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Every day should have its dog

David Thomas on the benefits of having a four-legged companion

While I know that there is a lot of stress about, I never suffered from it as a head. There were two reasons for this. First, I was canny enough to seek early retirement before stress and stress counselling became the new industries. Second, I always had a dog to take my mind off things. In fact, the only stress I suffer now is when my Scottish terrier disappears under the neighbour's fence to chase the horses.

There would be no stress in the profession if all of us owned a dog. For the 13 years I was a head I owned a golden retriever. In rain and snow, sun and slush, I walked that dog a couple of miles every night and got rid of all my problems. When a gallon of water is pouring down the back of your neck in a force 10 gale, or your welly is stuck in a foot of mud in the middle of a deserted wood, the numeracy hour becomes unimportant.

The retriever never said a cross word. Many a time I sat in a staff meeting with all those present thinking I was paying attention while I was deciding which walk to do later that night. If only they knew how my mind was on Otley Chevin while they talked in circles about appraisal or the national curriculum.

If it's calmness and dignity you want, get a retriever. When I took mine out with a school group, the worst-behaved pupils always had responsibility for him and took him on the lead. They were putty in his paws. Dogger came on many a nature walk and I can still picture him and his minders sitting in the minibus, eager to leap out.

If it's support in an Islington comprehensive you need, you want an alsatian or a Rottweiler. If it' diversion from target-setting and writing vision statements, a few laughs and utter disobedience you're after, think about a Scottish terrier - they are big dogs in a small body, black and hairy, have stiff pointed ears, matted beards covered in food, and appear as logos on yellow Netto lorries.

You'll laugh uproariously as it chases cyclists, nips joggers or climbs a tree in pursuit of squirrels. But for a dog that's supposed to be one of the emblems of Scotland, they're surprisingly unseen up there.

Marking, planning and preparation will take second place to waiting half-an-hour for a Scottie to emerge from a particularly smelly clump of bushes. Parents' evenings will be livened up as you start to giggle and remember the day your Scottie took the half-pound of cheese off the coffee table the night you had guests for supper.

Former pupils are heartbroken when Itell them that Dogger wasput to sleep some while ago. But then I tell them of the three-year-old Scottie givento us a year ago. Lookinglike an unkempt hearthrug on legs, he first entered ourbackyard on the end of a lead with my wife on the other, pulling and straining like awild-eyed dervish. He hasn't changed.

Since retiring, I've done a lot of supply work and the best excuse I ever gave for being unavailable one day was that I was chasing the Scottie round the garden trying to get adead hen off it. (The smell of fox gave the game away.) I caught it just as it wasstarting to bury it underneath one of the rhododendrons.

Take my advice. Get a dog. There's never a dull moment, and I can assure you, school will take second place.

David Thomas lives in Leeds

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