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My teachers a dog!


NEVER MIND the National Curriculum, SATS or even GCSEs – the best learning aid in schools nowadays is a dog – and that’s official!

Some weeks ago, OUR DOGS reported the growing use of dogs in the classroom, focussing on the case of ‘Henry’, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who is gainfully employed in the behaviour unit at Dronfield School, near Sheffield. Henry was already a big hit with the students at the secondary school, but after his appearance in the Times Literary Supplement in November, he proved to be a big hit with the media too, earning him appearances on GMTV, Richard and Judy and also Blue Peter, as well as several newspapers, including OUR DOGS. He’s also become a celebrity in the USA, Australia and the Middle East.

But the little dog who was made an honorary member of the public service union UNISON in recognition of his role as a classroom assistant hasn’t let fame go to his head. He still interacts with the pupils at Dronfield and has a queue of willing applicants wanting to take him for a walk each day.

It has since emerged that there are lots of other classroom dogs and the idea is rapidly gaining currency; whereas a few years ago dogs were decidedly persona non grata in the classroom, largely due to politically correct hysteria over phobias and asthma, now our children’s educators can’t get enough of them.

And what better than to be taught by Crufts qualified dogs - especially ones that look like miniature teddy bears and smile? This is the view of David and Sue Lindsay from West Moors, Dorset who regularly take their Keeshonds – accompanied by a Labrador – into many different classrooms, with amazing results.

"We often take the dogs into Eastleigh College in Hampshire, where the pupils have learning difficulties," says Sue, herself a qualified teacher, "Their reaction to the dogs is amazing, especially the Keesies, because they ‘smile’ and this gives the kids a great interaction. Once when we were due to give an assembly with the dogs, some of the teachers expressed concern to us about some of the children who were dog phobic, and asked whether they should be told to expect dogs so they weren’t too afraid. I told her not to say anything. So we went in, ‘Sky’ the Labrador sat down and waved at them, as she’s been trained to do and the Keesies went through their routine of jumping through a hoop and running through a tunnel. The kids were entranced. We took classes afterwards and none of the ‘dog phobic’ kids panicked at all, and they were amongst the first to make a huge fuss of the dogs.


Self-esteem

"The children are often very wary of new experiences, but bit by bit they learn to touch the dogs and then before you know it, they’re leading them through a basic agility course. It’s excellent for their co-ordination and teamwork, builds their self-esteem and improves their communication skills. One teacher told us that there’s a boy who seldom, if ever, speaks to anyone, but he chats away happily when the dogs are around. It’s very gratifying and quite moving."

Dave is a qualified animal trainer and is a member of the International Marine Animal Trainer Association. "I enjoy working with animals," says Dave. "When I qualified after studying agriculture I went to work on a dairy farm in Saudi Arabia, because it sounded interesting.

After that, I moved back to England and worked at Windsor Safari Park for 20 years, working with dolphins, killer whales and other marine animals.

"When the Park closed, I was at a bit of a loss, so I went along to one of Ian Dunbar’s dog training courses, because I’ve always liked dogs – my mother used to show dogs – and it was there that I met Sue, who’s always been into dogs. We’ve been together for eight years now and we do the education with dogs, as well as showing them whenever we can."

The Lindsays exhibit Keeshonds with some success under the Mezanda affix and are exhibiting two of their five Keeshonds at Crufts this week.

The couple put in a lot of hard work training and desensitising the dogs before they meet the students, which is a very different environment than the show ring, but their hard work is all worthwhile, as both readily acknowledge.

"It’s quite an interesting life," smiles Dave. "As well as their work in formal education, the dogs also participate in pet care courses that we run. They demonstrate emergency muzzling and bandaging, and the trainers of the future are taught the basics – by the dogs."

"All their training is reward-based," adds Sue. "We use Hill’s food and we’re very grateful to them generously sponsoring our work over a number of years.

"We’d also like to acknowledge the extremely important role of OUR DOGS newspaper. The paper is used as a basis for discussion of canine issues and as a source of information for our advanced students."