Our School Dog Ellis
The Senior Management Team at Elm Tree Primary School considered the options regarding the possibility of obtaining a dog as a school pet in January 2016. Over a period of several months following this discussion research into a possible source of a suitable puppy has led to the final decision being taken before Governors in November 2016.
The rationale behind this decision was as follows:
1. For the school to have a pet that was able to live as naturally as conditions would allow.
2. For the animal to be properly cared for outside of the school day.
3. To have a pet that the children could interact with and also be of benefit to the children’s social and emotional development.
Prior to purchasing the puppy, the Deputy Headteacher has visited a number of breeders for different breeds of dogs and taken advice from a variety of sources before making the final decision. The top priority for any dog has been to ensure that the temperament of the parents was suitable for interaction with children. The breeder that has been selected is a registered and accredited breeder with the Kennel Club and has vast experience of breeding and training therapy dogs that enhance the lives of Autistic children.
To find out more about the chosen breeder please visit www.steadypaws.co.uk. Here you will find information and videos about the work of Andrew Preston. The chosen breed is an English springer spaniel bred from a working line chosen for their very mild temperament and trainability.
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 puppy is invited to write to inform Mr Lamb of their wishes. This risk assessment will be reviewed regularly and the impact of a school dog will be evaluated by the school senior management team.
Children can benefit educationally and emotionally, increase their understanding of responsibility and develop empathy and nurturing skills through contact with a dog. In addition to these benefits, children take great enjoyment from interaction with a dog. By having a dog in school we want to encourage those children specifically who are vulnerable, or those who are less confident with learning to have a friendly audience and to look forward to a challenge. Having a dog in school can encourage reluctant children to come to school. The vast majority of dogs are gentle and loving, offering children opportunities to improve social development skills, unconditional acceptance and the chance to do something really well. For some children, a dog will be a special friend, helping them to build self-esteem, relax and have fun. For others, time spent with a dog will be a reward for excellent effort with a difficult challenge.
Over the past two years we have had weekly visits from a PAT dog (Pets As Therapy) that children have groomed and read stories to. 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. With the presence of a “calm and well-trained dog,” children find social support and peer interaction. Dogs prove to be incredibly calm and happy to have a 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 children they mix with.
Is there a risk in bringing a dog into a school environment?
Of course there is, though there are a variety of accidents which can happen within the school environment which far exceed the number of injuries or incidents caused by a dog. Therefore, it is just another risk that needs to be managed. We believe that through a rigorous risk assessment process the risk can be managed by school staff.