The influential educationalist Sir Anthony Seldon said at a conference in 2019 that he believed dogs could be ‘a powerfully cost-effective way of helping children feel more secure at schools’.
Sir Seldon said every school should adopt a dog or other pet so as to reduce stress in the classroom.
However, one headteacher at a school in north Somerset said the novel idea could lead to both dogs and children being put at risk.
Nik Gardner, headteacher at Winford CE Primary School, wrote: ‘Unfortunately, a number of dogs have now bitten children in schools, and each time the dog in question has sadly been put to sleep.
‘Many dogs are being treated like a toy, dogs are being kept in crates in a classroom all day, and puppies are being handled inappropriately, which could lead to a long-lasting trauma.
‘Dogs are sentient beings with complex emotional needs, and if a dog is simply taken in without any prior training or assessment, it can prove to be a very stressful environment for that dog to be in.
‘If this is compounded by children and adults who have very little idea of how to treat and be around a dog, through naïvety and lack of education, this could be disastrous.’
The Society for Companion Animal Studies said before a dog is brought into a classroom, a ‘multidisciplinary approach’ must be designed, based on input from a veterinarian and animal behaviourist.
The charity said any classroom dog must be carefully assessed for temperament, health and behaviour before being inducted into an emotional support role for children.
They added that playtime with children must be time limited to prevent the dog becoming stressed.
In addition, the canine must be free to ‘opt out’ of spending time with children whenever it is tired of the attention.
The craze of ’emotional support animals’ goes beyond just dogs, with ostensibly uncomforting animals like snakes, rats and even spiders being used by therapists.
Emotional Support Animal Co., a consultancy, claims snakes are ‘prime candidates’ for support animals, especially for people with fur allergies.
They explained that serpents’ natural impulse to constrict could be interpreted as a hug by people in need of soothing.
Meanwhile, a rat in Georgia, the United States, has undergone training to withstand being passed around and loud noises – so as to qualify it to act as a therapy animal for children.
And Business Insider writes that even tarantulas can be emotional support animals, as they ‘have hair’, ‘very low venom levels’ and can survive with little care – needing just one cricket per week to avoid starvation.