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Hooray for Horace              

I’ve been reliably informed that when a social media post includes a picture of a dog, the circulation increases by a factor of about ten. The reality is that when it comes to dogs, some people go quite silly – and assume that their love of dogs is shared by everyone else. I am, probably, one of these people.

Having been without a dog since Cosmo’s departure in April, I eventually cracked and returned to school after half term with Horace, a nine month-old Poodle/Schnauzer cross. Technically he’s a Giant Schnoodle, but I like to think of him as more of a Poozer.

As we all know, there are thousands of reasons not to get a dog. They’re expensive, take up lots of time, stop you doing things and, every now and again, disgrace themselves – letting themselves, their friends and their families down. However, there is one good reason to get a dog – they make great, trusted, loyal companions. The more you give them, the more they give back.

Over the last few years, the school rules on dogs have been relaxed, and well-behaved dogs have become a part of school life. Within school we currently have regular visits from Rocky the therapy dog, Hilda the maths dog, Max the reading dog and Eric the hearing dog, all of whom have formed great attachments with the children and adults with whom they work.

We all know how frustrating it can be when our children make the most basic mistakes. The thing is, children making mistakes, or indeed taking forever to read the next word, doesn’t frustrate dogs at all. They never judge a child for getting something wrong, failing to carry out the simplest calculation or misreading a word. They give children confidence, build their self-esteem – and their very presence makes the school feel more home like.

That’s not to say that having dogs in school doesn’t present issues which need to be considered. Not everyone likes dogs – and some children, and adults, can be frightened, particularly if they’ve had a bad experience. I know for sure that if a snake-lover decided to bring a nine foot boa constrictor to school, I’d come nowhere near the building. I hope that over time, Horace can help to overcome some children’s fears.

On Monday, Horace had his first day at school, when I introduced him in assembly. I asked the children to think about their first day at school, when everything was new, exciting and perhaps a bit overwhelming. We thought about how it might be the same for Horace. We talked about how we had a shared responsibility to help him to be calm and friendly. If we’re calm and friendly to Horace, he’ll be calm and friendly in return. We talked about how to approach him without making him feel overexcited or anxious – and how to behave if we don’t want his attention.

Just like the children, Horace has been set targets – he even has his own Target Card. So far, he’s doing really well. The next challenge is to be able to lie down on command, something he’ll need to be able to do if he is to pass his ‘Pets as Therapy’ assessment.

It’s been lovely to see children interacting so positively with Horace. This week, the behaviour of one child, who has on occasions found making the right choices a challenge, was transformed. His incentive was the reward to either spend time with John, our universally adored PE teacher, or to hang out with Horace. He chose Horace. The fact that a dog is even more of a hit than John shows the enduring power of man’s best friend.

William