Middlesex University in the UK has employed five Labradors as “canine teaching assistants”. They are part of a scheme directed at improving students’ mental well-being.
Fiona Suthers, Head of Clinical Skills, pioneered the project. She initially used her own dogs as a pilot scheme in November 2017 with nursing students. It was so successful the University has now trained and employed the five dogs specially for the role. This has allowed them to extend the scheme to all students and staff.
The dogs primarily work out of the University’s wellbeing drop-in centre where students can engage with the dogs. They have also started taking them into lecture theatres and revision sessions around exam time to reduce anxiety.
Students say the dogs also help with homesickness when they are missing their own family pet.
Fiona Suthers adds “The impact of dogs on wellbeing is being widely acknowledged with the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, recently highlighting benefits. When we initially introduced the scheme I don’t think any of us thought it would be so successful. It’s hard to describe the impact of just having a dog lying down in the corner of a class. You can literally feel stress levels reducing. It’s amazing and we’re very keen to continue and expand what we’re doing.”
The dogs all have ID cards and tabards to show when they are working. There is also a robust strategy in place to ensure their welfare. Although dogs in teaching establishments are becoming more common, Middlesex University is leading the way. Their scheme is more integrated and fundamental to their teaching environment. We would like to see this approach being taken by more institutions.