The cutest and friendliest therapy dog, Heidi, has joined the pastoral care team at Dame Allan’s Schools to boost students’ confidence and enrich their emotional wellbeing.
The petite, five-year-old Maltichon – a popular toy breed deliberately developed by crossing the Maltese Terrier with the Bichon Frise – is already having a positive impact on pupils at the Senior School site in Fenham, Newcastle.
Gentle and patient in temperament, Heidi attends one day a week to interact with students who use The Snug, a purpose-developed wellbeing centre that houses support services such as psychotherapy, counselling and special educational needs.
Learning support teacher and Heidi’s owner, Kelly Lowery, said having a dog in a school is shown to help improve behaviour, attendance and academic confidence among pupils, while lowering levels of anxiety, stabilising intense emotions and enhancing relationships. It also teaches pupils about responsibility, and develops key skills in empathy and nurturing.
“Children take great enjoyment from interacting with Heidi; she is such a calming influence and helps create a friendly, happy and homely environment within The Snug,” she said.
Heidi has already supported a number of year 11 students who are taking their mock GCSE exams.
Kelly added: “Students can feel incredibly anxious at exam time, particularly with the uncertainty created by the Covid pandemic, and Heidi has been a welcome distraction and comfort to some who have felt overwhelmed.
“The feedback from parents has been hugely positive, they have already noticed the effect Heidi is having on their children just by being in the room.”
Heidi is undergoing continuous training and has already completed 12 weeks on The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme, the largest dog training programme in the UK. Due to the fact she sheds very little hair, Heidi is hypoallergenic, and, true to breed, her character is affectionate, smart and sociable.
The benefits of animal-assisted therapy have long been recognised. Sigmund Freud, Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, pioneered the therapy dog movement when he noticed the calming effect his dog Jofi had on patients, when he was present in psychotherapy sessions in the 1930s.
Even as far back as the late 1800s, Florence Nightingale observed that small pets helped reduce anxiety and improve the mental wellbeing of both children and adults in hospital.
Today, therapy dogs provide comfort and support to people in a wide range of settings, including retirement homes, libraries, disaster areas, prisons, hospitals and hospices. A 2019 study found that just ten minutes of interaction with a dog or cat significantly reduces a person’s level of stress hormone cortisol.
Principal Will Scott said: “There is no doubt that therapy dogs can bring huge benefits to both pupils and staff, and Heidi is already an invaluable member of The Snug team.
“Dame Allan’s has long recognised the importance of pastoral care, and introducing a therapy dog further expands the full range of support we offer our pupils as they journey through school life.”