Sonny days for school’s pooch

Sonny has been with St Francis of the Fields primary school since he was eight weeks old.

He lives at the school as part of the Dogs Connect program that teaches students how to develop their social and emotional.

Owner grant Shannon said Sonny’s schedule is very full.

“This is the life he is used to – schools, young people, classroom settings and lots of people,” Mr Shannon said.

“He goes from classroom to classroom. We work with other staff and students as well as other dogs.

“He's general day would be working with small and large groups of students.

“His involvement is structured specifically around certain social skills that are being learnt and he is the conduit for that.”

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Dogs Connect program developed over four years

The average dog might laze around in its bed most of the day or be working hard on a farm.

But not Sonny the Golden Retriever-Poodle cross.

He not only spends his whole day in classrooms at St Francis of the Field primary school but he also lives there.

Sonny was bought by the school at 8 weeks old as part of the Dogs Connect program.

Program founder Grant Shannon said Dogs Connect teaches young people social and emotional skills by using a dog as part of the education journey.

Mr Shannon developed the program in 2014.

“It is really starting to take off this year. The idea started about four or five years ago,” he said.

“I was doing research around student well being while working as a teacher and was presented with some challenges to do with student behaviour. 

“After some further studies and practical experiences, the idea came together.”

Four years of the program has seen more schools become aware of Dogs Connect.

“There's more awareness around it now and am finding schools are a little bit more interested in it. So evolving naturally and gradually but it's good,” Mr Shannon said.

Anxiety, trauma, complex stress, and creating genuine learning experiences are some of the results Mr Shannon has seen through the program.

He said the results from having a dog at the school is bringing new levels of connection and awareness to whole school communities.

“I have seen amazing results but it’s nice to hear that from parents who notice results.

“There are also lots of cases of students noticing their own development and being able to verbalise that on a social and emotional level. It’s amazing to see.”

Mr Shannon is hoping more schools will find an interest in the Dogs Connect program.

“Ideally this would be everywhere for my liking, I can’t think of any settings where wouldn’t be appropriate,” he said.

“I know they’re in nursing homes, workplaces, prisons, and all sorts of places. I would definitely like to see it extend far and wide.”

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