Otto the School Dog
Here at The Pilgrim School we have been researching the benefits of a school dog for our community as it has frequently been requested in ‘pupil voice’ surveys. I am therefore excited to announce the arrival of the newest recruit to our school.
Otto is a labradoodle puppy who will be undertaking training to become our school dog. He joined my family at eight weeks old in the middle of June and will be attending school gradually (all three bases) from a young age. He has been carefully chosen for temperament, coat, size and ease of training.
Labradoodles are known to be good with people, intelligent and low shedding, which means they are highly unlikely to shed fur. Otto is a second generation labradoodle (Mum is a labradoodle, Dad a miniature poodle). I have seen both parents to check temperament and they are placid, friendly and calm.
Otto will grow up in the school environment becoming fully accustomed to the routines of the day and eventually supporting pupils within the setting. As a puppy he will primarily spend time with myself familiarising with the environment in quiet areas with regular rest breaks.
Evidence indicates that benefits of this initiative will include:
Social: a dog provides a positive mutual topic for discussion, encourages responsibility, wellbeing and focused interaction with others. Encouraging respect and thereby improving pupils’ relationships with each other, parents and teachers.
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. Improved behaviour, attendance and concentration, reduced stress and improved self-esteem.
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.
Cognitive: companionship with a dog stimulates memory, problem-solving and game-playing. Encouraging expression, participation and shared attention.
Reading: reading to dogs has been proven to help pupils develop literacy skills and build confidence, through both the calming effect the dog’s presence has as well as the fact that a dog will listen to them read without being judgemental or critical.
Obviously, bringing any animal into school is not something to be approached lightly, both for the animal and for the pupils and adults. We have discussed the practicalities, including everything from risk assessments and insurance to dealing with training, toileting and children’s allergies. A full policy and risk assessment is available on the policies page of the website (here) and in each base. Below, I also attach a Q and A guide.
Pupils will not be left alone with Otto and they will be taught how to be around a dog before introductions are made. As he will be very small when he first visits, Otto will have limited contact with pupils but this will increase as he grows and is trained. We will show him where he can go, when he can play, when he needs to be calm and quiet and what to chew (and what not to chew!). He will spend his first months primarily with his owner.
Otto will not be able to ‘roam’ around the school and will only have access to restricted areas. Longer term, we anticipate his role being varied to include things such as taxi duties, reading interventions, healthy activity lessons, as a distraction and to comfort pupils in distress and if appropriate on home visits to help particularly ‘stuck’ pupils.
Only a small number of named staff handlers will be able to work with Otto and all will receive information and build relationships prior to doing so.
Please ensure you inform us promptly if your child has any relevant allergies or phobias or if for any reason you would prefer them not to have contact with Otto. He will begin visiting from 6th September 2022.
We hope you will join us in welcoming him to The Pilgrim School family and embrace all that he has to offer.
Assistant Head Pastoral
The Pilgrim School