Source: ABC News (Extract)
Posted: February 10, 2023

A wellbeing dog named Murphy is set to join students and staff at a primary school in regional South Australia in a bid to boost engagement and connection in the education setting.

The 11-week-old cobberdog is currently in training before joining the community of Stirling North Primary School in Port Augusta in term 2.

The school’s assistant principal Ryan Morris said Murphy was slowly being introduced to the school site.

“We have to try to gradually release and expose him to the school environment; we don’t want to drop him with the 313 kids,” Mr Morris said.

“We have to try to build up his understanding of what school is, and that’s what will happen over the next seven or eight weeks.”

Mr Morris said Murphy would be part of the curriculum from term 2.

“He’ll be starting days at school, where he’ll come to school and he’ll have a timetable like a staff member,” he said.

“He’ll spend time in classrooms, he’ll spend time in small intervention, he’ll spend time in the office and on yard duty.

“We haven’t got it set in stone yet, but we’re working on how we’re going to make sure he’s successful here at school.”

Discovering the wellbeing dog

Staff at Stirling North Primary School spoke to another leader at a rural school who had a wellbeing dog, which sparked the idea to adopt one at their school.

“I did a bit more research into how we could do that and after looking at it, it was an easy fit for our current overall wellbeing strategy,” Mr Morris said.

After gaining support from school leadership and parents, Murphy was adopted.

Murphy is being trained using a program called Dogs Connect, which offers online training for wellbeing dogs in schools, hospitals, prisons, and aged care.

How Dogs Connect started

Grant Shannon was a primary school teacher when he realised there was something missing from classrooms.

“I just felt like the traditional classroom settings were not really cutting it … and it was an idea to bring something into [the students’] life that would enable connection a little bit more,” Mr Shannon said.

He founded Dogs Connect about 10 years ago.

More than 200 schools throughout Australia have now adopted wellbeing dogs through the program.

“It’s our dream to see a dog in every school and we know it’s not for everyone but we think it could be one day more of a reality, so it’s our goal to help schools do it really well,” he said.

The program focuses on teaching humans how to connect and respect a dog.

“It’s on the people to make sure we learn how to understand a dog and how to build a balanced working life for a dog,” Mr Shannon said.

Schools give positive feedback to Mr Shannon including that dogs improve attendance and reduce incidents.

“We also hear amazing stories of kids who have never spoken before in their life who are now talking because of the connection with the dog in their education setting,” Mr Shannon said.