Peter Hills Church of England School

Phoenix - Our Therapy Dog

There are many benefits to having a therapy dog in a school setting, the main one being the health and well- being of both children and staff alike. Phoenix has been an integral part of our team for four years. Currently, Phoenix has settled into Mrs Esterhuizen's class, who are learning about the responsibilities of caring for a dog. Phoenix loves to visit classes across the school, helping children with quiet reading, playing outside at break time and helping children who need extra support to develop positive relationships. 

The role of therapy dogs is to react and respond to people and their environment, under the guidance and direction of their handler. For example, an individual might be encouraged to gently pat or talk to a dog to teach sensitive touch and help them be calm. Having a dog in school has the potential to help young children to develop in a range of academic, personal and social areas.

Animal assisted therapy can:

  • teach empathy and appropriate interpersonal skills
  • help individuals develop social skills
  • be soothing and the presence of animals can more quickly build rapport between the teacher and pupil, and
  • improve individual’s skills to pick up social cues imperative to human relationships.

Research into the effects of therapy dogs in schools is showing a range of benefits including:

  • increase in school attendance
  • gains in confidence
  • decreases in learner anxiety behaviours resulting in improved learning outcomes, such as increases in reading and writing levels
  • positive changes towards learning and improved motivation, and
  • enhanced relationships with peers and teachers due to experiencing trust and unconditional love from a therapy dog. This in turn helps students learn how to express their feelings and enter into more trusting relationships.