Gabi Orrù, a fifth-grade teacher at the Heinrich Andresen School in the northern German town of Sterup, has a staff of two, but they aren't paid a dime and sometimes they scratch their ears during class.
Her assistants, Stableford and Dimple, are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, who have been coming to morning classes since 2012 after Orrù completed training in how to integrate the dogs to support the learning process for her students.
The idea has proved so popular that some children want to attend the school just because of the dogs, Die Welt reports. Orrù stresses that the training required is considerable and that the dogs cannot be transferred from teacher to teacher. They have to remain with their owner/trainer.
Her classroom has a sign on the door that reads Mrs. Orrù & Dogs. Among the pooch-friendly touches in her specially equipped classroom is a rest area with soft blankets because the pups also need an occasional break from what can be a hectic classroom, with loud noise levels and much rule-breaking. Twenty percent of the children in Orrù’s class have special needs.
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Photo: Heinrich Andresen School
"The dogs help just by their mere presence to create a different atmosphere," Orrù says. A pupil named Jessica says that "we concentrate more" when the dogs are here.
"It's quieter when the dogs are here, and the kids can pet them after they've done their work. It's a way to lower stress levels," Orrù says before calling out in English "Who has water for the dogs?" A boy named Luca fills the water bowls. A girl named Marie arrives late, and Dimple gives her a big welcome.
Another student named Aidan says that when the dogs are there, "I feel better."
Orrù says she puts the dogs on the tables "when things need to be quieted down and I can't get the kids to pipe down any other way." Dimple has also been trained to fetch things, like the bag with flash cards for learning English.
Because of the dog-supported learning, among other factors, the school has been cited as a "school of the future" by the Institute for Quality Development in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.