IT STARTED in 2015 with Grant Shannon, his idea and a dog named Sonny.
Now Sonny is overseeing the new generation of Dogs Connect dogs that have been placed in more than 20 schools.
Next week the program expands again with five more well-being dogs preparing to join staff at five Bendigo schools.
Dogs Connect is a program designed to help social and emotional learning while focusing on the well-being of students by introducing a dog into the classroom.
Grant founded the program and has spent a number of years developing it.
It originated when Grant was working as a teacher and was presented with challenges around student behaviour.
His research around student well-being combined with practical experiences led him to founding Dogs Connect.
Grant's dream of seeing a dog in every school in Australia might have seemed far fetched six years ago but it continues to move closer to a reality.
"I started to think seriously about it about seven or eight years ago, that people needed a bit more than what they were getting," Grant said.
"It wasn't hard to convince people it would work but it certainly takes innovative leadership to engage with it.
"My vision was a dream - having a dog in every school. It felt like a pipe-dream and now maybe able to be a reality.
"I'm hearing staff talking about there not being many schools that don't have a (well-being) dog. So, I'm really grateful to be involved and be a part of it."
Since establishing, Dogs Connect has assisted more than 10,000 students across Australia.
Sonny began working at St Francis of the Fields Primary School in Strathfieldsaye aged eight weeks.
His days consisted of him going classroom to classroom working with staff and students to reduce anxiety, trauma, stress while also creating genuine learning experiences.
"When it started with Sonny, it was kind of an experiment to support kids by thinking outside square," Grant said.
"Sonny is a natural and had massive potential but to think (Dogs Connect) is growing at the rate it is - we're in 20 more schools, with so much more to come - it's something I'm grateful for him for. It's almost his legacy.
"He is handing over to a younger generation (of dogs) and will be overseeing some of it. He's just happy taking it easy from now on."
The expansion of Dogs Connect has seen Grant place dogs in schools across the state.
Bendigo South East College introduced nine-week-old Barkley the groodle to its staff in 2019.
"After Sonny, we had a range of dogs in different areas," Grant said.
"They reach the northern border (of Victoria), eastern Victoria, some in Melbourne schools and one in Maryborough. So there are lots of different areas.
"We are also working towards New South Wales later this year, with one dog going to a school north of Sydney."
A well-being dog helps decrease anxiety in staff and students, encourages students to better engage with learning, builds empathy and awareness, teaches people to regulate their emotions and have an impact on descalating situations.
Rather than the breed of dog, Grant said the type of dog was the key in selecting which canines are best suited for the Dogs Connect program.
The well-bring dogs get on-the-job training from when they are 14-weeks-old.
"We work with a few different breeders but it is more about type of dog," Grant said.
"We use Groodles or Labradoodles in general and get into schools at young age.
"The dogs learn role on the job and are viewed and talked about as they are staff members. They're well-being dogs, so they are there for staff and students.
"They're certainly not pets. They engage on different levels for lots of different reasons."
My vision was...having a dog in every school. (Dogs Connect) was kind of an experiment to support kids by thinking outside square... It wasn't hard to convince people it would work but it certainly takes innovative leadership to engage with it.Grant Shannon
Dogs Connect's partnership with Bendigo Community Health Services has been in place for three years with the aim of promoting good mental health and well-being within the community.
Grant said he is thrilled the program is stretching beyond schools.
"Our goal is to see more well-being dogs in schools to keep supporting students emotional and social well-being to improve engagement and learning," he said.
"With the support of Bendigo Community Health Services and School Focused Youth Services, we can continue to support positive mental health development in students and staff across Bendigo."
Camp Hill Primary School, St Therese's Primary School, Catherine McAuley College, Epsom Primary School and Quarry Hill Primary School will also see Dogs Connect well-being dogs join their schools in the next few weeks.
BCHS spokesperson Anne-Marie Kelly said expanding Dogs Connect to another five schools in Bendigo was great recognition for the program's success.
"We have been really encouraged by the feedback from schools on how these dogs are making such a difference in the classroom so we're really excited to help fund the expansion of the program so more students can benefit," she said.
"When you hear about a student who can only spend 20 minutes in a classroom at any one time suddenly spending the full two hours and completing all learning tasks when feeling supported by the dog, you see the real value of this program and what can be achieved across Bendigo schools."
The partnership with BCHS has led to Grant considering a broader program that would involve work places as well as schools.
"The partnership with Bendigo Community Health Services (has) been able to really focus in on the central Victorian area," he said.
"(We) have collected a lot of evidence and proved the impacts are absolutely massive on staff and students.
"So much so, that we are building a workplace program (that would bring) something really similar to a workplace context."
Until then Dogs Connect's next generation of well-being pups will continue doing their best work by helping students in Victorian schools.
For more information on Dogs Connect log on to www.dogsconnect.net.au or find them on Facebook.