Sophie the School Therapy Dog
There is an increasing body of research to support the benefit of a dog in school. In schools across the country, Reading Dogs are being used to help children develop fluency in reading and Therapy Dogs provide comfort and reassurance to children with anxiety and self confidence issues.
Increasingly in schools, it is becoming recognised that children’s emotional wellbeing is at the root of positive behaviour and success with socialising as well as in the classroom.
A dog can support children who are anxious about school and could be the reason that they want to come in every morning. Children with trouble managing their behaviour could learn to care for the dog and the dog could be helpful in de-escalating anger. Reading dogs can help boost children’s confidence and fluency. Caring for an animal can help children to learn about responsibility and can help children to learn how to treat animals safely and with compassion.
Dogs are great fun to have around and can bring a caring, family atmosphere to a school.
Preparations for having a School Dog
School leaders have taken advice from schools Dogs’ Trust and Pets as Therapy, who have provided guidance about the necessary risk assessments and insurance that we have put in place, as well as practical guidance. Miss Brennan has undertaken training to read dogs body language to ensure the dog is comfortable at all times. If the dog showed any signs of stress interactions would be stopped.
Toilet area is designated off the school site away from the children’s play areas.
In order to ensure that the dog would be beneficial to the children’s learning and wellbeing and not be a distraction, we will plan when and where the children will interact with the dog. Parents will give written agreement for their child to interact with the dog. If any child is allergic to dog hair we make sure that they don’t come into contact with the dog (or have restricted contact) if parents request it.
Likewise, if a child has a phobia of dogs we will keep the dog away from them, or we can offer opportunities for the child to be slowly introduced to the dog, to reduce their fear. Parents are invited to contact the Headteacher if either of these cases apply, so that we can make the necessary arrangements.
Our school dog is Sophie, who is also Miss Brennan’s family pet. Sophie is a Cavachon cross poodle and was born on 18th April 2021. Her breed was selected due to its low moulting and calm, loving disposition. Sophie was then chosen as an example of the breed who seemed calm and confident enough to work with children. Sophie had lots of early socialisation at the home of her breeder and has undergone additional training to ensure her suitability to work in a school. She has regular check-ups at the vet and has updated vaccinations, flea and worming treatment.
While Sophie is still a puppy, interactions with children will be short and will be very carefully monitored to avoid children being hurt by play scratches and nips, and to avoid undue stress to Sophie. Sophie has completed and passed Kennel Club puppy training classes. Initially interaction will be planned as a reward based system for students and be incorporated into their behaviour plans which are agreed by parents.
Guidelines to interaction with the School Dog
Parents/ carers are informed that there is a school dog and can request that their children don’t have contact with the dog. There will always be a responsible adult in charge of the dog during interactions with children. Children and adults are required to adhere to the following;
- Always approach the school dog calmly and slowly
- Never run up to the dog
- Offer the back of your hand for the dog to sniff when meeting the dog
- All interactions must remain calm with the authorised adult in control at all times
- Children must wash their hands after they have been stroking the dog.
Frequently Asked Questions
What will the school dog do on a day to day basis?
The dog would be based with Miss Brennan but will have a timetable of interactions. The dog may visit different classes to listen to readers with a volunteer or help with particular projects, such as learning about caring for animals. The dog would always be kept on a lead, unless contained in a safe office.
How do I know that my child will be safe around the dog?
A risk assessment and policy will be in place. The school has insurance to cover having a dog on the school site. Children will only have contact with the dog when supervised by an adult. When moving around the school, the dog will always be on the lead. Children will receive training from Dogs Trust to learn how to interact safely with dogs.
Will my child pick up infections from the dog?
The dog will be fully vaccinated, treated regularly for worms and fleas and will be kept away from the school if it is ill. Children will be required to wash their hands after handling the dog. There will be a dedicated dog toilet area away from areas that children access and no child will be asked to pick up dog mess.
What if my child is allergic to dogs?
While no dog is 100% hypoallergenic, it’s possible to find less-allergenic dog breeds that are better suited for allergy-sufferers. These dogs have a predictable, non-shedding coat that produces less dander. Dander, which clings to pet hair, is what causes most pet allergies in people. Sophie is crossed with a Poodle, Bichon and King Charles Cavelier, all of which have reduced dander as they do not shed their coat.
What if my child is afraid of dogs?
If your child is afraid of dogs, you can request that they have no contact, or restricted access to the dog in these situations. Please speak to your child’s class teacher or Miss Brennan to discuss any concerns. We have found that school is a great place to conquer a fear of dogs. Through gentle and gradual interactions with Sophie, students have shown to be more relaxed around her. Sophie has a calm and loving disposition and with the support of the class staff, we will make sure your child feels comfortable and has a positive interaction.