Gleneagle welcomes cobber dogs to class

STUDENTS at Gleneagle State School have welcomed Raven the Australian cobber dog to their classrooms this term.

Head of curriculum Andrea Schumacher said having Raven come to school had made a big difference to many students.

"It has been a wonderful experience for the kids, especially those who have experienced trauma in their lives," she said.

"Some might come to school with baggage from home but they have a pat and a cuddle with Raven and they are set up for the day and able to concentrate on learning."

Raven turns up for lessons every Tuesday morning with his best mate and trainer Rob Helliwell.

Mr Helliwell, a former school teacher, said the Australian cobber dog was a breed perfect for working with children and because of their calm temperament they worked well with children with learning or behavioural issues.

"Raven interacts well with the children, he is a calming influence," he said.

Mr Helliwell said there had been a situation recently where a young student had stormed out of class, obviously distressed.

"I just happened to be walking past with Raven and we were able to calm the student down. 15 minutes later he went happily back to class."

He said the dog also took part in reading groups.

"There were a couple of boys who from what I can gather were not too keen on reading," he said.

"But they were happy to read to Raven. It gives them confidence."

Mr Helliwell and his wife Karen also brought a second cobber dog to school this week with nine-week-old Bristol having his first classroom experience.

Bristol is in training to be part of the school dog program, which Mr Helliwell said works two ways, the first being where dogs like Raven visit the classroom and playground regularly.

The second option was for a school to purchase the dog.

"In that case, there are two staff members who have custody of the dog so it gets used to living in two places and if one staff member leaves the school the dog is not too stressed," he said.

Mr Helliwell has diabetes and said his first cobber dog was Molly, who is trained as his assistance dog and also visits schools.

"When we first got Molly we couldn't find anyone in Queensland able to train her, so we bought a book and trained her ourselves," he said.

"She is trained to come up to me, she has a sniff and if my glucose levels are too high or too low she will alert me by licking me.

"She won't give up until I check my blood and if I ignore her she will just keep on licking, even climbing up on my shoulders and licking my head."

When Molly was recently away from home for week Mr Helliwell said he had four episodes of hypoglycaemia (dangerously low blood sugar) that required ambulance assistance.

"But I have never had that happen when she is with me," he said.

"Mr Helliwell said the Australian cobber dog had many attributes that make them perfect for the classroom.

"They are calm gentle, hypoallergenic and they don't shed," he said.

"Also they always smell nice, even if they get wet they don't smell like wet dog."