If you’ve ever owned a dog, you will likely understand the soothing and positive influence they can have on the people around them. Canine companions are known to bring smiles to their humans and so, for many, it only makes sense that school children may also feel the benefits of their company.
Following widespread heightened concern about the mental health and wellbeing of young people in recent years, the use of school therapy dogs is on the increase internationally, with raised morale and mental health benefits being associated with these initiatives. Here we find the UAE schools that are utilising the power of canine cuddles in promoting student mental health.
Therapy dogs are domestic pets that go to settings such as schools, for the emotional wellbeing of children and staff, engaging in 'therapeutic contact' (petting/stroking or simply spending time with people). They are trained to provide comfort and affection, and to reduce stress in those who spend time with them.
Studies overwhelmingly suggest that YES, therapy animals in educational settings positively impact student social and emotional wellbeing. Perhaps unexpectedly, some studies have even shown that the use of therapy dogs in classrooms has supported academic achievement too (although when we consider the effect that a child’s emotional state has on their ability to learn, this is perhaps not so surprising).
Schools using therapy dogs have found that children often develop in confidence, appear more motivated to learn, are less likely to avoid tasks and are more able to regulate their emotions at school. On top of all this, therapy dogs can act as a 'social catalyst', facilitating social interactions for students who, for a variety of reasons, may find this aspect of school life challenging.
Luna the Golden Retriever is based on the GEMS Royal Dubai School Counsellor’s office and works alongside her every day to provide comfort and affection to students while they share any concerns or tensions they may have. Luna creates a relaxing atmosphere, as she lounges in his office bed, and lets students stroke her golden fur.
15-year-old lovable Rufus visits Fairgreen International School every Thursday to assist the school counsellor in the school’s counselling hub. He is available to meet students for a chat and a cuddle during school hours. One Fairgreen student lovingly described Rufus as “the definition of happiness”, which tells us everything about the impact he has at the school community.
Bruno the therapy dog is a much-loved member of the Jumeirah College community. He visits the school every Wednesday and takes part in many school activities; he joins students in their classrooms and is always around for special events.
Ziggy and Marshall, the therapy dog duo, are always a welcome sight at Kent College, where they aim to brighten up everyone’s days. This playful pair are available for students to cuddle and take care of, creating a fun focus.
Wellness dogs, Lucy and Arthur, have become a cherished addition within the Ranches Primary School community. Once a week and one at a time, their duties range from taking part in reading clubs, offering a nurturing paw for children (or adults) to hold onto, performing shows for days such as World Animal Day and helping to educate children about the responsibilities inherent with animal care and animal rights.