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Wspieranie zdrowia psychicznego i dobrego samopoczucia emocjonalnego


Introducing a school therapy dog


Meet Lucky, our therapy dog. Jacqui Marshall, Head of School at Chiltern Primary School, discusses how she decided that a therapy dog was needed for her school, and the impact that Lucky has had on her pupils. 

It is well documented that animals have a positive impact on children’s ability to cope, regulate emotions and communicate. In a school with a high number of pupils with social, communication and interaction needs, it seemed sensible to consider the positive impact that introducing a therapy dog could have on the students.


Committing to a full-time therapy dog wasn’t an easy decision. But having read books such as Introducing a school dog and academic articles such as The roles of animals for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, the resounding outcome was that any negatives were more than outweighed by the positives. 

The first step was to identify a quality breeder with all the required paperwork who could discuss the family history of the puppy. An excellent history of good temperament is key to the success of an assistance dog. One was located, investigated and finally brought to her forever home with Mrs Lundie, our Assistant Headteacher.

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The steps to introducing a therapy dog


The practical and health and safety implications of introducing a therapy dog were surprisingly easy. Lucky started her therapy dog carer at two years old by having a Pets as Therapy assessment and passed with flying colours. The pupils loved having a dog in school but we found 2 hours was not enough and she was greatly missed when she was not on site.  So we made the decision to have her based on the site. A risk assessment was written to reflect having a dog based on-site rather than visiting, to which we added details of the dog’s public liability insurance. This is standard on most dog insurance policies due to their potential interaction with other people and dogs on walks, and as an assistance dog, there was no requirement for anything more formal. There are fewer restrictions on emotional support dogs than on sight or hearing support animals.
It is worth at this point noting that most buildings, shops and services have not yet recognised emotional support animals, and they are not yet permitted in these premises. This we have personally found restricting. As a society, we must do better and recognise that the role of emotional support animals is equally as valid in an increasingly neurodiverse world.

Introducing Lucky to Chiltern Primary School

Lucky began formal puppy behavioural training from three months old, which introduced her to sensory stimulation, formal agility and obedience training. She also interacted with lots of other dogs of all ages and sizes. She was part of the DotDot family which was a dog walking agency that took her for daily walks to socialise with a range of dogs. 

By June 2022, and at the age of two, Lucky began attending school. We started with training days only, and then short periods in school to allow her to feel safe in the school environment. She was then carefully introduced to children one to one or in small groups in the safety of the main office. This process was led purely by Lucky; she naturally craved interaction with her new humans, and you could see that she was taking everything in her stride.

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Initially, I went with her as a familiar face, taking her on short walks with pupils to classes and to be seen out and about. Her popularity increased dramatically, with more than 99% of our cohort having signed permission for therapy dog access. 

Lucky is now a confident, entertaining, adaptable four-year-old cockapoo with an ability to trot off on a walk with a child and make them feel like the most important person in the world. She can adapt from a bouncy young dog with the children who may be more hyperactive and need to engage in a game of fetch, to a quiet, sedate dog who likes nothing more than to lie on his back for a belly rub. The switch is instinctual. 

Lucky has enhanced our school: she loves being here, she enhances the wellbeing of staff, pupils and visitors alike, and I think she just gets the importance of what she does.

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What impact has Lucky had on the pupils?


I measure the impact of Lucky’s work in different ways. There is the informal feedback from our pupils and parents; the “How’s Lucky?” questions and the number of requests to “see if Lucky is free.” Lucky is an embedded part of our school. Her celebrity status and popularity is clear. Her name appears on pupil passports; it regularly appears in books, in lessons, on reports, on visual timetables, and on pictures drawn by pupils proudly handed over to SLT on a daily basis for our office wall.

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The most obvious impact for us is on emotional regulation. Pupils who are in crisis see Lucky coming, and immediately you see their awareness of her and the worry that noise may upset her. This changes their presentation. In the simplest sense, she is an immediate distraction. 

For us, the biggest impact measurement tool is very simple. We ask for photos of pupils interacting with Lucky, and what we see are smiles that show contentment, happiness, calmness and love on both sides. We have a folder with photos of pupils spending time with Lucky. Some pupils’ homes are not the right environment for a pet due to other complexities, and what Lucky is providing is access to the positives and responsibilities that owning a pet brings. 

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Lucky provides a wider educational element to our curriculum. This impact is beyond measure. 

Article sources/references:

Drabble, C. (2019). Introducing a school dog: our adventures with Doodles the schnoodle. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Tepper, D. L. et al (2022). Therapy dogs for children with autism spectrum disorder: impacts of active versus passive dog engagement. Human-animal interaction bulletin, 13(1), pp75-90

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