While there are only a handful of schools in Australia currently using an educational support dog, the trend is expected to spread as word gets around about the amazing benefts dogs can provide to students. IE Journalist Sue Osborne sniffed out the details.
The charity Assistance Dogs Australia (ADA) has trained five dogs (three in NSW, one in Queensland and one in WA) to work in schools, with more about to be placed. It trains labrador and golden retriever puppies to provide practical assistance to people with physical disabilities (opening doors, picking up pens) or to act as assistance dogs that work with people with dementia, learning difficulties, autism and post traumatic stress disorder. It also provides ‘facility’ dogs, which work in hospital, hospices, aged care facilities, drug and alcohol clinics and prisons.
Puppies come from breeders and the ADA’s own breeding program. It takes two years to train a dog at a cost of $27,000. Puppies are assessed during the training process to decide if they are best suited to active highly trained work assisting a person with a physical disability, or to provide other skills in addition to companionship.
ADA Instructor Team Leader Katie Saran said any school that applied for an educational support dog would go through an assessment period.
The dog would live with a primary carer who worked at the school, and one other person at the school would be trained to take responsibility for the dog. No one else handles the dog so there is no additional workload for teachers, and more consistency for the animal.
“During the application process we would get a picture of what the day to day environment of the school would be like and what skills would be beneficial for the school,” Katie said.
The first school ever to receive an educational support dog from ADA was Lake Illawarra High School in NSW.
Support Unit Teacher Ryan Olender was volunteering as an educator for dogs being trained to become an assistance dog in hospitals and prisons. He teaches students with autism, a mild intellectual disability, or those with emotional problems who might live in a refuge, have been in juvenile justice or had other problems.
“It seemed like a natural progression to me to start bringing a dog into school,” Ryan said.
“As soon as we did it, it worked wonders.”
In conjunction the Support Unit Head Teacher Martin Moore, they applied for Benson, and he started at the school in 2012. Benson lives with Ryan and comes into school three or four days a week.
“When he’s not up for it or if I have sport I leave him at home.”
Ryan said Benson is particularly effective when working with students who have difficulties in forming relationships and communicating.
“Benson creates an environment where emotionally disturbed students who struggle with empathy and showing love can practice and develop those skills.