One of the most important members of our school team is Maggie, our school dog. She is owned by our headteacher, Mr Woolley and is currently learning how to help in school. She is spending some acclimatisation days getting used to the sounds and smells of school and will soon start meeting groups of children. Maggie is a female cavapoo which is a modest sized dog breed - a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (a dog bred for companionship) and a miniature poodle (an intelligent, sociable breed).
In time, she will be in school during some days, based in Mr Woolley’s office, where children can come and show her some amazing learning they have made and visit classrooms for key sessions, such as shared reading.
Having a dog in school is hugely motivational and fun for children. She could inspire communication and talk from those reluctant to do so and offer a calm, reassuring presence for children feeling emotional stress for any reason. A simple task such as changing the dog’s water bowl could help a reluctant child engage with school or cope with an emotional situation. For those children in emotional stress with difficult circumstances, the non-judgemental reassurance of an animal will provide some comfort and outlet for the child’s feelings in a way adults cannot facilitate.
Mr Woolley, as the owner, will lead any interactions. He has separate public liability insurance for Maggie being in school which has been checked to be in place by all governors (13.5.22). Prior to being in school, Maggie was assessed by Sophie Calder, an accredited IMDT dog trainer. Her initial assessment in March 2022 observed that:
“Maggie is a relaxed, happy, gentle dog that would be ideally suited to the school environment … Maggie errs on the side of caution when she meets a new person. Rather than running up to them, she would observe and approach slowly, ideal when small children are involved… she does not appear to be an over excitable bouncy dog.”
A risk assessment has been formulated for the initial ‘acclimatisation’ period which can be seen below:
Sophie Calder will also be involved as part of Maggie’s introduction to children and will also hopefully lead some assemblies with the school to teach them about dog behaviour. If you would like to know more about her work, follow this link to her website:
Maggie will not be free-roaming around school. Her safe space, Mr Woolley’s office has a child-gate fitted and the door between the office area and the rest of the school has a self-closing mechanism. When moving around school, Maggie will be on a harness with a lead. Therefore, if a child does not want to interact with Maggie, they do not have to and will never be made to.
One of the benefits of having a school dog is to teach all children how to understand dog behaviour and recognise how a dog is feeling. Many people wrongly approach strange dogs and stroke them which always stresses the dog. Helping those children who are fearful of dogs to understand this will help them understand their feelings and not just live in fear.
Maggie is well trained, calm and very endearing. Most children (and adults) melt when they meet her so she should help children become more confident. It is key that she behaves in a calm manner, without jumping up or lunging. If her behaviours were to change, she would not continue to come into school.
No. Specific plans and risk assessments apply to Maggie but this does not change the more general no-dog policy. No other dogs should ever be brought onto site, which includes those carried in arms, except for assistance dogs which would need to be agreed beforehand with the headteacher.
Maggie is part poodle which means she does not shed her fur easily. Of course no dog can ever be truly hypoallergenic so there would be a risk. However, this risk would be no greater than that posed by the hairs on clothing from the many children who have dogs at home. Should we have a child with particular allergies, specific plans and risk assessments would be drawn up to minimise risks.
Parents have been consulted throughout the proposal of a school dog as an idea and the initial acclimatisation process. Here are copies of the letters sent to all parents which might also answer any questions you might have: