The value of pet ‘therapy’ is widely accepted as a powerful aid to stimulation and communication. Studies have shown that the presence of companion animals can improve the well-being of children and lower the rate of anxiety, simply by making the environment happier, more enjoyable and less forbidding.
Reasons for having a school dog at Halstead:
- Attendance can be improved as caring for a dog can be an incentive for coming to school
- Reading programmes with dogs can work wonders for some children. Children who might be embarrassed to read aloud to the class or even adults are likely to be less scared to read to a dog. “It might be less stressful for a child to read aloud to a dog than to a teacher or a peer. After all, a dog won’t judge or correct you.” Dogs are used to encourage struggling readers to practise reading aloud. Dogs are incredibly calm and happy to have children read to them or join a group of children in the library whilst they are having a book reading session. Dogs give unconditional acceptance, as they are non-judgmental, which is especially crucial to struggling, emerging readers. The dogs also provide confidence to children, as they do not make fun of them when they read, but above all they make amazing listeners, providing the children with a sense of comfort and love. Research has proved that students who read to dogs show an increase in reading levels, word recognition, a higher desire to read and write, and an increase in intra and interpersonal skills among the students they mix with.
- Social Development can be improved with a dog in school. They are especially useful for teaching students social skills and responsibility. Specifically, schools are using dogs to help children build self-esteem; learn about positive and negative reinforcement, responsibility, and boundaries. Dogs can be used to help communicate and teach kindness as well as having the opportunity to learn how to care for the animal. This includes walking and grooming. Researchers report that involving students in the daily care of classroom dogs is a positive experience, promoting their own daily care. The students also learn about responsibility, caring, and sharing when helping each other take care of a dog at school.
- Dogs can be used as a reward: they will be gentle and loving, but at the same time full of fun and enjoyment for the children. Those children who have performed incredibly well during the week or those who have made progress in a certain subject, or those who have achieved tasks set for them, will be rewarded with spending time during lunch or break to interact with the dog. It has been proved that working and playing with a dog improves children’s social skills and self-esteem. The school dog can interact with children on a one-one basis and will especially help those children who have been going through upsetting/difficult times. The school dog will bring much joy and help to all the children she meets and is happy to provide plenty of hugs to the children she spends time with. Children who are struggling can find a reassuring friend in a dog.
The options regarding the possibility of obtaining a dog as a school pet were considered in September 2017. Over a period of time following research into a possible source of a suitable puppy led to the final decision to introduce a puppy in January 2018.
Prior to purchasing the puppy, the Deputy Head and Inclusion Manager, Mrs Saheed, visited the home of the dog’s parents to ensure that the temperament of the parents was suitable for interaction with children. The dog would live with Mrs Saheed in her home and be introduced to the school environment and the children gradually. A Shihpoo was chosen for its sociable, affectionate temperament and non- moulting coat.
The dog was thoroughly checked at a veterinary practice and vaccinations were administered. The school dog is kept up to date with immunisations, including rabies, and worming treatment in line with European vet guidelines through a Healthcare Plan. This also includes 6 monthly health checks.
It is accepted that interacting with animals is not appropriate for all children but that for some it has the potential to provide many positive benefits. Any parent who does not wish their child to interact with the school dog is invited to write to inform Mrs Saheed of their wishes.