The King's Canine Community | King's College Taunton

Pets and Mental Well-Being

The King's Canine Community

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“Every school should have a dog or another pet to reduce stress in the classroom”, says Sir Anthony Seldon.

The University of Buckingham vice-chancellor says it is "a powerfully cost-effective way of helping children feel more secure at schools".

Sir Anthony was speaking at a conference about the need to improve young people's sense of well-being.

We were lucky enough to have Sir Anthony as our key speaker for our Parents’ Day. Well known as a past headmaster of top private school Wellington College he also has a broader reputation as biographer of most of the recent British prime ministers. Those who know him a little better will also be aware of his keen interest in and support of a well-being curriculum for young people and modern approaches to mental health, including meditation which he practises himself. At Wellington he famously introduced ‘happiness’ classes and wrote a well-regarded self-help book Beyond Happiness.

We couldn’t agree more with his comments. Here at King’s, we have a large canine community. Our Headmaster has a two dogs and our houseparents all have them, as do many house deputies. Our print room has a tiny resident pooch called Dot (a little Jack Russell), and our prep school King’s Hall has Snoops, the lovable Cockapoo house dog, who is regularly seen cuddled up with the children at bedtime! Snoops is a bit of a news hound (!) – he an Instagram account and writes a regular column in the school’s weekly newsletter!

One of our house dogs is a trained therapy dog and meets patients at Musgrove Hospital on a regular basis. Larry, the brown Labrador, is resident of Woodard House and is an amenable chap, who, if you feed him, will be your friend for life.

Mental wellbeing, for our pupils and staff is paramount, and the positive effect that pets can have on this, is huge. As well as pets, we have staff who are qualified mindfulness practitioners and one of our girls’ boarding houses as its own mindfulness room – open to all pupils.

Commenting on the link between pets and mental well-being, drama teacher and mindfulness practitioner, Alastair Wood said:

“Recently Sir Anthony has become a champion for the growing idea of the importance of pets in schools especially dogs. In his book he said of pets ‘For children they can be key in their emotional development and sense of security’. Many schools have now started adopting a well-being dog to have in the classroom and there are lots of reports of how successful they have been especially for children with low self-esteem and a variety of learning disabilities such as autism. At a recent conference he said they were effective ‘because children can relate to animals when they are hurt and anxious and sad in a way that they can't always with human beings’.”

Alastair continued:

“Dogs have always had a special place in the community at King’s College. As staff live on site all year round with their families, pets are of course a key part of that. The school is blessed with fantastic grounds, ideal for dog walks and supported by regular dog poo bins. Many staff who don’t even live in school will bring their dogs in for their daily exercise as well. On a Saturday afternoon they are joined by local parent’s dogs also on the touch lines of rugby or football matches, many of them straining against the leash and wanting to join in too!

When I was a housemaster in the school the boys in the house always loved having our family Labrador Kenza around. Having her leap on them when they came to my office or cuddling her as she came round with me as I did bedtimes reminded them of much loved pets at home. More importantly it helped to create that family atmosphere which is key to a successful boarding house helping the pupils to feel secure in a caring environment. Therefore, I would fully encourage schools to adopt the policy of having dogs in schools, it is something we have done at King’s for years, and I have no doubt it is an essential part of the unique happy atmosphere here."

Published on: Monday, April 1, 2019

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