Enriching the emotional development of students at Warakirri College – Campbelltown.
Secondary education can be a tough and challenging time for any student, but especially difficult for those who come from complex family backgrounds or suffering from mental health challenges.
Warakirri College provides a contemporary style of education; a different kind of high school, where students are encouraged to be themselves in a flexible adult learning environment. Everyone deserves equal access to education and Warakirri College has crafted the perfect balance for students who need support in various aspects of life.
So, it was fate when Warakirri College reached out to Hanrob Pet Hotels in search of a solution to empower students to continue their high school education by developing their self-confidence.
Warakirri College was seeking to improve student attendance and reduce student anxiety by empowering their emotional development with a friendly, loving companion; a therapy dog.
Hanrob Pet Hotels found a perfect match for the College – Keiko, a beautiful black Labrador, with charisma, charm and a face that would make you want to come to school every day. Keiko was a proud mum of two litters and was ready for rehoming from her former life as a breeder pet when Hanrob Pet Hotels took her into our care. We knew right away she would be the perfect fit for the students at Warakirri College.
Our very own professional dog trainer, Rebekah Bentley, took on the challenge to transform Keiko into a professional therapy dog. Over 6 weeks, Rebekah spent one-on-one time reinforcing critical skills. These include:
- Recognition of name– retraining Keiko to respond to her newly appointed name (formerly Blossom).
- Introducing lead and walk–walking on the left side of her trainer without pulling or distraction. As a former farm stay breeder pet, this was a critical learning skill.
- Reactive Dog behaviour– introducing positive socialisation skills with both pets and humans.
- Reconditioning to urban living– introducing new elements of urban culture to Keiko’s life i.e. road traffic, sounds, congestion and large gatherings.
- Introducing long periods of bed rest– Creating a space where Keiko can retreat and associate this as her safe environment to escape.
- Polite manners– no jumping, no mouthing, or pulling on clothing.
- “Leave it” Command– reinforcing automatic behaviour without any distractions.
- Recall Training– a basic command to ensure Keiko is kept safe and responsive.
- Basic obedience– training Keiko to associate the commands of sit and stay to the behaviour.
On Wednesday, 28th October 2020, the day of the handover had arrived. Keiko was prim and proper, and ready for her big day, and so was the Team at Hanrob. Rebekah had coordinated an orientation for the students and staff, with detailed handover guidelines for proper handling procedures and interpretation on non-verbal behaviour.
The students were exceptional ecstatic to welcome Keiko and received her with warm cuddles. The effect that Keiko exuded over the students was immediately evident as their engagement to understanding her handling became a priority. Their questioning, attentiveness and patience during assembly had improved during the short period after meeting her, and the evidence of achieving the College’s strategy was already in effect.
The handover was made official with the exchange of Keiko’s handling guidelines, custom leads and harnesses, official certificate of training completion with Hanrob Pet Hotels as an emotional support dog (and, a few sneaky treats as a parting gift).
Of course, there was one final challenge to tackle – the moment of farewell with the Hanrob Team. Rebekah Bentley, who had especially formed a close bond with Keiko over the 6 weeks had some tough moments along the day, however, the students who had become empathetic consoled Rebekah with hugs of support.
Update: The students and teachers alike are loving Keiko’s presence and her new owner – Tony (Teacher at Warakirri College) is loving the new addition to his family. To ensure Keiko is settling in and keeping up with her training, a weekly visit with Rebekah is scheduled to monitor her ongoing behaviour.
Keiko remains the happy, beautiful Labrador she has always been. Adjusting to a new life can be difficult for anyone and she takes the process day-by-day; class-by-class. With ongoing monitoring and lifestyle management, Keiko will communicate her perfect balance of in-classroom attendance and rest time.
Will your organisation benefit from a therapy pet? Get in touch to find out more.