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WATCH: Two of the most beautiful and caring dogs in the UAE. Meet the adorable and cute canine counsellors at Kent College Dubai giving stressed Dubai students mental health support

In the depths of exam season, students at Kent College Dubai can often be seen taking a trip to the library during stressful moments.

But they’re not going there to read books…

or revise algebra…

Rather, they’re walking straight past the bookshelves, all the way to an office at the back of the library. Here is where you’ll find one of the school’s most in-demand therapists. His name is Marshall, and he’s smaller and fluffier than your average school counsellor, but he performs a very valuable job. 

“Marshall is a Maltese-Bichon Frise crossbreed, and he has been great for our exam students in reducing their exam anxiety,” says Laura Channer, Kent College’s School Counsellor and the owner of Wellbeing Dog Marshall, who shares her office during school hours.

“A lot of them have got into quite a fixed routine of coming to see him before going in to do their exams, and he’s been very helpful. He’s very much loved by the senior school students.”

As well as providing calming cuddles to settle pre-exam nerves, Marshall also offers year-round support to students who need it, says Laura.

“Some students find it really difficult to talk about how they’re feeling and the problems they’re facing, whereas if we have the dog in the room that barrier tends to be taken away. For one thing it’s exciting to have the dog, but also they find it easier to talk to him than they do to me sometimes.”


Kent College Dubai senior school students love visiting Marshall in School Counsellor Laura Channer’s office

Playful and energetic, yet capable of being able to settle and sit quietly with children, Marshall is also helpful for students with special needs or struggling with anxiety, adds Laura:

“If we have some school refusers or some students with anxiety who find it difficult to come into school, they can have walking Marshall as their morning responsibility, that helps ease their way into the day.”

“He’s also particularly helpful for students with Autism, or communication difficulties, because they know they are not being judged by the dog. So if they get into an interaction with a human they aren’t sure what reaction they’re going to get, but they know how the dog will react and they know they will not be judged, so it takes the anxiety out of those communication interactions.”

But it’s not only senior-school student who are lucky enough to benefit from some canine counselling. Kent College’s first and original Wellbeing Dog, a highly intelligent, playful yet calm Shih Tsu-Havanese or Maltese cross called Ziggy, is owned by Head of Junior School Carmella Jodrell – whose idea it was to introduce Wellbeing Dogs into the school in the first place – and is adored by the primary-school children.

Kent College Dubai primary school students love interacting with Ziggy

Ms Jodrell says:

“We could see the magic that happen when children were in the company of an animal.”

“We’ve noticed huge success with children who are reluctant speakers and just in terms of wellbeing. That lovely pleasure of being with another creature, who they can always rely on will be the same.”

“Wellbeing Dogs are an excellent supplement to any school’s SEND (Special Education Needs and Disability) or wellbeing program.”

“The use of dogs in schools is not a new concept, but it’s certainly become more popular in recent years, not only in education, but in the medical setting too. Research suggests that dogs have a positive impact on children’s wellbeing, behaviour, emotions and social skills.”

SchoolsCompared is on a mission to meet the many furry, feathered and scaled friends of schoolchildren all over the UAE. We kicked off our safari of the UAE’s classroom critters with a visit to Kent College Dubai, where we were lucky enough to meet Ziggy and Marshall, and find out more about how they interact with the children. Watch the video below, and then read on to find out more about Wellbeing Dogs, why they’re different from Therapy Dogs, and what benefits canine counselling can have for children.

My Schoolfriends and Other Animals

A SchoolsCompared Safari of the UAE’s Classroom Critters

Episode One: Kent College Dubai’s Wellbeing Dogs

Our thanks to the hugely talented Kate Mullan, Videographer, for her recording and video editing of this story.

Wellbeing Dogs in Education

Kent College Dubai Head of Junior School Carmella Jodrell explains why wellbeing dogs are so well received at schools:

Kids Like Dogs

At a surface level, there are very few children that don’t like dogs, especially if they are smaller, more unassuming dogs. This means that simply bringing a wellbeing dog into a classroom gets everybody smiling before they’ve even interacted with him.

Unstructured Play

But it’s the one-on-one context where the magic really happens. In a one-on-one context, wellbeing dogs can be used informally for unstructured interactions where a pupil is simply allowed to sit with the dog and/or pet the dog. This helps calm children that may be suffering from stress or anxiety.

Speech Development

For those children that struggle with shyness or annunciation of words, they are taught to give the wellbeing dog clear instructions, such as “sit” or “lie down”. Wellbeing dogs – as with any dog – are more likely to respond to and obey instructions that are spoken clearly and with confidence. In this way pupils are given the opportunity to grow their confidence, widen their vocabulary, and practice their annunciation in a fun and pressure-free environment.

Reading Improvement

Reading dogs are also a popular intervention that has been found to have a positive impact on children’s attitudes towards reading and in some cases, reading ability. We had Reading dogs UAE visit Kent College Dubai last year, which the children really enjoyed: pupils are encouraged to sit with the dog and read to it. Some students really battle to read out loud, either because they are shy or are not confident in their ability to read smoothly. By reading to a dog – a small and gentle creature that cannot judge – students build their confidence and improve their reading-aloud skills.

Wellbeing Dogs and Autism

Kayleigh Hutchinson, Head of Inclusion in the Junior School at Kent College Dubai, conducted a research project earlier this year within the school. The objective of the research was to ascertain whether the presence of a wellbeing dog had a positive impact on the social skills, behaviour and emotional wellbeing of students on the autism spectrum. All students made fantastic progress, mostly in the areas of social skills and behaviour. Some students made progress with their use of language, began speaking in full sentences, and doubled the amount of words they used. The students involved all developed very positive relationships with Ziggy, grew in confidence and also developed their relationships with adults due to the improvements in communication. Kayleigh says:

“Early into the research, one of the students started asking for me by name, using full sentences, whereas before he was reluctant to speak and to communicate his wants and needs. Another student began communicating her needs more effectively since the intervention and began using the names of children in her class. She also developed socially with regards to sharing and taking turns.”

Boris Levinson was the first to study the potential therapeutic impact of dogs on children with Autism. In his book “Pet Oriented Child Psychology,” he suggested that the dog acted as a ‘social lubricant.’ He stated that ‘when the child plays with the dog, he establishes his own world… the therapist, therefore, participates in a common adventure by entering into a corner of the child’s world where he feels secure. This is where the therapist and the child find an equal footing: this is where the doors of communication are likely to open between child and therapist.’

The Difference between Wellbeing Dogs and Therapy Dogs

Head of Junior Schools at Kent College Dubai, Carmella Jodrell, explains the difference between Wellbeing and Therapy Dogs:

“The term ‘Therapy Dog’ is a term for a dog that has been specifically trained as such. Ziggy, at just over a year old, is still a puppy, and so although he is trained in the basic skills, he hasn’t been through the formal training to become a therapy dog. This training takes up to 2 years. As a wellbeing dog, Ziggy will fetch his ball and sit for a treat, but he struggles to pick up other items that I want him to pick up and deliver them to a specific place… we’ll get there though as he’s really clever.

One of Ziggy’s favourite pastimes is to watch the children as they transition around the school. Just by being present, Ziggy encourages the children to walk quietly and calmly – that way they get to say a quick hello to him as they pass by.”

Does your school have a resident animal? Do they play a role in ensuring the happiness of children at your school? We would love to come and meet them! Please get in touch at [email protected]

Further information

Image of beautiful and caring dogs at Kent College Dubai

Kent College Dubai Head of Junior School Carmella Jodrell with students enjoying playing with Wellbeing Dog Ziggy

Read our review of Kent College here.

Visit the official Kent College web site here.

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About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and Parents United's WHICHPlaydates - a regular meeting place for UAE parents to discuss the issues that matter to them, make friends and network with others. You can often find Tabitha too on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.

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