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Dog therapy works wonders in schools

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Four academies across the Diocese have been, or soon will be, enjoying visits from some furry friends.

Dave, a two-year-old mixed breed rescue dog will be joining The Bishop’s Church of England Primary Academy this summer term and he will be supporting learners around the school based in Thetford.  Dave loves both adults and children and has a very calm temperament.  He is happiest when having a cuddle and a fuss or curling up and listening to a story.

Dog owner Henry Armes and Business and Resource Manager from The Bishop’s Church of England Primary Academy said: “We are sure that Dave will be popular with the children at school. We have seen how dogs have brought the best out of children in other schools which has helped with calming children, giving them encouragement and added confidence as well as using the dogs as reading buddies.”  

Keri Leftley is Elfie’s mum and a Higher Level Teaching Assistant at Sandringham Church of England Primary Academy.

Elf is an 11-year-old Shih Tzu who has been coming into school since she was five months old, she is known as the school pet but is also a therapy dog. The children love her. During her time in school, she has helped a child overcome her fear of dogs, going from running away and hiding to being able to cuddle Elf and walk extended family dogs and not be worried when out. Children reluctant to come into school have happily walked Elf in, she has been there for an Autistic child, she recognised they were upset and nudged their hand allowing them to stroke her which calmed them down. There have been times when her just being there has been extremely heart-warming.  The children have grown up with her and know how important it is to respect her by being calm around her and understanding how to look after her.

They are very happy to see her and Elf certainly enjoys her visits, so do the staff!

One Christmas, Elfie even had a party after school with the Christmas Elf!  The children in that class loved it!

Headteacher Mrs Jane Gardener said: “Elfie is gorgeous and such an asset. She is so popular. Children just loved to see her wandering around classes. She is so well behaved. It’s fabulous having her in school especially if children need a bit of support after something sad has happened, they love to sit with her, or read to her, it can help settle children e.g. new starters or children anxious coming in to school. They truly get so much from Elf and Elf gives so much back.”

Lily is a one-year-old Cockapoo that visits the children and staff of Peterhouse Church of England Primary Academy in Gorleston two days a week.

Executive Headteacher Ryan Freeman of Peterhouse Church of England Primary Academy said: “The staff love having Lily in school, we get people coming down throughout the day to see her or offer to take her for a walk. She is definitely a good aide for well-being.”

Mr Freeman added: “We have a high number of vulnerable children and Lily has proved to be a fantastic way to break down barriers. She has helped school refusers to get into the building, withdrawn children to smile and talk, and helps to calm children at times when they have become disregulated. She is also very popular with some of our parents, who come to see her on the school gate in the mornings.”

“I have wanted to introduce a school dog for some time, after seeing the benefits in other schools. Lily is our family pet and was bought with the fact that she may become a school dog in mind. We looked carefully at breeders and temperaments, making sure that she had the best chance possible of being calm and loving with children and adults. Being allergic to most breeds of dog myself, we were also conscious of the ‘hypoallergenic’ qualities that cockapoos have. Lily has been attending training classes since she was a few months old and still goes weekly to ensure that she is calm and responsive to commands. Once she had completed her first bronze award, she began making short visits to school to get used to the people and environment. This was built up over a few months and then gradually we have introduced her to more elements of the school day.”

Lily lives in the school offices and is able to move around each office, visiting the adults through the day – she can often be found asleep under a desk, or curled up in a chair. She has now started doing two daily gate duties, seeing the children in and out of the site – she absolutely loves the attention that she receives and most definitely has her favourite families that she looks out for! During the day, Lily meets children as part of the school’s pastoral provision. They take her for walks, complete training activities, or simply come for a cuddle. Lily does not visit classrooms, as we are very careful that children with allergies are able to move around the school without any limits being imposed on them.”

He added: “Lily is the latest in a long history of animals at Peterhouse. We also have a school farm with goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens and ducks! This has been in place since 2016 and is currently undergoing a relaunch as we come out of lock down.”

Since February 2022, two-year-old Riley, the Golden Retriever, has been visiting Diss Primary Academy fortnightly and has become a cherished reading companion to the children of Cherry class.

“Riley brings many benefits to the pupils, including being able to relax and calm the class. “He is the perfect reading buddy for our children!” said Jo Cerullo, Executive Headteacher of Diss Primary Academy Partnership, part of St Benet’s Multi Academy Trust.

The main purpose of the visits is for children to feel at ease and enjoy their reading sessions in the company of Riley. He visits the children and lets them stroke him and the children take it in turns to read to him or tell him about their day.

Tyler said: “He’s nice.  I like to stroke him and give him treats.”

Xavier said: “Riley is cute and I really like reading to him.”

Jo Cerullo is planning for Riley to also visit the Infant school for some of the younger children get the chance to read to him.


Poppy is a three-year-old cockapoo.  The children and staff at Whitefriars count themselves very lucky to have Poppy, the school dog, as a member of their school community. Poppy is in school most days and can often be found following the headmaster, Mr Tuckwood.

Poppy is at Whitefriars to work alongside the children and staff to support them with both with their well-being and learning.

Each day, Poppy greets the children on the playground (you won’t get a better or happier welcome!) before walking around the school and visiting all of the children in the classrooms. If a child is sad, bothered or not quite feeling themselves, Poppy is there to support them either with a cuddle (she loves some fuss!), a walk around the field or a quick play with some of her toys. It is amazing the difference she can make in just a few minutes.

Sometimes, we have children who are reluctant to arrive at school; Poppy will greet these pupils with enthusiasm and a very welcoming waggy tail which instantly makes a huge difference.

Poppy also loves listening to children read and having books shared with her.