Not many people can deny the emotional benefit of having a dog around for company. It’s why we’ve seen puppy sales soar during the pandemic. New research from The Kennel Club tells us puppy registrations jumped by 26 percent between the months of April and June last year.
But it’s not just our personal lives that can benefit from a furry companion close by. The science tells us there’s a lot to be said for introducing dogs for therapy in education.
Emotional wellbeing is so often the key to positive behaviour, both socially and in the classroom. Caring for a dog teaches responsibility and patience and can go a long way to de-escalating anger in students who have trouble managing their mood.
They can help alleviate anxiety and help students who have trouble even coming to school in the first place. Some dogs can even help with confidence and fluency in reading. And they’re just great to have around – they can bind a school together and create a strong sense of community.
However, before a school can reap the many rewards of having a dog on site, they need to be properly insured. And also carry out a thorough risk assessment to make sure of staff and student safety.
Firstly, the dog needs to have a good temperament, be attached to a lead and have a handler by their side at all times. They should be used to being around children and trained not to jump up, bite or scratch. And the school should bring them into a secure environment and make sure classrooms are clutter-free before they arrive.
It’s also important the dog is fully vaccinated, wormed, and treated for fleas. After any interaction, staff and students need to remember to wash their hands, and handlers should find a designated toilet area for the dog away from the premises.
The school must be mindful of phobias and allergies too. So its key dogs are low moulting, students get parental permission before any contact, and alternative activities are organised for those who can’t, or prefer not to have any interaction.
Any activities and games involving the dog need to be handled with care. The handler and school should agree a safe space for the activity and limit the number of students who can take part. It’s also important there’s a time limit in place, so the dog doesn’t get tired or distressed.
Finally, the school needs to be clear on a code of conduct and make sure students understand how they should be behaving when they’re in the dog’s company. They must be taught to take care and always approach the dog calmly.
So as long as schools exercise common sense and put in place the right risk management strategy, they can introduce a dog into the community with minimal fuss. The risks they’re exposed to are relatively low. Whereas the benefits of having a dog on site, in our humble opinion, are encouragingly high.
Published date: 3rd February 2021
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