School hoping to train new reading dog puppy

Old hand, school dog Rafi, with the new puppy, Zuri and pupils James, Tommy, Molly and Emily.

Old hand, school dog Rafi, with the new puppy, Zuri and pupils James, Tommy, Molly and Emily. - Credit: Archant

A new cuddly friend has joined Flax Bourton Primary School to help children who are anxious or have problems reading.

Old hand, school dog Rafi, with the new puppy, Zuri and pupils James, Tommy, Molly and Emily.

Old hand, school dog Rafi, with the new puppy, Zuri and pupils James, Tommy, Molly and Emily. - Credit: Archant

The puppy named Zuri – which means beautiful in Swahili – has joined school dog Rafiki who is already trained as a Pets As Therapy (PAT) dog.

Headteacher Jane Bennett, who owns both pets, is hoping to train Zuri as a PAT and reading dog to help her pupils.

She said: “Rafiki is a therapy dog. The idea of having both of them is that he’s a really good role model so she’s learning lots from him.

“There’s lots of excitement now she’s arrived. They are really excited to have her.”

Old hand, school dog Rafi, with the new puppy, Zuri and pupils James, Tommy, Molly and Emily.

Old hand, school dog Rafi, with the new puppy, Zuri and pupils James, Tommy, Molly and Emily. - Credit: Archant


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To become a PAT dog, the animals have to pass a health, temperament, and suitability assessment.

Jane added: “When you have got a dog with a (good) temperament like that, it helps children who are anxious around dogs because they don’t jump up and they are much more approachable.

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“It can build confidence in children who have perhaps got anxieties.

“We also want to train her as a reading dog. The idea is that the dog learns to sit with its head on a child’s lap watching a book which really helps to engage reluctant readers or children who are more anxious about reading to an adult or reading out loud. It gives them a non-judgemental audience.”

Zuri has started basic obedience training and key stage two pupils can now apply to join the dog training team to help her practise her skills during the lunchtime break.

The dogs are based in Jane’s office, but they tend to follow her around and help to welcome children at the gate in the morning.

She said: “Rafiki is 11 and has been at the school since he was 10 weeks old.

“The children walk him at lunch time with me and he goes out in the playground.

“It can really help to have somebody who’s always pleased to see you.

“If children are upset or have got something difficult they need to talk about, doing that while walking or stroking a dog is proven to be a good stress reliever.

“Zuri is a real people dog and really loves the fuss.

“She’s got potential to be a cracking school dog and is showing lots of early promise.”

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