Pip is one of our amazing affiliate school dogs, his owner Hillary McEwen tells us how he has been helping the young people he works with access their education and improve their social communication skills.
Pip currently works for most of the time with one year 9 girl who has been out of education for over a year and suffers with huge school related anxieties.
When she arrives at school in the morning she starts her day quietly with Pip away from the classroom and gives him his breakfast and grooms him. When she is ready she takes him to class. Previous to having Pip’s input the student refused to enter the school building and would become highly distressed, having Pip to support her has given her the motivation and confidence to get into school and start her day.
Pip knows what his job is, and in lessons he either sits by her side so that she can stroke him as she works or curls up under her desk on her feet. He is happy to be petted by everybody but knows he needs to stick close to his charge. She has been able to talk about how Pip helps her to feel calm when she’s anxious, how having him with her helps the day go quicker and how much she enjoys playing ball with him at break and lunch times. It is at these times that she is at her most relaxed and it is an absolute joy to see her pure pleasure when she is with him.
By learning how to get him to listen to her commands and watch her signals she has grown in confidence and this supports her wider communication skills too.
He is a talking point and other young people want to communicate with both her and Pip. These are conversations which are full of smiles and affection, and as such are a huge boost to her self-confidence. Having Pip there really helps her to regulate her emotions in these situations.
Pip is a versatile boy though, and at times staff ask for his help when young people are particularly distressed.
On a Christmas outing he supported a boy who was struggling hugely with his sensory environment and was incommunicative, sitting on the floor rocking and muttering with his head in his hands. Pip was directed to work with the boy and he snuggled up to him and kept very still until finally a finger started to stroke his head. Bit by bit the boy slipped his arm around Pip’s neck, he buried his face in Pip’s fur, stopped rocking and was able to clearly tell us what he needed and how we could help him.
He was able to tell us that Pip had helped him calm down and had helped ‘drain’ his anxiety level.
Pip is much loved, and students who are upset or angry will often benefit from a good session of Ball throwing. We have a throwing stick, and the boys in particular take great pride in how far they can lob the ball! Pip loves it and brings the ball straight back to drop at their feet for another go.
During these times it is a good release for the students and I often find this is when they will open up and about how they are feeling and how they can move forward.
Our tutor group are very proud to have Pip as a member, and students will take an opportunity to cuddle up on the floor cushion with Pip to do some reading, or just to spend 5 minutes enjoying some quiet ‘wellness’ time with him.
He is still in training but is doing really well. I am very proud of him.