Assistance dog goes to school
It's easy for Martin Moore to talk about his pet subject Benson.
Since the golden labrador joined his classes at the beginning of the year, the head teacher support at Lake Illawarra High said there had been a major shift in his students' behaviour."
Having Benson in the room has made them much calmer. He's there just as a big hairy dog - they can give him a pat, they can give him a treat and no matter how they are feeling he is going to react to them the same way all the time," Mr Moore said.
Two-year-old Benson is the first assistance dog to work at the school. He came to Lake Illawarra High after Mr Moore and the support staff had been investigating alternate ways to improve behaviour, attendance and support the learning of students with emotional disturbances and intellectual disabilities.
With Mr Moore's colleague, support teacher Ryan Olender, volunteering at Assistance Dogs Australia caring for trainee dogs on weekends, he began exploring the idea of having man's best friend as a classroom helper.
Four dogs were trialled at the school to assess the dogs' classroom suitability and to check the conditions were right for the dogs' welfare such as appropriate rest areas and outdoor space.
Benson started school day one, Term 1. Like any staff member, he took breaks in the staffroom where his bowl and day bed were kept, and time out in the school grounds to do what he did best - be a dog.
In the evenings he was cared for by Mr Olender.
Mr Moore said attendance had increased with an overall improvement of about 25 per cent. The number of negative incidences had dropped from 27 to three during a corresponding six-week period from Term 1 in 2012, to the same time in 2013, with the same group of students.
He said the biggest change was the empathy students were displaying toward each other.
"It helps them develop empathy and care especially among each other. In our classes they may not know how to socialise well, but students are helping each other to train Benson ... and there is a lot of teamwork going on," he said.
Mr Moore said the classes for students with behavioural issues were a lot calmer when Benson was present.