Information for Grownups
Why does Mendip Green have a school dog?
For many years, the children at Mendip Green asked if we can have a school dog! They have given many, many reasons to support the argument that a having a furry friend would make Mendip Green a happier place and improve their learning: they have found research, given presentations and we have received countless letters. And, we have to admit, the children were incredibly persuasive!
After much deliberation, we discussed the research and benefits (as well as any concerns) of having a school dog and shared these with staff and governors.
Having weekly visits from a therapy dog who listened to children read was the final piece of the puzzle and showed us that having a school dog can enhance and extend the children’s opportunities for learning – both academically and socially – as well as supporting children’s emotional wellbeing.
What are the benefits of a school dog?
Numerous research studies have shown the benefits of therapy dogs in schools. Therapy dogs have been working in schools for the past 5 years across the UK. However, they have been commonplace in schools in the USA and Australia for many years. Evidence indicates that benefits include:
- Cognitive: companionship with a dog stimulates memory, problem-solving and game-playing. It encourages expression, participation and shared attention.
- Social: a dog provides a positive mutual topic for discussion, encourages responsibility, wellbeing and focused interaction with others. It encourages respect and thereby improving pupils’ relationships with each other, parents and staff.
- Emotional: a school dog improves self-esteem, acceptance from others and lifts mood, often provoking laughter and fun. Dogs can also teach compassion and respect for other living things as well as relieving anxiety. School dogs can support in improving behaviour, attendance and concentration, reducing stress and improving self-esteem.
This article explains more of the wellbeing benefits of having a school dog.
- Physical: interaction with a furry friend reduces blood pressure, provides tactile stimulation, gives motivation to move and stimulates the senses.
- Environmental: a dog in a school increases the sense of a family environment, with all of the above benefits continuing long after the school day is over.
- Academic: reading to a dog can help children build confidence in reading.
This article explains more about the benefits of reading dogs in schools.
How did you choose Mendip Green’s school dog?
In the summer holidays of 2021, Miss Walton welcomed a Coton de Tulear puppy into her family. She was named Dot because she was a little round ball of fluff. Coton de Tulear’s are a pedigree breed of dog. They are known for being gentle, affectionate and extremely good with children. Coton’s have a playful, clownish personality and like to please; they will walk on their back legs, jump and spin to please their humans. They do not shed so are classed as hypoallergenic. This means this breed poses little to no risk for anyone with allergies.
Miss Walton attended school regularly over the summer and brought Dot with her (just as she used to with her old dogs – Mungo and Perdy). Dot seemed very at home in the school buildings and the staff (and contractors) who met her loved her. She made everyone smile.
Having seen how well Dot adapted to being in school and meeting new people, children and other dogs, Mr Oakley asked Miss Walton if Dot would like to visit during the term time to see if she was happy in school when it was a bit busier.
We were very wary about announcing Dot may become our school dog before we were certain that being in such a busy, and sometimes noisy, environment would not cause her any stress or anxiety. We did not want to disappoint the children if it turned out that Dot was unhappy, bored or worried whilst at school.
So, over the course of 2 months, several days a week, Miss Walton smuggled Dot into school. Dot stayed in the office during the day but attended staff meetings and played in the staffroom. She took part in a fire drill and met a small number of children who visited the office with good work. Dot loved the attention and seemed to take everything in her stride.
Dot is first and foremost a much-loved family pet but she has also proved herself to be the perfect little pup for our Mendip Green family.
What will Dot do in school?
Dot’s role in school will be varied. Research studies in both Britain and America have concluded that having a dog in a school can have many positive benefits – these include helping to calm children down, improve academic achievement, motivate those children who are often not that attentive, teach responsibility and encourage children to respect all life. Also, it has been shown that when children share the affection and care of a ‘school’ dog, a bond forms among them and strengthens their team ethics.
In time, Dot will also hear children read. Dogs give unconditional acceptance, as they are non-judgmental, which is especially crucial to struggling, emerging readers. She will provide confidence to children as she will make an amazing listener, providing the children with a sense of comfort and love. In America, the ‘Read’ Dogs, as they are known, have proved through research that children who read to these 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.
Initially, Dot will spend the majority of her day in the office areas and will slowly be introduced into school life at Mendip Green. We will show her where she can go, when she can play, when she needs to be calm and quiet and what to chew (and what not to chew!). Whilst this process continues over the coming months, she will be visiting classrooms, sitting in assemblies and getting used to school routines.
How have you ensured that Dot’s welfare and safety are prioritised?
Obviously, bringing any animal into school is not something to be approached lightly, both for the animal’s sake and for the sake of the children and adults in the school. Dot’s introduction to school has, and continues to be, very gradual.
- We took advice from fellow Headteachers, who have school dogs and reviewed advice from animal welfare charities.
- We have discussed the practicalities, including everything from risk assessments and insurance to dealing with training, doggy toileting and children’s allergies.
- Dot has a safe space in the office where she can have calm, quiet time and also roam freely.
- We are vigilant for any signs that Dot may be worried or anxious (body language such as tucking her tail or flattening her ears, growling or hiding behind her adult). If these are seen, Dot is immediately removed from the situation and taken back to her safe space.
- Teachers have spoken to their classes about what they need to do to keep Dot happy and safe – every class has shared and signed a class agreement and children are regularly reminded of the expectations.
- Part of the class agreement is that children pick up rubbish and items from the floor so there is no risk that Dot will pick up and chew or eat something that could cause her harm.
- Dot is supervised by known adults at all times. She is never left alone with children.
- Dot eats and sleeps in the office during the school day – children are not permitted to disturb Dot during this time.
- She has an area of grass outside the main perimeter gates where she can run around and go to the toilet. This space is away from children’s play spaces.
- Dot has a health plan with her vet and has a health check every 6 months which includes weight checks. She has annual vaccinations and monthly treatments from parasites including fleas and ticks.
- Her food has been recommended by a vet and treats are closely monitored.
- If Dot is unwell she will not come to school – she will be looked after at home where she can be closely monitored and can rest.
- Dot has been added to our fire evacuation procedures. A named adult, who has no responsibility for evacuating children or checking buildings, will ensure Dot is safely removed from the building when the alarm sounds.
- Dot is microchipped and wears ID tags in line with UK regulations.
- Dot has full health and third party liability insurance.
How have you ensured that the children’s welfare and safety are prioritised?
- We have asked all families to complete a permission form to allow their child to interact with Dot and also to better understand if any children are frightened of dogs.
- Dot will not be able to ‘roam’ around the school. She will only be able to roam freely, without constant supervision, in the office (signs are placed on the office door when Dot is in school).
- During the school day, Dot will always be kept on a lead when moving around the school buildings and school site.
- Children will never be forced to interact with Dot – it will always be a choice.
- We are very mindful, that introducing a dog into the school setting should not be a distraction to the children’s learning and for this to enhance our school ethos and the experiences we offer our children. Therefore, Dot’s classroom visits will be planned, supervised and purposeful.
- Dot goes to the toilet on an area of grass away from the children’s play area and outside the main perimeter fence. Any dog mess is cleaned up by the supervising adult immediately and disposed of in designated bins.
- A full risk assessment is available on our website.
- Children will never be left alone with Dot and they would be taught about how to be around a dog before she visits a classroom.
- Dot is not allowed in the school kitchen.
- Dot is not allowed in the school hall whilst children are eating. If she needs to pass through the hall during the lunch period, she will be carried.
- If Dot is ever unwell, she will be kept at home.
- Dot is a very clean dog. She is brushed every day and bathed fortnightly. She visits the groomers every 5 weeks to keep her coat and nails short.
- We encourage good hand hygiene at all times. Dot is learning not to lick and on the occasions when she may lick a child’s hand, adults ensure their hands are washed and sanitised.
School Dog Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Who is the legal owner of the dog and who pays for its costs?
A: The legal owner of Dot is Miss Walton; she will bear the costs associated with owning the dog including training, vet fees and insurance. Other than the cost of the odd sausage, a heap of carrots, and some left over roast dinner, there will be no financial cost to the school.
Q: Is the dog from a reputable breeder?
A: Yes. Cotons are quite a rare breed in the UK. Therefore, it is important to ensure that any puppies have been bred carefully without any crossbreeding over the generations. Dot came from a breeder of Cotons: her mother was from a breeder in Hereford and her father was from a breeder in the USA. She is Kennel Club Registered and has a 3 generation certificate. Miss Walton visited Dot when she was just a few weeks old. Dot, all of her brothers and sisters, and mum and dad were seen. Dot’s breeder was excellent: all of the puppies and their parents had wonderful temperaments, were well socialised (including with children) and had started house training. The breeder sent regular updates including photographs and videos until Dot was old enough to go to her furever home. Before Miss Walton took her home, Dot had regular health checks at the vets, was vaccinated and microchipped. When Miss Walton took Dot home, the breeder gave her Dot’s favourite toy… an agility tunnel. Dot loved to sit in it, sleep in it, chase balls through it and chew it.
Q: Will Dot be a distraction?
A: Dot will spend her free time in the office area. The office is separate from the classrooms and playground areas to ensure Dot only comes into contact with children who are happy to interact with her and have parental permission for this, under supervision. When Dot leaves the office area, she is accompanied by one of her special adults. She will always be kept on a lead or, in some instances e.g. in a busy corridor, she will be carried. Dot will spend time in the classrooms but will always be supervised by an adult and removed if she is distracting children from their work. Dot may pop in briefly to deliver messages or stay for a little longer. Longer visits will be prearranged with the class teacher and, if all of the children are seated on chairs and have permission to interact with Dot, she may be let off her lead to wander freely around the classroom, sniff a few socks and get a few strokes.
Dot also attends meetings with staff to support further socialisation. During this time, she is just one massive fluffy distraction, but the staff are learning to ignore her and concentrate on their work. The children have been wonderful role models for this. Dot is also learning that she cannot have cuddles and tummy tickles on demand (at least, not all of the time)!
Q: Has a risk assessment been undertaken?
A: Yes, we have carefully considered having a dog in school and sought advice from many sources, including other schools that successfully have a school dog. Our full risk assessment is available on the school website.
Q: How will the dog be toileted to ensure hygiene for all?
A: In the interest of health and hygiene, Dot will be toileted on a patch of grass outside our perimeter fence. This area is in our carpark and away from children’s play spaces. The space is large enough for Dot to have a good sniff and to zoom around on her extending lead (going to the toilet can be very exciting)! The staff member will pick up away any dog mess immediately, leaving no trace on the ground.
Dot has only ever been toileted in this area and knows that this is her space to go. Therefore, when Dot goes on short walks around the school site it is unlikely that she will go to the toilet. However, if this were to happen, it would be cleaned up by an adult immediately and, if necessary, the area would be cleaned with disinfectant.
Q: Are other dogs now allowed on the school site?
A: Our policy of no dogs on the school site (even if carried) is still applicable as we are unable to put effective control measures in place that guarantee temperament and safety when children come into unsupervised contact with unknown dogs. At times, other dogs are invited onto the site as part of our curriculum or for enrichment purposes. Permission for these visits is given by the Headteacher and a risk assessment is undertaken.
Q How will this be managed where children have allergies?
The nature of Dot’s coat means she is classed as hypoallergenic. This means there is little risk to children with allergies. She is given high quality food, brushed daily, bathed fortnightly and taken to the groomers every 5 weeks for a trim – this further reduces the risk of any allergens. We have tested her on Mr B who normally gets very sneezy around animal hair. Even Mr B was unaffected by her fluffiness.
Q: My child is frightened of dogs; how will you manage this?
A: Access to the dog is carefully managed and supervised and children do not need to have close contact with it unless permission for this has been given. We hope to work closely with parents of children who are fearful of dogs to alleviate their fear and to teach them how to manage this.
Dot has already started to visit The Cove and EYFS where there are several children who are wary of dogs. Through a very gradual process, starting with Dot visiting in her travel bag, the children have become far more relaxed around her, some even tickling her tummy and calmly sitting with her for several minutes.
Q: My child must not be licked by the dog because of our religious beliefs. How will the school manage this?
A: Dot is learning not to lick. However, while she is still young we will try hard to ensure that children do not come into contact with her saliva. Part of the children’s agreement which they sign in class is that they will not put their face near Dot’s face. When they interact with Dot, we encourage children to stroke her back or her tummy (when she flops over for a tummy tickle) which also limits the possibility of being licked.
There is never a requirement for children to interact with Dot and they may only do so with parental permission. If a child has permission but should not come into contact with dog saliva due to their religious beliefs, in the rare incidents that they may be licked by Dot, and adult will ensure they wash and sanitise their hands immediately.
All children who interact with Dot are encouraged to wash or sanitise their hands afterwards – adults who work with children with SEND who may put their hands in their mouth are especially vigilant with this.