Meet Bess the trainee welfare dog already having a positive impact on children at a Sunderland school

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School leaders hope Bess can help to improve attendance and support children to deal with stress and anxiety.

Sandhill View Academy now has a much loved new addition its team in the form of Bess the springer spaniel.

Bess belongs to deputy headteacher Allison Johnston and she is in training to become the school’s new resident welfare dog.

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Sandhill View Academy deputy head teacher Allison Johnston with Bess the springer spaniel.Sandhill View Academy deputy head teacher Allison Johnston with Bess the springer spaniel.
Sandhill View Academy deputy head teacher Allison Johnston with Bess the springer spaniel.

Allison said: “Bess is only 12-weeks-old and so is just currently getting used to being in school and all the different sights and sounds.

“She is also getting used to socialising. Once she completes her training she will then need to be assessed and ratified by the appropriate authorities.”

With stroking dogs scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety through the reduction in the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, Allison hopes Bess will have a positive impact on all aspects of pupil wellbeing.

She said: “Bess will be there to meet and greet people every morning, to put a smile on people’s faces and help lower children’s stress and anxiety about coming to school.

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“We have seen an increasing number of pupils suffering from stress and anxiety since Covid and dealing with the pressures of modern life.

“Research has shown that stroking a dog can also release the chemicals serotonin and dopamine which make people feel happier.

“As well as meeting and greeting each morning, Bess will also be present to support pupils who may be dealing with particular issues and be upset or stressed.

“She could also be present to help calm students down if there has been an issue in a lesson.

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“With pupils being less stressed, and through pupils building a relationship with Bess, we also hope her presence in school will have positive impact on attendance.”

Trainee welfare dog, Bess.Trainee welfare dog, Bess.
Trainee welfare dog, Bess.

Although still in the early stages of her training, Bess is already having a positive impact around school.

Allison said: “There has already been a few occasions with pupils who may have been struggling with anxiety and I’ve suggested taking Bess on a walk around school, which has really helped to relax them.

“When anyone sees Bess in the corridor they start to smile and it has a real calming effect as pupils immediately quieten down when she is present.”

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Pupils at the school are certainly enjoying seeing Bess in and around school and are looking forward to her completing her training.

Year 7 pupil Ashton Douglas, 11, said: “Bess is a beautiful dog and seeing her really puts a smile on people’s faces.

“I have two dogs of my own and Bess will really help anyone who is suffering with anxiety.”

Jack Horwood, 11, said: “I’m really looking forward to Bess being in school each day. She makes people happy and will encourage people to come into school who may otherwise struggle.”

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Alfie Hudson, 11, added: “Seeing Bess makes me feel happy and when pupils may be stressed about their GCSEs, she will really calm them down.”

And it’s not just the pupils who are already benefitting from Bess’s presence.

Allison said: “Staff have already made clear how Bess is brightening up their days and I’ve had a few come to say hello and have a pat and a stroke.”

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