Dogs in school: guidance and risk assessments
Read up on the rules around dogs on site, including therapy dogs, and use our template risk assessment to make sure that both pupils and the animal stay safe and happy.
Considering therapy and literacy dogs
Some schools bring dogs into school, or have a permanent school dog to provide therapy. Animals can "bring comfort and happiness to people with a range of disabilities and emotional needs" according to Pets4Homes.
There are also programmes that bring dogs to schools so children can read to them without fear of judgement, such as the Bark and Read Foundation.
Do your research first
Before deciding to use a therapy dog, make sure you do as much research as you can. It's not without risks and challenges. You could speak to some of the organisations listed above, and visit any schools you know who use dogs in a similar way.
Carry out a risk assessment
Take a look at the examples below to help you write your own.
Use a certified therapy dog
If you're using dogs for therapy, you should use a dog that has been assessed by an organisation such as Pets as Therapy (PAT) or Therapy Dogs Nationwide to make sure they're suitable to be used as therapy animals.
This isn't a legal requirement, but is a good idea because (depending on the organisation used):
- The dog will need to pass an assessment to say it has a suitable temperament and is well behaved
- The dog will be fully vaccinated, wormed and protected against fleas
- Certifying bodies can help train dogs to avoid or develop specific behaviour
You must allow guide dogs
You have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that disabled people are not discriminated against, under the Equality Act 2010.
Alice Maynard, one of our associate education experts who was previously the chair of a disability charity, explained that:
- Where a person has a registered assistance dog, you must make reasonable adjustments to avoid discriminating against them. You can't refuse them service or entry to your school
- If a dog is used for therapy but is not a registered assistance dog, it's up to you whether you allow it. Base your decision on how essential the dog is to the person during their time in your school
Paperwork and insurance
There are no national requirements for specific paperwork to have before bringing a dog on the school premises, but check with your local authority (LA) in case it has any guidance.
If you arrange a visit from a dog through a reputable company or charity, it will most likely have third party public liability insurance. Check your provider has insurance cover before confirming the visit.
If you have other plans (e.g. you have a visit arranged through a company without its own insurance arrangements, or are considering getting a school dog) speak to your insurance provider, who will be able to advise on your specific situation.
Enforcing a 'no dogs' policy
Dogs in public spaces
Some public areas are covered by Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs).
If your school is covered, dogs may not be allowed in the area or may have to be kept on a lead. You can read more on GOV.UK.
Some local authorities have used PSPOs for certain areas and/or specifically for school playgrounds or sports pitches:
- Sefton Council has banned dogs from school playgrounds
- Kirklees Council bans dogs from some areas and requires dogs to be kept on leads in others. See the list here
Ask your LA if you're not sure whether a PSPO applies to your school, or if you need advice on enforcing a PSPO.
Dogs outside the school grounds
You probably won't be able to enforce a ban on dogs being tied up or walked nearby, unless you own the land around your school site or your school is subject to a PSPO (see the section above).
However, if you think a dog poses a risk to pupils or staff, you need to take action to keep your pupils safe.
Conduct a risk assessment to assess the level of risk posed by dogs. If the risk is high, send a letter to parents asking them not to bring dogs with them to collect pupils from school, and not to tie the dogs up by the gates and leave them unattended.
If this doesn't improve the situation and you're still concerned about the dogs, contact the landowner, LA or police community support officers (PCSOs) to intervene.
Trevor Bailey, one of our associate education experts, provided the advice in this section.
Risk assessments for dogs on the school grounds
Download our template risk assessment for a visiting dog
Use our model risk assessment if you'll have a dog visiting your school site. We've set out the common risks and provided examples of control measures – but make sure you adapt it to reflect the type of visit and your school's context.
Examples of risk assessments for therapy dogs
Northwood Primary School on the Isle of Wight has a dog which visits regularly as a school therapy pet. Take a look at its school dog risk assessment, which covers issues such as the dog getting overexcited or getting loose from its lead.
Wyre Forest School is a special school in Worcestershire and has a risk assessment for its wellbeing dog, as part of its 'Pets and dogs in school' policy.
The Federation of Ampfield and John Keble Church of England (CofE) Primary Schools in Hampshire has a 'Dogs on site' policy that explains why dogs aren't allowed on the school grounds, and lists the associated risks:
- Bites and infections from bites
- Allergic reactions, including asthmatic symptoms
- Toxocariasis, an infection spread via dog faeces
- General unpleasantness such as dog faeces on the school grounds
Read the toxocariasis page on the NHS website for more information about this infection.
Halsall St Cuthbert’s CE Primary School in Lancashire has a 'dogs on premises' policy.
Download the policy from this webpage.
Acklam Grange School in Middlesbrough has a no dogs policy, with the exception of guide dogs and the school dog.
Access its policy here.
Wyre Forest School in Worcestershire has 2 policies on dogs in school. It has a policy on:
- 'Pets and dogs in school' that covers dogs brought in for day visits
- 'Wellbeing dog in school' that summarises the control measures in place to keep pupils safe
Access the policies here.