BU has therapy dog to help students in need


Students who need additional learning support at Bournemouth University are receiving a helping paw from a new canine colleague.

Jack the shih tzu is the first therapy dog to work in a UK university full-time, and has been helping out in BU’s Additional Learning Support (ALS) team.

The team support students with specific learning differences, physical or sensory impairments, mental health issues and medical conditions.

Jack, who is owned by ALS tutor Carolyn Atherton, has joined them as part of a pilot project, in conjunction with Dorset-based voluntary group Caring Canines.

He sits in on sessions that Carolyn has with students, helping them to relax and focus.

“Jack helps refocus students from their issues to the task in hand – enabling them to reach a place where they are ready to start learning,” said Carolyn.

“If someone in the office is upset – be it staff or students – Jack is very empathic and will go to them, providing a distraction from the difficulty they are experiencing.

She added: “He’s been such a good boy with the students and he’s providing a lot of people with smiles.”

Jack currently sits in on around 12 one-to-one sessions a week, and students say they have already noticed the difference he makes.

One student, who did not want to be named, said that Jack’s presence helped him through mental health issues to complete his course and gain full-time employment.

He said: “My problem was because I was having a lot of mood swings, I found it very difficult to study and to learn because sometimes I was very lethargic and sometimes I was hyper, and it was hard to concentrate and focus.

“Jack was very good at calming me down on really bad days. He was very intuitive and very relaxed and an amazing thing to look forward to.”

He added: “I went from completely crashing and not being able to do my studies, to getting a job and being about to graduate. I wouldn’t have been able to get out there and do it without Jack.”

Evidence suggests being in the presence of an animal such as Jack helps people focus better and more able to concentrate on learning.

The ALS team and Caring Canines are hoping to work with academics from the University to conduct further research into the benefits of animal-assisted therapy.

Toni Clarke from Caring Canines said: “It’s lovely to see people who struggle improve because of the dogs. Sometimes it is just about building up their confidence and self-esteem, which the dogs help with because they are non-judgmental.

“It’s also good for the dogs as it keeps them busy and active.”


The work of Jack and the ALS team was recognised at an event at BU’s Talbot Campus, attended by the Mayors of Bournemouth and Poole and representatives from the students’ union.

SUBU President Murray Simpson said: “Jack the dog is one example of the unique way in which the university supports its students.

“The positive impact animals have on people both physically and psychologically has been proven– especially for students suffering from anxiety – and it’s great to see BU using its research and applying it to the services it has.”

Find out more about the work of the ALS team at BU.