School in Portchester introduces a therapy dog to pupils in mental health initiative

A school is pushing to improve pupils' mental health and wellbeing through the introduction of a furry friend.

By Elsa Waterfield
Tuesday, 14th December 2021, 2:51 pm
Therapy dog Ralph meets pupils at the Northern Federation of Schools
Credit: The Northern Federation of Schools
Therapy dog Ralph meets pupils at the Northern Federation of Schools Credit: The Northern Federation of Schools

Northern Federation, a two-form entry infant and junior school in Portchester, has decided to introduce a therapy dog to aid pupils in their academic, social and emotional education.

On November 29, the Golden Doodle known as Ralph was introduced to his new classmates and went on to complete several days in school, getting used to his environment and meeting staff and pupils.

The Heads of School Becky Fullick and Grace Morley said: ‘Therapy dogs are known to reduce cortisol levels in adults and children, lowering the stress and anxiety that children may have associated with attending school, completing learning or interacting with peers.’

Picture: The Northern Federation of Schools

The decision comes after research carried out by the school and is part of an initiative to lower stress and anxiety levels within their students and improve their learning.

The school, which had set out the supportive rules of interacting with a dog in assemblies ahead of the day, took measures to ensure all pupils felt comfortable, so children who were afraid of dogs were introduced to Ralph in small groups with additional adults to hand.

When moving around the school with a member of staff, the canine wears a green lead that reads ‘FRIENDLY’ and children are encouraged to only interact with Ralph upon request.

‘It is safe to say he has been a big hit with children, parents and staff alike’, said Becky and Grace.

Therapy dog Ralph meets pupils at the Northern Federation of Schools Credit: The Northern Federation of Schools

Golden retriever and poodle cross, Ralph, was selected by the school due to the breed's known attributes, namely his calm temperament, obedience and willingness to train and most importantly compatibility with children, adults and other animals.

Ralph is already getting stuck in with the students who were said to be ‘kind and respectful’ to their new furry peer who visited each classroom to interact with and get to know them, taking part in reading lessons and interventions.

The school plans to have Ralph, who starts his day greeting children at the gate, working across the federation four days a week for targeted interventions, covering topics such as reading, spelling, PE and grooming sessions.

‘Seeing our children’s faces light up as they spot Ralph has been a pleasure and has complimented our positive atmosphere, enhancing our school offer even further,’ the heads say.

Picture: The Northern Federation of Schools

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