Spending most working days in primary schools, I enjoy all sorts of conversations with school staff, whether over a rushed playtime cuppa or a slightly more relaxed lunch break. Phones come out and cute doggie photos are shared, but most interesting is hearing the adults talk about their plans to improve their dogs’ lives based on what they have learnt during my sessions: providing more opportunities for their dog to play, allowing their dog to sniff more while walking on the lead, or watching Dogs Trust training videos with their partners and children.
Sometimes a member of staff asks for advice on how to handle a particular behaviour their dog is exhibiting, or for training tips; my answer is always an honest “I’m afraid I’m just a teacher”, with suggestions about how to get suitably qualified advice.
This week, however, a lunchtime conversation with a headteacher of a Wiltshire primary school took an unusual direction. He was really impressed that the conversations I’d been having with his pupils about their interactions with dogs perfectly supported the school’s work around consent. We’d explored questions like:
- Before you touch a dog, think ‘Does the dog want to be touched?’ (Perhaps it is eating or resting, or enjoying a walk with its owner, in which case the answer is ‘no')
- How do you know if a dog you meet wants a stroke? (Once you’ve checked with the owner, watch to see if the dog chooses to come and sniff you)
- If are stroking a dog, and the dog says ‘that’s enough’ by moving away, what should you do? (It might be disappointing, but the only option is to respect the dog’s wishes and leave it alone)
- When you hug a dog, be honest, are you doing it because you enjoy it, or the dog does? (Dogs generally feel uncomfortable with hugs because they cannot get away. There are lots of better ways to show a dog you love them! If you love giving hugs, why not try hugging a stuffed dog instead?)
Reading these questions through, and mentally replacing the dog scenario with a human one, I can see the headteacher’s point.
Of course, at Dogs Trust our focus will always be on dog welfare. But I know one headteacher who will be booking a return visit from Dogs Trust next year, and I don’t mind one bit if he’s making that booking because he wants me to support the school’s work on consent!