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Who is Top of the Class at School? Part 1

15th June 2021

As part of our aim to bring you interesting and informative content we have been inviting guest writers to contribute.

Our first contributor is Peter Rufus from Helpful Hounds Assistance Dogs. Helpful Hounds are a registered charity helping to change the lives of young people and their families living within Southern England by the training and provision of therapy dogs. Helpful Hounds were also one of the lucky charities to receive a £1,000 Movement for Goods Award from our parent company Ecclesiastical last year.

Given the amount of information kindly provided by Peter we have split his article into two parts.

Who is Top of the Class at School? Part 1

When we ask the question “What do dogs give to us?” Just about every dog owner will have their own answers and use words such as Loyalty, trust, love, companionship, comfort, relaxation, reducing stress, exercise etc. etc.

It is just amazing how the bond develops between us and our dog(s). When I give talks I let one of our Helpful Hounds wander among the audience and introduce themselves. I then ask everyone how they felt when the dog came to them. The answers are always “I smiled”, “I felt relaxed” or” I enjoyed stroking him”. That is the result of just a short-term introduction.

Specially trained dogs can do so much more by building on the gifts we get from dogs. The most common examples that come to mind are perhaps Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs and Assistance Dogs that work with a Physically Disabled Persons or more recently with Autism, Downs’ syndrome and diagnosed emotional issues.

In the last few years, Helpful Hounds has been working with Schools in our local area to train dogs to carry out various tasks, mainly within Special Needs Schools and Colleges but also in mainstream Schools that have Special Needs Students, including those with learning or social issues.

The approach has to be considered and carefully planned, starting with understanding the needs of the School or College and deciding on the main functions the Therapy Dog needs to perform. For example, this was a list within the scope for a Special Needs School, dealing mainly with Autistic and Complex Students:

• Play a role in familiarisation of all students with dogs, the way to approach dogs and how to care for them.

• Help to reduce stress of students as well as calming in the recovery stages of “melt down”.

• Be present in some classrooms to encourage calm behaviour.

• Be a focal point as a reading dog to encourage development of reading and speaking skills.

• Create greater confidence/independence in students by the dog walking with them (supervised by an adult) to the shops or for exercise.

• Encourage nervous students to enter the swimming pool (Subject to more assessment).

• Add value to steps taken to promote the good mental health of staff.

Whilst we are still learning, the results have been very rewarding with the following positive feedback received:

Having had Scoot at school has made a very real difference to the lives of many pupils in a variety of ways. Scoot is based in the resource provision for pupils with visual impairment and this, in itself, has enabled all the pupils to become very familiar and comfortable with having a dog around. This is great preparation for the fact that many pupils with visual impairment will go on in their future lives to work with guide dogs.

Scoot visits many lessons and supports the pupils and teachers in a number of ways. For example, nervous pupils who feel anxious when presenting in front of their peers are more than happy to present to a non-judgemental and tail wagging dog. Additionally, some of our developing readers have made monumental leaps in both their reading and spelling, and literacy in general, by being comfortable in reading 1:1 with Scoot.

Pupils, who for a variety of reasons, have found the transition to a busy secondary school challenging, feel a lot more relaxed and open about talking about what is troubling them when Scoot is present. Our last cohort of exam takers had pupils who were able to get exam ready by having some quiet Scoot time prior to taking their exams and thus improve their outcomes.”

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