Dogs help wellbeing of ‘little people’

‘Little-people’ at Glen Innes School, face huge challenges every day in many guises, writes Heather Collins.

Because of the weighty baggage our little people carry, they face challenges academically, socially, mentally and emotionally.

Our journey with DOG-abled has facilitated:

  • An emotional change in a junior school student who carried vast anger issues due to domestic violence – by using the unconditional love of a little dog called Scruffy.
  • Lifted the mental wellbeing of a middle school student who was clinically depressed and had such low self-esteem they were in the process of being detained under the Mental Health Act – by letting them teach Gracey (a new DOG-abled recruit), rather than learn.
  • Strengthened a sibling relationship between two students, who now empower each other rather than seek to destroy their bond – through having fun and playing together with Django.
  • Turned on a light into a darkened room of autism – by removing all language barriers and only speaking DOG.
  • Enabled a middle school student to breathe, smile and believe that they are valued as they walk tall around the school grounds with Dyson, long lead in hand, striding across the field.
  • Encouraged and grew the confidence of a volatile and lonely senior school student – by teaching an old dog new tricks and showing that getting it wrong sometimes is the right thing to do.

The engagement and focus of the students who have participated in the DOG-abled programme at Glen Innes School is phenomenal in comparison to the conventional offerings of a typical educational setting.

It is the only one which has enabled all of my students to transfer the skills they have been taught using the medium of DOG-abled, back into the classroom and beyond.

Without the confinements of the classroom, and with the onus on personal accountability, my staff and I have seen the weights these children carry disappear, and in such they are free to be themselves while succeeding in their learning without conforming to a prescribed norm.

DOG-abled has genuinely made a difference to my children, removed all barriers to their learning at school, and empowered them to be the best that they can be.

Meet Django

Django is one of DOG-abled NZ’s busiest volunteers. This sweet and loving labrador was rescued from the pound as a young pup in 2013. He’s now a happy member of Heather Laanbroek’s family. His favourite things are long walks in the bush, doing tricks, eating (of course, he’s a labrador after all!) and listening to children read him stories.

Adia admires Django’s focus while he performs tricks at a school visit. Photo:Victoria Logan of Stellanova Photography.


  • Heather Collins is a teacher, assistant principal and special educational needs co-ordinator at Glen Innes School 
  • This article originally appeared in the Parent to Parent, December 2018 magazine.


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