Teacher's pet: charity urges caution over school dogs

Teacher's pet: charity urges caution over school dogs

Should schools have dogs to help reduce stress in the classroom?

Studies have shown that spending time with pets can lower our stress levels. So is it a good idea for schools to have a dog as a 'stress buster' for the children?

The issue hit the headlines last week after Education Secretary Damian Hinds said his visits had shown him how common "well being dogs" were becoming in schools.

Speaking at a well being conference in Westminster Abbey, Hinds said that dogs can be "really uplifting", particularly for children with different ways of expressing themselves.

Another speaker, the https://www.buckingham.ac.uk/'s vice-chancellor, Sir Anthony Seldon, suggested that every school in the UK should have a dog.

This, he said, would be "the quickest and biggest hit that we can make to improve mental health in our schools and to make them feel safe for children".

However, responding to the reports, animal welfare charity Dogs Trust said that the school environment is likely to be stressful for the dog and urged schools to give more thought to the welfare of the animal itself before introducing a school pet.

A guidance document from Dogs Trust, available here, highlights the many things that need to be considered before introducing a school dog.

For example, for dog welfare and pupil safety it's essential that any dog in a school environment be supervised by the owner at all times. The owner must be well-versed in canine communication and able to quickly and easily identify subtle signals that the dog is stressed or worried.

Citing research from 2016, the charity said there is evidence to suggest that when dogs are used for 'animal assisted intervention' -- such as dogs in schools -- this can lead to compromised welfare in the animal.

"While being around dogs can have huge benefits, having a dog in the classroom needs to be equally enjoyable for the dog too," the charity explained. "A classroom can be a noisy and unpredictable place and could tire or stress any dog who visits. Having a dog in every school is not something we'd recommend, and is not likely to be in the best interests of dog welfare."

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