What are the benefits of a school wellbeing dog?

Tuesday 18 April 2023 | By Megan Connor

George, our beautiful black Labrador and school wellbeing dog, has wandered the corridors at Teesside High School and graced the pages of our school newsletter for around two years now, and we wanted to share what a valuable addition he has been to our school community.

We welcomed George to the THS family in 2021, after the turbulent couple of years following the Covid pandemic. He helped with the return to school and any worries and wobbles our pupils may have faced along the way.

We introduced George to school slowly. After all, having a dog in school is a big change for everyone – George included. He began by spending a couple of hours with known members of staff, enjoying plenty of ‘downtime’ and nice walks in our beautiful school grounds. Every now and again he would visit pupils in the Prep School, and slowly built up his familiarity with students and staff alike. He became a regular in Forest School – now the favourite lesson on his timetable! 

George is often the centre of attention so we make sure he gets lots of exercise, time to rest and breaks where he does not see students to avoid him becoming too tired.

How did we decide to get a wellbeing dog?

At Teesside High School, we have many wellbeing initiatives, and this is one particularly close to Mrs Mackenzie’s heart. An avid dog lover, she set her heart on bringing a wellbeing dog into the fold at Teesside High School. 

There are lots of different steps you have to take to bring a pastoral dog into a school. Mrs Mackenzie put a proposal together of what she thought the wellbeing benefits would be, with ways she believed a dog would be able to help. We looked at case studies from across the country, and at schools where a dog adds significant value to a pupils’ pastoral experience.

George is gentle in his nature, calm and affectionate – he was chosen for this very temperament. He came into our family from an approved Kennel Club breeder, someone Mrs Mackenzie knew well.

As a small school where we know every individual, we knew a wellbeing dog had the potential to help our children develop in a range of academic, personal and social areas, and would only further enhance our caring, nurturing environment. 

What impact has George had at THS?

George makes everybody smile – from pupils to staff alike, he is a super popular member of the school family. We find pupils speak more freely when George is around; they have an immediate bond and common interest with their classmates and peers so can often be more comfortable and confident. Having George around can help some pupils to demonstrate their caring and kind attributes, boost their motivation, burn off some extra energy or just sit and be calm. Having a dog in school can teach empathy and other important social skills, or be a soothing and calm presence.

George has boundless enthusiasm for any of our pupils who may be feeling a little under the weather or out of sorts with themselves. We appreciate the ever growing demands on our young people and, as such, nurturing our students and promoting positive mental health is very important to us. George helps us do this in a subtle and sensitive way.

Time with George could be the perfect reward for those who have worked super hard in class and want to spend some time with him as a treat – similarly the perfect distraction for our eldest students in the middle of a stressful examination season. A huge part of our co-curricular provision is designed around nature-based activities which promote time spent outdoors in the fresh air; taking George outside to enjoy a long walk as part of Nature Club, for example, is a fantastic stress reliever and a great way to boost pupils’ fitness and mental wellbeing.

Furthermore, working with George has taught lots of our students about how to care and train a dog and they are becoming much more aware of the responsibilities required when caring for animals. This helps in our quest to inspire students to learn and achieve beyond the classroom – essential life skills which influence our young people way beyond the years they spend at THS.