introducing him was to use him as a reward for the children. We also wanted him to be used as a calming influence. Anything else would be a bonus.”
There are, of course, many considerations before introducing a school dog. It is important to be aware of any allergies to dogs that there may be among staff or children. This issue can be mitigated by choosing a hypoallergenic breed, which is what Highfurlong did. “Ours is a schnoodle,” said Cherryl. “Dogs can never be truly hypoallergenic but you can do your best by finding one that is marketed as such.”
Another potential issue to overcome is that some children or staff may be scared of dogs. There are strategies that can be employed to help any such concerns, and in Cherryl’s experience, the presence of Doodles in the school has helped the two children they had who were terrified of dogs. “They have now got over their fear because we have the dog in school. The parents are grateful that their children are no longer scared, too.”
Insurance must also be a consideration. “It’s a minefield,” Cherryl explains. “You need third party insurance and many local authorities provide it but it is important that each school researches what insurance works best for their situation.”
As far as Highfurlong’s experiences go, there have been many benefits associated with the introduction of a school dog. The main benefit has been a very happy school. “Staff and children love him,” says Cherryl. “He’s been involved in all subjects and everyone enjoys having him there. He has taught the children to share, take turns, care for animals and how to get on with each other in order to play with him. Staff come for a cuddle if they are feeling down. Visitors adore him. New children come to see him just because they don’t have a dog at home. The children have a huge sense of pride around him. They tell people they helped to train him! He’s been a huge success. I recommend all schools have one.”
Find out more…
- Cherryl Drabble’s book is called Introducing a School Dog: Our adventures with Doodles the Schnoodle, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers (2019)
- Dogs for Good
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.