'Our wellbeing dogs allow pupils to step off the conveyor belt of school's daily routine'
Emma Watson, deputy head of pupil wellbeing at Berkhamsted School, discusses how a Year 11 pupil proposed the idea of a school dog, to help overcome (or at least reduce) the stresses of a school day.
When a Year 11 pupil asked to meet with me to discuss some of her ideas for pupil wellbeing, I jumped at the chance. She came prepared with a very impressive research paper noting the stresses of school life (not an unusual concept) but along with that, she had designed an initiative to help overcome (or at least reduce) these issues during the relentless school day.
She said “obviously school can sometimes be stressful, especially for those of us with public exams coming up. I wanted other students who may not be lucky enough to have their own pets to be able to de-stress in the same way that I could, so I decided to produce a research paper about the benefits of wellbeing dogs.”
Cue the Wellbeing Dogs!
The Wellbeing Dogs were introduced to provide opportunities for pupils to unwind from time to time, to allow them to step off the conveyer belt of the daily routine at school. An added benefit of the dogs is their secondary role as Reading Dogs – research has shown that pupils who find reading aloud in front of others difficult, are more likely to feel comfortable reading to the non-judgmental audience of a dog -and so the English Department is home to 2 dogs of its’ own!
The launch of the Wellbeing Dogs Programme coincided with Children’s Mental Health Week in February 2019 but the initiative has gone from strength to strength – so much so that we are looking to expand the model next term. Through the Wellbeing Survey and our Pupil Wellbeing Committee, we have the evidence to support the positive impact of the dogs but, most importantly, the smiles, cheeriness and sense of decompression that is visible from pupils as they emerge from a doggy-visit is priceless.