Watson - Our Academy Dog
Following the success of the Academy having guinea pigs and chickens as our pets and a suggestion by a number of children during Academy Council Meetings, Marine Academy Primary and Nursery discussed the benefits of a school dog. There are a number of school dogs already in post locally and around the country.
Watson is a Cavachon (a mix of a Cavalier King Charles and Bichon Frise). Cavachons are cute, friendly animals that make excellent companions. They have loving personalities and form close bonds with humans. They crave companionship and attention, and they like to be active. They are also renowned as an affectionate and loyal sidekick. The cavachon is celebrated for its non-shedding, hypoallergenic coat, which causes less of a reaction in people with allergies. Please do let a member of the Primary Admin Team know if your child is allergic to dogs and a member of staff will discuss this further with you and share how we will ensure that Watson is not in contact with your child.
Watson was just 11 weeks old when he started school on 20th November 2017. Since joining the Academy he has already been on school trips to the Plymouth Library Service Headquarters and to Kings Tamerton Woods. Children have also joined Watson in his visits to the Vets for Watson to have his vaccinations and health checks.
While his main place of residence is the foyer area of Marine Academy Primary, Watson is available for the children to pat and play with at play times and participates in some lessons as appropriate. A group of children frequently join Watson and another adult for a dog walk around the Campus.
Watson can also be a huge help to children who have had bad experiences with dogs or other animals. His calm nature quickly allows children to gain trust in him and it usually does not take too long before they forget they don’t like dogs or feel brave enough to give him a stroke. Watson also has lots of youthful energy and loves to play fetch, making him a great playtime buddy.
Watson’s role across the Academy Campus is varied. Once he is fully trained he may ‘chill out’ in the classroom whilst the children are having their lessons. Research studies in both Britain and America have concluded that having a dog in a school classroom can have many positive benefits, as outlined below:
- A calming effect on pupils, particularly those with additional needs
- Encouraging expression and participation in more withdrawn children
- Fostering a sense of responsibility
- Improved behaviour, attendance and concentration, reduced stress and improved self-esteem
- Motivating pupils to think and to learn, as most children have a high level of natural interest in, enthusiasm for, and enjoyment of animals
- Encouraging respect and thereby improving pupils’ relationships with each other
- Teaching children to nurture and respect life
- Helping children to make progress in their learning by developing their confidence and outlook on school life
- Helping children build confidence in reading:
- When children share the affection and care of a ‘class’ dog, a bond forms among them and strengthens their team ethics.
Marine Academy Primary have also been approached by Plymouth University to take part in some Clinical Psychology research focusing on integrating dogs into psychological therapies, including engaging children with psychological thinking and thinking about their emotional health (reading stories, building their confidence through playing games and using the dog to comment on interactions which might facilitate conversations about emotions etc.). We have agreed that Watson and Marine Academy Primary will be part of this study.
Watson will also hear children read; dogs give unconditional acceptance, as they are non-judgmental, which is especially crucial to struggling, emerging readers. He will provide confidence to children as they do not make fun of them when they read but above all he will make an amazing listener, providing the children with a sense of comfort and love. Recent research has shown that children who read to dogs show an increase in reading levels, word recognition, a higher desire to read and write, and an increase in social skills. Our children are very excited about teaching Watson to ‘read’. Watson will be trained to look at the book as children read to him and they can use their reading skills to teach Watson.
At the moment, Watson is in training and learning his manners: how to greet people, where and when he can play and when he needs to be calm and quiet, what to chew (and what not to chew!). Whilst this process continues he will be visiting classrooms on the lead, sitting in assemblies and getting used to school routines.
We understand that it is not possible for all families to have a family dog and therefore we are delighted to provide the opportunity for children at Marine Academy Primary and Nursery to have a ‘share’ in a dog and gain from the relationship and contact on a regular basis.