Stroking Mya as she settles in his lap is more than just child’s play for young Finlay.

It’s a form of canine therapy that serves as tender loving care to help boost his mental health.

The 11-year-old is one of a handful at Ocean Academy in Poole who benefits from weekly animal-assisted sessions.

The sessions take place on a Tuesday and involve golden retrievers Mya, 4, or Bow, 7.

Explaining the positive impact the weekly visits have on him, Finlay, who is pictured below with Mya, told the Bournemouth Echo: “The dogs have helped me by calming me down. We play games and take Bow or Mya out for a walk.” 

The dog therapy sessions at Ocean have come to light during Children’s Mental Health Week 2020 which runs from February 3rd to February 9th. Set up by children’s mental health charity Place2Be, the week shines a spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health.

The Duchess of Cambridge is patron of the charity (she is pictured below with her family) and earlier this week she urged children to be brave by talking about their mental health problems.

In a letter of support, she told youngsters that sharing a worry or asking for help is ‘’incredibly courageous.’’

The mental health of pupils at Ocean is of great importance and wellbeing strategies and support mechanisms are embedded throughout the school.

The weekly animal assisted therapy is provided by Jennifer Clarke, an ex-Emotional Literacy Support Teacher Assistant and owner of Sunnyoak Golden Retrievers.

Her calming golden retriever dogs come in to support children in groups of five to six and years three to six, that are going through tough times or who simply gain from an opportunity to have a little canine tender loving care.

Through these visits, the academy has seen enormous benefits in children’s physical, emotional, psychological and a boost in communication skills.

Rachel Richardson, Assistant Principal and SENCO at Ocean Academy said: “Over the year we have seen enormous benefits, for a child, knowing that they have dog therapy on a particular day really helps the child to look forward to coming into school.

”We have seen that it has helped to reduce stress and anxiety levels and boost confidence and self-esteem.

‘’Within this supportive group environment the children have been able to open up to each other about any struggles that they have been facing and have found other children that are going through similar issues or feelings, as a result, new friendships have been formed throughout the school.

”It really is wonderful to see the children beaming after spending time with one of the retrievers.”

Reinforcing the support the dogs provide, Mrs Clarke added: ‘’The children will brush the dog’s hair, stroke it. We also play games that enable them to answer questions about things they may be worried about. The sessions help the children gain more confidence and they feel a lot more calm and relaxed.’’