Teacher’s pet: dog acts as therapist for pupils


A headteacher’s dog has become a honorary member of the teaching staff at Bickley Park School, as she helps those who suffer from cynophobia (the fear of dogs), as well as acting as a therapy provider for those who need extra support in difficult times. 

Dogs are often referred to as man’s best friend but for those who have a genuine fear of encountering them, life can be very difficult

Selkie, the four-year-old Labrador, took on the role as ‘pupil whisperer’ and helped a student, Alex, overcome his phobia of dogs. When Alex met Selkie for the first time it was apparent he needed help. A previous course to overcome his phobia hadn’t worked, but over the summer he attended five lessons at a centre that introduced dogs to those with cynophobia. At the centre he was introduced to dogs on a basic level, however the greatest challenge remained – returning to school to test out the strategies he had been taught with Selkie. 

Selkie and Alex

Alex was very nervous on his first day back, but by day two he went to the head teacher’s office to see Selkie, and with a gulp he managed to stroke her. Alex exclaimed that it was ‘mission accomplished’ and that he felt ‘proud of himself’.

Selkie has also formed an important bond with another student, Charlie, who sadly lost his mum last year. In the week after she passed away Charlie arrived early at school and the first ‘person’ he would meet was Selkie. Her calming nature helped Charlie through a difficult time; when Charlie feels down, Selkie is always waiting in the office for him.

Selkie and Charlie

Charlie also enjoys how she treats him like a special friend. He said, “Selkie automatically knows she’s going to get a tummy scratch from me!”

Patrick Wenham, head teacher at Bickley Park School, said, “Dogs are often referred to as man’s best friend but, for those who have a genuine fear of encountering them, life can be very difficult.

“Selkie has always been heavily involved in the school community, and having her present is proving invaluable for those who have a fear to overcome or those that just need to trust someone who won’t pass judgement.

“Research has shown that stroking animals has a positive effect on mood, and can help relax and soothe people.  Selkie is a very calm, good-natured dog who is happy to take the role of pupil therapist.  She is looking forward to helping more children in any way she can.”


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