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What's a dog got to do with education? Illuminating what matters in education and in life.

By Bernadette Nicholls

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In this thesis I analyse the students’ responses to Gus, an English Springer spaniel, whom I specifically trained as an education dog. I examine the students’ experiences from my Year 10 English, Year 10 Religious Education, Year 8 Religious Education and Year 7 Homeroom classes between 2004 and 2007. In the study, the students’ responses inform the question “What happens when Gus is in class?” The data collection includes formal focus group interviews, students’ individual written reflections and extensive field notes I recorded in my thesis journal. Bringing Gus into my classes was an unconventional way to investigate student engagement and efficacious learning from the perspective of the students. In an attempt to uncover the meanings embedded in the students’ experiences, I have drawn on studies from a range of academic disciplines. To integrate the key ideas I created four distinct ‘lenses’ or ways of viewing the data. In summary, the anthrozoology lens presents a way to view the human-animal interactions within the classroom. The holistic lens addresses the interconnected nature of relationships in the learning environment. The transformation lens is a means for investigating possible changes, shifts or deepening capacities of the students. Finally, the authenticity lens captures the integrality of authentic relationships in the teaching and learning dialogue. Gus’ presence in class helped me identify what really matters in learning from the point of view of the students. The essential messages from the emergent themes supports the many theorists who claim that students engage in learning when they experience genuine relationships, belonging, connection, relaxation, empathy and fun (Rogers 1969; Glasser 1998; Langer 1998; Noddings 2005; Miller 2006; Palmer 2007a; Hart 2009). I conclude that as teachers we face the challenge of creating the kind of atmosphere that Gus’presence enabled in the classroom and I suggest some ways in which this can be done. 


Katie Carroll

Date 2011
Publisher La Trobe University
Department Institute for Education
Degree Doctor of Philosophy
Language English
University La Trobe University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animals in culture
  2. Classroom
  3. Disabilities
  4. Dogs
  5. Education
  6. Human-animal bond
  7. Human-animal relationships
  8. Mammals
  9. Schools