Students and parents may have already met the newest member of the Grimwade House
community – a remarkably well-behaved Miniature Schnauzer called Axel.
Axel is much more than a cute face at the School gates. A certified therapy dog, his role includes providing emotional support, motivating students, and teaching skills such as teamwork and sharing.
Helping students move through emotions
“There are many benefits to having a therapy dog at the School beyond assisting with social and academic skills,” explains Ben Woodworth, Axel’s owner, and Year 1 teacher at Grimwade. “Spending time with Axel can help students who might be experiencing a difficult moment to move to a more positive, calm state.”
Grimwade House psychologist Olivia Cosgrave agrees that therapy dogs can play a valuable role when it comes to navigating transitions and moments of uncertainty. “Therapy dogs are an amazing tool to give young children a distraction while they regulate their motions,” she says.
“It’s really helpful for students who are having a challenging morning and don’t want to leave their parents, for example, or for those who are upset and aren’t quite able to self-soothe.”
Learning to share and care for others
So, what do Grimwade students think of their new furry classmate? So far, it seems Axel is making a great impression.
“It’s really nice to have him here,” says Year 1 student Gussie. “I feel better just by sitting next to him for a minute. He’s always kind.”
Apart from his natural calm nature, Axel was selected for the role because his breed is hypoallergenic and doesn’t shed hair. Axel’s training has had an emphasis on safety and obedience to ensure both Axel and the people he engages with always have positive interactions.
“Only four people at a time can pat him,” adds Gussie’s friend George. “If there’s more than four people, someone has to wait. At recess and lunch we let other people have a go who aren’t in our class.”
“He always does the right thing,” says George. “He rings a bell so Mr Woodward knows he has to go to the toilet.”
Having only spent a short time at Grimwade House thus far, Axel is quickly learning the ropes. Jumping up and taking food from children is not allowed, and he has already learned to walk exactly to the door of his classroom without crossing the line into the hallway.
And while it will be an intentionally slow process, Ben is hoping to expand the program to more classes across Grimwade House in the future by creating a bond between Axel and other teachers.
“He’s all new to this experience,” says Gussie. “Obviously, this is his first time at a School but he is doing a really good job so far!”