Maisie our 5 month old Cockapoo puppy who joined the St Matthew’s family on October 11th 2017. Maisie is a curly apricot coat F2 cockapoo. We choose a Cockapoo due to their kind and sensitive nature and their intelligence. Another consideration was the Cockapoo coat, it is more fleece like than fur and is better for allergy sufferers.
Maisie was gradually introduced to the school environment from 8 weeks old and started obedience training at 10 weeks. Miss Chidgey is Maisie’s main carer and lives at home with her, although she loves to visit all the teachers houses for a mini holiday!
Maisie has already had a big impact on our school through listening to learners read and helping them to build their confidence, helping to keep our learners calm when they are finding things challenging and putting a smile on everybody’s face every day by her happy and loving greeting. We can’t remember a time without her!
Our long-term goal is to meet the criteria set by the ‘Pets as Therapy’ association based in High Wycombe. On completion of her training Maisie will be assessed by a member of the organisation. This consists of a series of tests, the focus being on the dog’s temperament and ability to work as a therapy dog in a variety of environments and people of all ages. The intended interventions that we will pilot include the following:
- Working on social skills and direction within nurture group sessions and workshops
- Providing a calming presence with pupils in crisis and/or in 1:1 nurture sessions
- Providing motivation for pupils working on gross and fine motor skills
- Participating in small group lessons
- Providing an incentive for pupils who meet individual goals in behaviour, social skills, and academic achievement
- Providing companionship and ‘mindfulness’ activities to pupils in need of stress relief
- Additional specific tasks will be identified as the program develops and the dog becomes accustomed to school life.
- Working with children to build their confidence in reading
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
- Social – a dog provides a positive mutual topic for discussion, encourages responsibility, wellbeing and focused interaction with others
- 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.
- Physical – interaction with a furry friend reduces blood pressure, provides tactile stimulation, assists with pain management, gives motivation to move, walk 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.
Reading to dogs has been proven to help children develop literacy skills and build confidence, through both the calming effect the dog’s presence has on children as well as the fact that a dog will listen to children read without being judgemental or critical. This comforting environment helps to nurture children’s enthusiasm for reading and provides them with the confidence to read aloud.