A dog’s life down pat

St Columban’s Primary School, Mayfield has made an important and interesting addition to its support staff.  Principal Danielle Reed recently welcomed Milo, a cavoodle.

Milo is currently undergoing training to be a support dog, and the students are also helping with that training. Milo visits classes, sits with staff, and is there when students need a break. Giving Milo a pat is good way for them to relax.

Recent research shared in the Independent Education Journal (Vol 49 2019) has shown therapy dogs can reduce the stress chemical cortisol in the brain and trigger the release of oxytocin, which plays a positive role in social bonding.

The presence of a therapy dog in a school setting has also been linked to improvements in attendance, student confidence levels and increased motivation to participate in learning activities.

Therapy dogs can play a significant role in the school setting as part of the wellbeing program, where the dog has a distinct purpose such as supporting students with anxiety and stress.

Students at St Columban’s are learning how their behaviour affects Milo and vice versa. If they are calm, Milo is calm. They are learning how to interact with Milo — giving him space when he sits down, allowing him to come to them rather than running to him, and picking up food so Milo does not eat anything he shouldn’t.

In 2019, Year 1 students were given a secret mission by Mrs Reed to name the new school dog.

They wrote a list of their favourite names, which also included Coco, Freckles and Bruno. Then the students visited all the school’s classrooms with the list of names, and every student voted for their favourite.

Year 1 counted all the data and created a graph to show Mrs Reed the result. They also wrote a persuasive text to convince Mrs Reed to choose the name Milo. It said Milo had the most votes, the puppy is brown like Milo, sweet like Milo, and Milo is a good puppy name.

“They were convincing with their persuasive text, so Milo was the winner,” Mrs Reed said.   

Milo has been welcomed into the school with open arms, and according to Mrs Reed “he puts a smile on your face to start the day”.

Year 2 teacher Mrs Smith said it is not only affecting the students positively, but also the staff.  “Milo came to visit me in my classroom yesterday, he hung with me in the morning and I’ll tell you what, as he sat with me all morning it made me feel so good,” Mrs Smith said. “It was just amazing. It’s a nice way to start the day.”

Students Evie and Joseph are happy to have Milo as part of the school. “If you’re a bit sad he makes you feel better,” Evie said. Joseph can see how Milo will be able to help many students in the future, as Milo has helped him already. “If someone's sad or someone in their family has passed away or got hurt or something they could have like a corner when they sit with Milo and relax,” Joseph said. “Being with Milo makes me feel extra calm.”

Mrs Reed said she has already seen a difference when Milo is around, such as when a student came in to talk to her and was able to relax and share what was on their mind because their guard was down while they played with Milo.

Milo will soon be wearing his own school uniform vest with the school crest. The plan also involves Milo joining the school’s pastoral care worker, as well as being present while classrooms have reading time. “I think sometimes it makes everyone feel better just to know that there's a dog around,” Mrs Reed said. “You don't have to have them all over you all the time, it's just nice to have them there, isn't it?”


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Brooke Robinson Image
Brooke Robinson

Brooke is Content Officer for the Communications Team in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle