Discover the benefits of animals in education for both pupils and staff, with Kat Cauchi, with stories from staff who have animals in their schools.

As a cat owner, I have always appreciated the comfort that having a pet can bring. Having that companionship relieves stress and makes me feel more content in my daily life. If I am upset, it brings me great solace to have my cat snuggled up on my lap. Stroking him soothes me. In fact, “Endorphins are released when animals are petted, and this produces a calming effect of the person or child concerned. This helps reduce pain and stress and improves overall well-being.” 1 This explains why Buster’s company is so therapeutic for me!

With the joy animals can bring at home, it was no surprise to me that the same joy can brought into schools. Cutting talks about some of the key benefits of having a facility dog, including:

Improved mobility and response to physical stimuli.

Social and emotional development through conversation and improved social interactions.

Support and friendship for those who have trouble making new friends or who have low self-esteem.

Distraction from negative feelings, providing calm companionship to reduce stress and anxiety and to relieve loneliness.2

Benefits for pupils

Wanting to find out more about the benefits of animals in education, I reached out for help on my favourite virtual staffroom, Twitter. I asked if educators who had animals in their education setting would share their experiences with me. As usual, the amazing community delivered, and several educators sent over information about their animals and the impact they were having – along with some wonderful photos for bonus cuteness! Although educators referred to a variety of benefits for pupils, there were some common themes I wanted to share.

Helping pupils in distress and helping them to self-regulate their emotions

“The impact of having a school dog has been incredible. Pippa has built-in work time on pupils’ individual provision maps, she supports children in regulation – and many actively seek her out to help them to feel better.” – Jacq Maynard, Headteacher of New Moston Primary School

“The animals support pupils’ mental health and wellbeing. Pupils work alongside them in small groups or individually to support specific areas such as anxiety, self-esteem and confidence.” – Kerry Williams-Kendall, Vice Principal a Boothroyd Academy

“Dogs listen but don’t judge. Stroking a dog is calming and therapeutic. We believe that engaging our students and having a nurturing, practical curriculum really helps with mental health issues and in raising confidence and self-esteem too.” – Erica Barnett, Headteacher at The Belsteads School

Creating a happy environment and ‘buzz’ in school

“Moose has been such a wellbeing boost for staff and students. He is like a rockstar at school! The students we have just love seeing him at lunch and like to walk him or come pat him.” – Christine Dehnel, Assistant Principal at Stephenson Academy

“Gus has been the topic of conversation in class every day since you [headteacher] introduced him to everyone. The whole school has a ‘buzz’ when they spot him.” – Comments from staff at Woodlands Primary School

“Having a dog in school seems to bring it to life. Sid has played football, attended assemblies, been baptised in an RE lesson, dressed as Father Christmas, a fairy and Super Dog!” – Erica Barnett, Headteacher at The Belsteads School

Supporting pupils with specific needs (SEMH, SEND) or supporting following a specific event in a child’s life

“The dogs have been instrumental in several ways. In one school, it helped a selective mute start to talk in the school setting. They have been used to support bereavements and have been used with some children who have complex needs to reduce the number of anger outbursts or de-escalate potentially tricky behaviours.” – Julie Carson, Director of Education at Woodland Academy Trust

“On a particular day, a pupil had gone into crisis on the playground and ran off. We were looking for him and, as I entered my office to call for another member of staff to help, I noticed Pippa didn’t come to me as usual. Further inspection showed she was busy spooning up to said child and he lay crying but stroking her until he was ready to re-engage.” – Jacq Maynard, Headteacher of New Moston Primary School

Helping children manage phobias e.g., fear of dogs

“Children previously nervous completed a course of nervous dog sessions with her (Pippa) and graduated fully fledged puppy handlers.” – Jacq Maynard, Headteacher of New Moston Primary School

“Gus has changed some of children’s perceptions of dogs and fear/anxiety around dogs.” – Comments from staff at Woodlands Primary School

Encouraging pupils to come to school and engaging them in their learning

“The dogs have also helped individuals with improving their attendance by meeting them at the school gate and accompanying them into the classroom.” – Julie Carson, Director of Education at Woodland Academy Trust

“We believe having a range of therapeutic animals on site not only supports the pupils to learn life skills by teaching them how to care and look after each one, but also enables our children to develop oracy skills by reading to and interacting with the animals regularly.” – Kerry Williams-Kendall, Vice Principal a Boothroyd Academy

“Children adore reading to Ruby and having this opportunity has developed their self-confidence. Eddie brings a smile to everyone’s face. Reluctant learners and children who find school tough at times enjoy giving Eddie cuddles and walking him round school.” – Becky Waters, Headteacher at Dogsthorpe Infant School

“The children are always excited to see Trixie, she is so gentle and calm, and they love to read to her. It’s a really special treat to hold her lead and walk her to her reading nook.” – Karen Court, Primary School Teacher at Chalfont St Giles Village
School

Understanding the needs of others, learning to care for and take responsibility for animals

“The children see Gus as part of their school family. The children are very thoughtful in their responses when talking about how to behave around him/treat each other around him.” – Comments from staff at Woodlands Primary School

“We are keen to be able to help a local animal charity by offering to foster some animals, which will be nurtured by us then given back. We hope to be involved with releasing them back into the wild.” – Erica Barnett, Headteacher at The Belsteads School

Other benefits

Another benefit that was mentioned by Cheryl Drabble was how her school dog helped encourage exercise within her setting. This was something I hadn’t even considered when I began looking into the impact of animals in education and it really showed the breadth of experiences possible.

However, the benefits are not only for pupils. Many educators mentioned the benefits of animals in school for staff members and, in some cases, even parents too.

“Parents say ‘good morning’ to him, and he thinks it’s great to sniff out treats from staff! Having the dogs in school has impacted on everyone’s well-being. They are important members of the staff team!” – Becky Waters, Headteacher at Dogsthorpe Infant School

What else do you need to know?

As you can see, there are many potential benefits to having animals in school. However, if you are thinking about introducing an animal into any school, there are some important aspects to consider. As well as the obvious health and safety requirements, there are also financial considerations, responsibility of care, where the animal/s will live etc. The educators I spoke to also mentioned the importance of selecting the right animal for the school’s context, completing specific breed research and knowing the animal’s history.

You need to ensure that the animal is not only right for your setting, but that your setting is also right for them. When introducing animals into school, their wellbeing should be just as important as that of the community they will be serving. You must have a policy in place for all stakeholders that enlists all the relevant information so that everyone understands the rules, expectations and precautions.

For more detailed information including legal requirements, please look at the references and further reading section.

Introducing Pets’ corner

As a celebration of all the amazing animals in educational settings, I am excited to introduce Pets’ Corner, a section of R.I.S.E. magazine dedicated to these animals with a collection of photos and quotes.

If you would like to get involved, email us a photo(s) of your pet(s), their names and a short bio about them, as well as an optional Instagram/X URL where people can see more of them!  You can also use the #PetsCorner hashtag on social media and share your pictures with me at @ReallySchoolK .

Check out our first ever Pets’ Corner page!

References and further reading

  1. Drabble, C (2019) ‘Introducing a School Dog: Our adventures with Doodles the Schnoodle’. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
  2. Cutting, V (2021) ‘Kingsmead Dogs Description Document’. Kingsmead Special School

Author

  • Katherine Cauchi

    Kat Cauchi is a WeAreTechWomen #TechWomen100 2023 award winner and a 2022 Nexus Education 'Classroom and Curriculum' improvement award winner. She is the community engagement manager at NetSupport, editor of R.I.S.E. Magazine, and the host of two podcasts. Kat is a member of the Global Equality Collective, a Global EdTech author, InnovateHer ambassador and Technocamps Girls in Stem role model.
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