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- Education Professionals
Dogs in the classroom help kids reading
Tracey Berridge, a canine behaviourist trainer, set up Dogs Helping Kids in 2003 to take dogs into classrooms, as therapeutic aids for teaching children about kindness and empathy, and also for providing reading support.
Inspired by a documentary she saw as a teenager about the positive influence of dogs on education, Tracey, 41, is dedicated to taking dogs into schools.
Tracey is hoping to help as many children as possible reach more ambitious literacy goals with her dogs. Her work is voluntary, as is the assistance of the owners, and although she’s based in Devon, she’s also training dogs in Wales, Lincoln and Stafford.
The dogs take 18 months to train, and are chosen for their temperament from her puppy training classes. They are either “visiting dogs”, owned by individuals willing to visit schools regularly, “attending dogs”, owned by teaching staff, or “educational dogs”, taken into schools to help teach specific skills, such as literacy.
Tracey has worked in nearly 50 schools, and with library reading groups, but started the charity after being invited by a teenage behavioural unit to take her own dog, a lurcher cross called Princess Laya, to work with violent adolescents. “Spending time with Laya improved self-esteem and confidence, which had a remarkable effect on behaviour. It inspired me to continue, even though people thought I was loony when I talked about taking dogs into schools in the Nineties.”
Determined to avoid accusations of being too “touchy feely”, Tracey brought academic rigour to the process, completing an MA in companion animal behaviour counselling from Southampton. She frequently references academic research about the effects of dogs on learning, including a paper from Tufts University and Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, which suggests the dogs provided “comfort and support to participants without judging them”, with evidence a child’s blood pressure and stress levels would lower when asked to read aloud to a dog.
And because children love seeing the dogs, their presence has helped cut truancy. Children are also less likely to shout when the dog is present.