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Photo gallery: Barking mad? How dogs are helping pupils at a Norwich primary school with their reading

07:30 13 May 2014

Caitlin Goldsmith reading with Sebastian at Queen

Caitlin Goldsmith reading with Sebastian at Queen's Hill primary school at Costessey. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2014

They are the perfect listeners - quiet, calm and affectionate, with a big, waggy tail to boot.

Reading recommendations for Seb and Dec

Sadly, Seb and Dec were unable to tell us which books they have most enjoyed listening to during their sessions with pupils at Queen’s Hill Primary School, but here are some we think they might like:

• A Tail of Two Cities

• The Dog Catcher in the Rye

• The Boxer of Delights

• Woofering Heights

• Mansfield Bark

• Great Dane Expectations

• Where’s Collie?

• The Pit Bull and the Pendulum

• The Beagle Has Landed

• The Good German Shepherd

However, we would advise them to steer clear of The Great Catsby.

Many visitors to Queen’s Hill School in Costessey do a double take when they see Seb, a collier retriever cross, in the school office, and become intrigued when they learn he is one of two dogs who stay at school all day long.

But Seb and Dec are more than just cute faces - they are also a key part of the school’s focus on improving reading for pupils.

Headteacher Penny Sheppard studied research from Britain and America about the benefits of dogs working with children, and her proposal to introduce school dogs presented the perfect opportunity for two staff members who had wanted a dog, but were worried about leaving them at home during the day.

After several months searching for dogs with the right temperament, they now snuggle up to children aged seven to 11 as they sit on the floor and spend 15 minutes reading aloud to their non-judgemental listeners.

Keiron Blundell reading with Declan at Queen's Hill primary school at Costessey. Photo: Bill SmithKeiron Blundell reading with Declan at Queen's Hill primary school at Costessey. Photo: Bill Smith

Mrs Sheppard said: “We have noticed that as the children are reading, they are naturally stroking the dogs at the same time. If you are feeling anxious about something, if you start stroking a dog it reduces your blood pressure and anxiety.

“It’s freeing the children from the anxiety, and allowing them to concentrate on the reading. The children look forward to reading with the dogs. It’s something they see as quite special.”

Keiran Blundell, nine, who read Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck to one of the dogs, said it makes him a more independent reader, because there is no adult to tell him how to pronounce difficult words.

He said: “It pushes me harder and it’s comfortable reading with one of the dogs. He looks at the book with me. I think he understands.”

Reward walk for the children with the dogs at Queen's Hill primary at Costessey. Photo: Bill SmithReward walk for the children with the dogs at Queen's Hill primary at Costessey. Photo: Bill Smith

Seb and Dec were introduced gradually to the school and the children, and they still undergo regular training after school.

Children who show grit and determination in class are rewarded with the chance to walk a dog with a friend in the nearby country park, and they write a message to their four-legged friend afterwards.

Mrs Sheppard said the dogs had helped in other ways, soothing one upset youngster so they could explain what was wrong, and calming another child who did not want to leave a parent at the school gate.

And it is not just the children who benefit. Mrs Sheppard said lots of adults came in for a canine cuddle to relieve the stress of last June’s Ofsted inspection.

Does your school do something unusual? Email

1 comment

  • Seems odd bringing dogs into contact with children when it is known that dogs can transmit TB and other fatal diseases to humans not to mention can turn agressive very quickly

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    Thursday, May 15, 2014

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