Despite a rainy and grey September morning, the mood is upbeat in a class in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe. And that’s largely because Paula – a six year-old Golden Retriever – is here.
“Paula, come here,” the students cry out one by one as she brings them question papers strewn on the floor. The papers have cork caps so that the canine can access them easily.
Each student pats Paula when she fetches them a paper and rewards her with a croquette.
“Its a pleasure to go to the blackboard, even for maths,” said Meryem, a 12-year-old.
“We are all responsible for the dog,” added Sergen, 13. “We cannot disturb her when she is in her corner, we cannot throw things on the floor because she might eat them and we have to see that there is always water in her bowl,” he added.
Some parents were sceptical at the start, said teacher Bettina Brecht who has been bringing her dog to the classroom for the past five years.
“Some would ask whether their children would learn anything at school and others were scared their children would be bitten,” she said.
But Paula has convinced the doubters, she said.
“A dog breaks the ice between teacher and pupil,” Brecht said, adding that she had also helped boost the students’ confidence.
Dogs have been brought into some German schools since the end of the 1990s and there are about 120 institutions welcoming canines. They range from primary schools right up to high schools, said Lydia Agsten.
Agsten, who teaches handicapped children at a special facility near Dortmund, however said the figure was an estimate because the practise was not officially recognised in the German educational system.
And not everyone is convinced there is a clear link between canine presence and better grades.
“At present there is nothing to definitely show that dogs have an impact on students’ progress,” said Susanne Wille, who is doing a doctorate on the subject.
Just don’t tell that to Paula the Golden Retriever before algebra lessons.