In September 2019, the school took on a Therapy Dog.
School Dog Policy
There have been many research studies on the benefits of animal assisted activities with children and young people with additional needs. These benefits have been broadly described as; changing power dynamics for the better, increase in comfort levels and positive interactions (Pichot and Coulter, 2006).
Katcher discovered that ‘friendly’ dogs were able to charm Autistic children. The children he studied would play and talk to the animals and humans when the dog was present during therapy sessions, however when the dog was removed they would revert to no social contact and stimming such as hand flapping. Autistic children usually have half the amount of Oxytocin in their blood compared to other children. Oxytocin is a hormone commonly known to be released in new mothers to strengthen their connection with their new baby. It is a happy hormone which creates social bonds and makes people feel calmer by lowering the heart rate and stress hormones and shutting down the body’s fight or flight system. Friendly interactions between dogs and humans result not only in the lowering of blood pressure but causes the levels of Oxytocin to double in both humans and dogs alike. Additionally as part of our trauma informed schools approach, the benefits of having a dog as suggested by Adamle (2009), are that a dog can reduce attachment related stress and can be a catalyst for establishing new social relationships.
Many people have studied dogs in attempts to decipher their behaviour and the theories abound. However you have to witness the interactions between dogs and children to realise the potential for greatness. Dogs can sense when children with epilepsy are about to have a seizure, they can sense when a diabetic child’s blood sugar is low, and they can help children with severe physical disabilities to find happiness in life.
Dogs teach children about socialisation – Like most of us, dogs are social animals who enjoy and need attention and affection. By learning how to interact with a dog, children can learn how to better socialise with other children. If they can learn the social cues of a dog, then interacting with humans who can talk will be far easier.
Dogs teach children responsibility – Having to remember to feed, provide water and show support for a dog can give children a sense of importance and satisfaction that they can’t get from school or other chores. The relationship that develops can be life changing for a child and a great support system as they themselves continue to grow and develop.
Dogs teach children patience – dogs do not always do as they are told first time!
Dogs teach children compassion – just like humans, dogs feel emotion and pain. They are prone to injuries and the infirmities of age during their relatively short lives.
Dogs are fun – Last, but certainly not least, dogs are fun. They greet you with a wagging tail every day and can cheer you up even on your worst day.
It has been proven that working and playing with a dog, improves children’s social skills and self-esteem. Many studies have been undertaken that give credit to the benefits to having dogs in schools. There is no better place to educate our children on how to treat animals than in our school environment. Animals in schools can encourage children to respect all life, teach responsibility, motivate children, help calm children and improve engagement and achievement. In addition to this, if children are nervous of dogs, they can be supported in approaching, handling and gaining confidence in managing their fears through the presence of a specially trained dog in school.
Guidelines for interacting with the school dog
Under no circumstances will children have close interaction with the school dog unless the school has permission from parents/carers.
Once permission has been given no child shall be forced into interaction with the school dog if this makes them feel unhappy in any way.
At all times interaction with the school dog must be controlled and safe for adults, children and the school dog itself. If the following guidelines are not followed the interaction with the school dog will be stopped.
At all times of interaction there must be an authorised adult who takes the leading role when interacting with the school dog. If children, or visitors, do not abide by the guidance given by the authorised adult, the interaction will be stopped.
The following guidelines must be followed when interacting with the school dog. These guidelines apply to all adults and children.
- Never enter the school dogs room without an authorised adult.
- Always knock on the school dogs room door and wait for authorisation to enter. Never let yourself in as the dog may not be ready.
- There must always be an authorised adult present during all interactions
- Always approach the school dog calmly (voice and movement)
- Always approach the school dog slowly.
- Never run up to the school dog.
- To start and interaction, the back of the hand will be offered for the school dog to sniff.
- Keep noise levels low during interactions with the school dog.
- All interaction must remain calm, with the authorised adult staying in control at all times.
- Only the authorised adult can move any of the school dogs resources, including food and treats.
- Visitors can only handle equipment if the authorising adult gives permission.
- Whilst the school dog is new and in training, no one will give the school dog any food or treats, other than the authorised adult.
- There must be no interaction with the dog whilst it is eating.
- After all interactions with the school dog, hands must be washed with soap/water and hand gel.
- When interacting with the school dog, all children must remain on their feet or seated calmly in a chair.
- The school dog must remain on its lead at all times, when outside of its room.
- Parental permission must be given before any interactions can occur.
- No one, staff, pupils or visitors is required to have an interaction with the school dog if they do not want to.