We are the first university in the UK to establish a structured programme of work and activity for student engagement with Canine Teaching Assistants (CTAs).
Head of Clinical Skills, Fiona Suthers, introduced CTAs to the University in November 2017 with her own dogs to reduce anxiety among nursing students. The academic team was so impressed by the impact the dogs had on students that five have now been trained and the scheme has been extended to all students and staff.
Every week students can engage with the dogs at the University’s well-being centre drop-sessions. On average about 20 students turn up and the staff have been amazed at the difference between students’ frame of mind when they arrive and when they leave. The CTAs have also started to visit lectures around exam time or when students have revision
sessions with the aim of reducing stress and anxiety. Several students have said the dogs made them feel more connected to home as they missed their own family pet so much.
The canine therapy has particularly helped with students feeling home sick and on the verge of dropping out of university. The dogs are also used in the classroom and larger events where students have better opportunity to engage with them.
Commenting on the project, Fiona Suthers, said:
“The impact of dogs on wellbeing is being widely acknowledged with the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, recently highlighting benefits. When we initially introduced the scheme I don’t think any of us thought it would be so successful. It’s hard to describe the impact of just having a dog lying down in the corner of a class. You can literally feel stress levels reducing. It’s amazing and we’re very keen to continue and expand what we’re doing.
“While different universities and schools are introducing dogs into their pupil and student welfare programmes, Middlesex is leading the way in establishing Canine Teaching Assistants as a fundamental part of teaching and well-being. Our dogs go through a training programme and their welfare is as important as our students.
“We try and involve the CTAs in all the events on campus, making sure we are maximising the opportunity for students to get involved with the dogs and therefore benefit of the relaxing effects.”
A very robust strategy is in place to ensure the welfare of the dogs is maintained as well as the safety of staff and students. When the dogs are `working`, they wear an identifiable tabard so people can recognise and approach them. They all have ID badges and are very much seen as part of the staff team.