In general the use of dogs for educational purposes in schools is limited to the following:
- Working dogs on the school farm
- Visits by organised groups or programs, e.g. Responsible Pet Ownership
- Visits by community owned dogs, e.g. for news items
- Assistance dogs or Service dogs.
Dogs are not generally considered suitable animals for being housed at a school.
Schools are often requested to consider allowing particular students to use an assistance dog during school hours. Principals should consider the following when discussing this matter with the school community:
- The Companion Animals Act (1998) prohibits dogs on school grounds, except where the principal grants permission.
- There are several types of assistance dogs and should not be confused with companion or therapy dogs. Assistance Dogs Australia lists the various types of dogs they train for use in a variety of situations.
- Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1979), only a person 18 years and over can be considered responsible for a dog. For this reason, any assistance dog that is used in a school must be under the control of a person 18 years and over. This means that an assistance dog that is owned by a student must only be brought to school if accompanied by a parent or carer 18 years of age or older.
- A dog that works with different students across the school is usually known as an educational support dog. If an educational support dog is to be used in a school, a teacher is usually the primary carer for the dog and is the person responsible for the dog.
- If the use of an assistance dog is to be considered by a school community, it is essential that the principal is provided with valid documentation. This documentation should include signed medical reports describing the student’s full condition, evidence of the relevance of the dog in assisting the student, evidence that the dog has been trained by an organisation accredited with Assistance Dogs International, an undertaking that a person 18 years and over will accompany the dog at all times at school and school activities and veterinary certification of vaccination/worming and health status of the dog.
- If the use of an assistance dog is to be considered by a school community, the whole school community should be notified of the intended presence of a dog. This allows care to be taken in relation to other students’ allergies.
- Any dog that works with students must be provided with a toileting area and a quiet area for rest, away from the stimulus of school students.
Varietal range differences
There is an enormous range of dogs kept in Australia. They are grouped according to original breed, use or type:
- Toys, including Maltese and Chihuahua
- Terriers, including Australian Terriers and Airedales
- Gundogs, including Spaniels and Pointers
- Hounds, including Beagles and Whippets
- Working, including German Shepherds and Kelpies
- Non-Sporting, including Dobermans and Samoyeds
- Utility, including Boxers and Schnauzers.
The vision of the dog is different to that of humans. They can see colour, in particular those within the blue and yellow portion of the light spectrum but are incapable of distinguishing reds and oranges. They see static shapes in less detail than humans but are very sensitive to moving objects and can see a waving hand up to a kilometre away. Dogs are very sensitive to sudden or unusual movement, an asset made use of in guide dogs, retrievers and hunting dogs.
In general dogs have panoramic field of vision is 250-270° but binocular vision varies greatly in different breeds according to how far their eyes are set in the front of their head. It has been shown that their peripheral vision is affected by the shape of their skull. Dogs have much better night vision than humans.
Smell is the dog’s predominant sense, having 44 times more scent receptors than humans. This facilitates the ability for dogs to be trained for a variety of tasks, selecting objects or finding humans.
Dogs have highly developed hearing and can hear high notes that the human ear cannot detect. They hear notes of much higher frequency than humans, giving them the ability to detect the calls of many small mammals, such as mice and bats, and allowing them to be successful hunters.
Dogs are highly social animals that have evolved to live in groups known as packs with a social hierarchy. In human-dog relationships it is appropriate for the human to be the leader of the dog’s pack.
Most breeds of dog thrive on an appropriate human-dog relationship although some breeds such as the Maremma readily bond with stock and remain aloof and independent of humans.
Because of the companionship role that exists with dogs, it is generally not suitable for a dog to live at the school. An exception to this is when a breed such the Maremma is used on the school farm to guard the stock. In this case the dog develops a relationship and bond with the stock and lives with them. Students must understand this relationship and learn how to interact appropriately with the dog and the stock.
Particular attention must be given to the suitability of a dog’s temperament when selecting an individual dog to participate in any activity in a school. Dogs that have difficult temperaments and are fearful, timid or dominant, should not be used in the school situation.
Any dog that is used by a school must be the responsibility and be in the care of a person. This person is generally a staff member, but in the case of dogs that visit a school, may be owned by a community member.
All dogs must be microchipped and registered with the local council in which they are kept.