Dog days

29th September 2000 at 01:00
They say you should never work with children or animals. One charity recommends taking on both, writes Ellen Bennett.

The Blue Cross holds its annual Take Your Dog to Work day next Wednesday, and is keen to get teachers involved. Dogs in schools can be of educational value, it says, giving pupils the opportunity to learn about the benefits of having a pet, and how to look after it properly.

Teacher Karen Rookes will definitely be participating. But that's nothing unusual, as her dog Josie, winner of last year's Blue Cross Top Dog at Work award, accompanies her to school every day.

Josie, an eight-year-old golden retriever, works with owner Karen at Loddon residential school for children with special needs, in Basingstoke. "As this is a boarding school, many of the children see Josie as a replacement for their pet dog at home," says Karen. "She gives lots of them a reason to go out and about, and she's also a very calming influence - on pupils and staff."

Karen, who has been taking Josie to school since the retriever was 12 weeks old, first had the idea of bringing a dog to school when she was pet-sitting for a friend. "I was looking after a dog - Josie's mother, actually - for a couple of weeks. She was in school with me, and the children just loved her."

Karen attributes Josie's good behaviour to her early start. "She was very young when she first came to school, and so she has been used to it all her life." But Karen says it's important the dog has some space to herself. "I have my own office, so Josie can go in there if I'm busy doing something she won't enjoy. I think there might be problems otherwise."

Although Karen has never had any problems with Josie, sh warns that dogs might not fit in so well at every school. "We are a bit of a special case as this is the children's home as well as their school. Having a dog around all the time in a day-school might prove a bit more distracting for the children."

Yet, as the Blue Cross reminds us, dogs are more than just a distraction. They can be educational - and not just by teaching children about pets. "We use Josie as a teaching aid sometimes," says Karen. "I've used her to help with early counting skills. The children can count up to two with her ears, up to four with her paws, and so on. It makes it more interesting for them."

* If you are going to take your dog to school...

* Make sure everyone knows that your dog will be coming into work with you and is happy about it.

* Take your dog's bed in with you and put it and his water bowl in a quiet corner near you so that he has something to sleep on and a space to call his own.

* Let non-dog owning colleagues know that not all dogs enjoy being hugged or stroked.

* Exercise your dog well before coming into work.

* Feed him away from other people and dogs, and away from the staff kitchen.

* Keep all toys and dog chews in your dog's space.

* If other people are bringing their dogs to school, let the dogs meet in a big open space first before going into a small office - perhaps outside the building.

* If your dog is shy, ask your colleagues to ignore him until he makes the first approach.

* Unwanted attention-seeking behaviour, such as jumping up, should be stopped immediately.

* Active dogs should be given something to entertain themselves during the day, such as a chew or strong toy.

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