Flori the wonderdog

Issue: Volume 99, Number 3

Posted: 27 February 2020
Reference #: 1HA5we

A two-year-old dog’s ‘day job’ is having a big impact on a junior high school in Hamilton.

Flori, a working cocker spaniel, is a full-time support dog at Rototuna Junior High School. She belongs to science curriculum learning leader Kelly Daniel, who has three other dogs she trains for competitions. 

“She just kind of fell into being a perfect therapy dog because of her temperament.

“We saw the opportunity and need, and the impact she was having,” explains Kelly. 

Pats and cuddles

Requests for support from Flori may come directly from a student, a classroom teacher, or the school’s SENCO (special educational needs coordinator). Kelly discusses with the student the classes or times of day they struggle with and checks in with the teacher that Flori won’t interrupt the class. 

For most students, a pat and a cuddle is enough to decrease their stress and anxiety levels and bring the heart rate down, but Flori can be worked in different ways depending on the needs of each student.

“One student had severe anxiety in her first year at school to the point where she was making herself dry retch and vomit in class and then having to go home. Her attendance was down. She took Flori to a couple of the classes she found most stressful and within a week we got her attendance pretty consistently up to about 90 per cent. 

“She said Flori made her feel better and she also had an excuse to leave the class for a few minutes – either to take Flori for a walk or to take her back to the office. It gave her that little ‘out’ if she needed time away. She wasn’t a student who was confident asking for things, so I think she sat there until she felt so horrendous that she had to go home,” explains Kelly.

Perfect for the job

While Flori is a high energy breed and doesn’t get overwhelmed by children or noise, she has a crate in Kelly’s office where she’s happy to stay when she’s not working with students.

“I have done lots of training with her, but I think it’s more her characteristics and temperament that’s made her perfect for this job. She matches her energy with the children. If there’s a quieter child who isn’t sure, she’s quiet and still and leans up against the kid. For the high energy kids who need a little bit of crazy, she’s a little bit crazy with them.”

Huge impact

Rototuna Junior High School has had success in using Flori to support students in counsellor meetings, reading support, engagement and attendance, helping with OCD symptoms, engagement and appropriate social interactions of students on the autism spectrum and rewarding behaviour in classes. 

“The impact is huge, considering it’s just one dog in the school of 1,600. While it’s a lot of extra work for me, seeing the impact on so many students is really worthwhile,” says Kelly.

Things to consider

  • It can take three to four hours’ extra time per week managing the dog’s day-to-day needs.
  • Signage for the school such as ‘Therapy dog inside, no other dogs allowed’.
  • Designated areas for the dog to toilet and walk.
  • Make a sign for the dog’s quiet space so people won’t visit – they need some time off!
  • Permanent spaces for crates, water bowls, beds/stations.
  • Someone to be responsible for training the dog, students and staff.
  • Train some students to help look after the dog. 

Feedback about Flori

Student kōrero 

“Flori has been a great help to me for taking her to classes and counselling meetings. She has helped me through hard and easy things. I am so glad that you have brought Flori into all of our lives. She is a great support dog and has made me very happy and I’m sure she has made lots of other people happy, too!” 

Teacher kōrero

“Flori is a joyful and calming presence at RJHS. She is like an anxiety sponge for many students. I have also witnessed a student with a fear of dogs, transition to a state of comfort and ease in her presence.” Angus Jones

Find out more  

Animals can be a useful part of school life, as long as they are cared for appropriately.  

Protection and response / animal welfare / codes of welfare(external link) 

SPCA – what we do / seek justice(external link)

SPCA – kids education / animal care /dogs and puppies / freedom-from hunger and thirst(external link)  

TKI – Teaching science / ethics / caring for animals(external link) 

Kelly has also started a Facebook group New Zealand School Support Dogs: www.facebook.com/groups/456031782014866(external link)

Sign up now to receive the Education Gazette newsletter here(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 1:48 pm, 27 February 2020

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts