School Therapy Dog
The Federation have two therapy dogs who support children across both school sites.
Ralph is a Golden Doodle. Ralph has been carefully selected based on his breed for a number of reasons. He is a cross between a Golden Retriever and a Poodle. As a result of his mixed breed Ralph is likely to grow to the size of a Golden Retriever, have a calm temperament, enjoy the company of adults, children and other animals, be obedient and willing to train. In addition because he is mixed with a poodle Ralph is likely to have hypo-allergenic fur and be less likely to malt.
Buster is a Cavapoo. Buster is a cross between a Cavalier King Charles and a minature Poodle. As a result of his mixed breed Buster has a calm temperament, enjoy the company of adults, children and other animals, be obedient and willing to train. In addition because he is mixed with a poodle Buster is likely to have hypo-allergenic fur and be less likely to malt. He has started puppy classes and is enjoying some time in various situations learning to socialise well with other people and animals.
How will Ralph & Buster be working in school?
It is important that the role of a therapy dog is mutually beneficial for the children and the dog within school. Therefore Ralph and Buster will have carefully designed timetables to ensure that they are able to support as many of our children as possible.
Whilst training Ralph & Buster will gradually increase their time in school by visiting small groups of children as an introduction session. All children will have this opportunity if they wish to. For children who are fearful of dogs this will be done in a small supported group with additional adults.
When travelling around school our therapy dogs will always be on the lead and with an adult. Children will be introduced to the supportive rules of interacting with a dog during whole school assemblies. This will also be when children become aware that interactions with our therapy dogs must be requested and only when the dog is wearing his green lead (further information on safety and control measures can be found in our risk assessment and policy).
Eventually Ralph will work across the federation 4 days a week. Ralph will be used for up to 4 targeted interventions a day which will include: grooming sessions, 1:1 reading, ELSA sessions, PE enrichment and active spelling interventions. Buster will work 1 day a week due to his age and size. This will increase as he grows.
Although Ralph & Buster will be working with targeted groups of children we hope that all children who wish to, will have the opportunity to benefit from their work in school.
What does the research say?
Therapy dogs are known to reduce cortisol levels in adults and children therefore lowering stress and anxiety that children may have associated with attending school, completing learning or interacting with peers. Psychologist Alan Beck and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher found
‘Using a data-led approach and physiological measurements, they found that when a person interacted or was in the presence of a dog, there were immediate changes in their physical reactions. Breathing became more regular, the heartbeat slowed, muscles relaxed, and there was a significant lowering in nervous system activity which responds to stress’ (Sharon Paul, Textbook teachers, published April 2019)
The lowering of cortisol levels has a number of positive impacts on children’s academic, social and emotional educations. At the University of Buckingham’s Ultimate Wellbeing in Education Conference there was discussion about the addition of therapy dogs.
‘Speaking about the addition of therapy dogs in schools, Sir Anthony said, “The quickest and biggest hit that we can make to improve mental health in our schools and to make them feel safe for children, is to have at least one dog in every single school in the country.” Just with the presence of a therapy dog within the classroom, medical science has shown that a therapy dog can reduce blood pressure, promote physical healing, reduce anxiety, fatigue and depression, as well as provide emotional support.’
The ‘Alliance of Therapy dogs also found that children developed their self-esteem within focussed interactions with peers and adults. Further to this it was noted that the cognitive benefits associated with working with a dog included the development of memory and problem solving skills.
‘The conversation’ an online journal also conducted some research into the use of therapy dogs finding that their use ‘increased motivation for learning, resulting in improved outcomes.’ The journal summarised that research showed the following: ‘increased school attendance, gains in confidence, decrease in learner anxiety resulting in improved reading and writing levels, positive changes towards improved motivation and enhanced relationships with peers and adults.’
Kropp, Jerri, Shupp and Mikaela pulled together 30 articles, books and sources in order to summarise the research into therapy dogs. They found that
‘three categories of therapeutic benefit emerged: (a) increased reading and language skills, (b) social, emotional, and humane gains, and (c) improved gross motor skills.’
In addition they found that
‘Numerous studies have found that literacy skills can be improved from reading to dogs and that children gain confidence in reading and report an increased love of reading (Fine 2015). Caring for a classroom animal teaches responsibility, builds confidence, and gives children a sense of pride and accomplishment’.
Further research collated by Grove et al. 2021 shows the following:
‘Therapy dogs have been found to reduce physiological symptoms of stress through lowering cortisol levels (8), increasing positive emotions (1, 9–13), promoting engagement in learning activities and positive attitudes toward learning (6, 11, 14, 15), reducing negative behaviours like task avoidance and aggression in the classroom (16–19), as well as encouraging prosocial behaviours and acting as a “social catalyst” to facilitate social interactions with others.’
‘Children with higher levels of well-being learn more effectively, have lower levels of absenteeism at school, better academic engagement, and also have more satisfying and successful peer relationships.’
‘A systematic literature review by Hall et al. (26) found that dog-assisted reading programs generally show promising results such as gains in reading skills (e.g., reading accuracy, oral reading fluency, comprehension), as well as more positive attitudes and improved behaviours toward reading.’
Ralphs first day in school
Ralph has recently attended school for the first time. He is getting used to the classrooms and spaces. He really enjoyed meeting small groups of children, joining interventions and seeing lots of great work!