The placing of wellbeing dogs in schools is becoming increasingly popular as the positive effects on students’ welfare are being proven time and again.
With anxiety and stress prevalent, especially during exam seasons, Education Secretary Damian Hinds believes “pets can really help”.
One university has taken this to the next level. The first in the UK, Middlesex University has established a structured programme, which offers students weekly therapeutic sessions with their wellbeing dogs.
The five friendly Labradors, specially trained as “canine teaching assistants” even wear staff ID badges.
As well as being available for drop-in sessions, the dogs are seen across campus in classrooms and at events. They are acknowledged as a fundamental part of the university’s wellbeing service.
Helping to combat homesickness and stress, many students are benefitting. A number have voiced how the dogs made them feel connected to home. Others say they even helped them decide to stay at university when on the verge of dropping out.
Fiona Suthers of Middlesex University first trialed the scheme in November 2017. Using her own dogs, the service was provided to reduce anxiety among nursing students. So impressed by the results, the academic team agreed to make canine teaching assistants available to all students and staff.
Suthers said, “I don’t think any of us thought it would be so successful. It’s hard to describe the impact of just having a dog lying down in the corner of a class. You can literally feel stress levels reducing.”
The dogs are very well looked after themselves: a robust strategy is in place to ensure their welfare is maintained.
Thrilled with the impact the dogs are having so far, the university is keen to continue and expand the programme.