Versatile School Therapy Dogs: A Teacher, Her Four-Legged Colleagues, and Their Passion for IGP Sport.

K9andSport: Please briefly introduce yourself and your dogs!

Lena: I am Lena, 31 years old, a primary school teacher and come from the Palatinate. I own my 7-year-old Border Collie dog “Anni” and my 3-year-old Malinois dog “Saru”. Both dogs are worked in IGP sport and are trained school dogs and riding companion dogs.

K9andSport: You have already appeared in films and commercials with your Anni. Was that the plan from the start with Saru too?

Lena: With Saru, the plan from the start was for her to work in IGP sport. The school dog training and also the “film dog planning” were more of a “nice addition” if they were suitable for it. Personally, I wouldn't buy a Malinois with the primary goal of turning it into a school dog.

K9andSport: In addition to the film dog training, you also do IGP and your dogs accompany you to school - what kind of training did the dogs have to complete for this?

Lena: Both dogs first completed a temperament test and then underwent a year-long training to become therapy support dogs. At the end of this training I had to take a theory test and each participant had to submit a final paper. In the practical test, the participants drew a “disease picture” (e.g. ADHD, Parkinson’s, depression,…). To do this, they had to plan an operation with their dog and carry it out on a “patient” on the day of the test.

K9andSport: What requirements should a dog have for the job as a school companion dog? The Malinois is actually certainly not very typical of this...

Lena: A school dog should have good basic obedience and also meet the following characteristics:

  • approach people, especially children, in a friendly/polite manner
  • be willing to learn
  • a high tolerance and stimulus threshold/stress tolerance/calmness
  • have reliable signal- and impulse control
  • have good socialization and habituation in order to be able to master different situations confidently
  • can relax well
  • don't be overly anxious
  • have no fear of contact
  • be well maintained and clean
  • be healthy, vaccinated and dewormed


K9andSport: Do you have the feeling that Saru got through the IPG training
has become more “aggressive” and does the training hinder its use in the job as a school service dog?

Lena: Absolutely, NO! On the contrary - at school Saru is required to be calm and reserved. Schutzhund sport is a kind of “vent” for them. This means she regularly has the opportunity to simply give it “full throttle”. Saru clearly separates everyday school life from protection work at the dog park. After training, she also likes to jump on the police officer's lap and lick his face!

K9andSport: Can you give us an insight into a typical day at school with the dog?

Lena: We have various dog-themed offerings at our school. There are “dog support lessons”, a dog group or just the normal school morning in my class. At the beginning, all children learn certain rules for dealing with dogs. In addition to imparting knowledge about dogs, the program also includes active work with the dog in the support sessions and in the working group. We do different exercises for social interaction, promoting motor skills, promoting language skills and much more. On a school morning in class, the dog is mostly “just” there, he is allowed to move freely in the classroom and stay wherever he likes. There are also various rituals here, such as the “trick of the week”. Anni and Saru occasionally roll math problems, pull our words of the week out of a bag, have them read to us in the reading corner and much more. The two of them always lighten up the lesson by playing little games with the dog.

K9andSport: Now let's talk about “Miss Hollywood” Saru again: How exciting was it to take part in a real Hollywood film and what was the biggest challenge for you?

Lena: This experience was simply indescribable and my excitement was huge! However, I wasn't aware from the start how big a production it was. I didn't really know the Hunger Games film series! – In retrospect, definitely “Good!”, otherwise my excitement would probably have been completely different. A big challenge was the “baring teeth” trick on command at a distance of 10-15 meters using a hand signal. In addition, the dog had to have enormous endurance, ambition and an enormous willingness to work, as there were numerous repetitions from a wide variety of perspectives.

K9andSport: At the moment, working dog sports are under a lot of fire, many are calling for the protection service to be banned. How do you see the whole thing? After all, you travel with your dogs in many different ways!

Lena: On the one hand, my two dogs (both worked in protection services) are the best example of how dogs do not become dangerous or even weaponized through this type of dog sport! Both dogs are not only school dogs, but also run along with horses without any problems or move freely around the chicken coop and much more. My border collie actually benefited greatly from the protection service. Anni was a very insecure dog and through the sport (which was rather unplanned for her) she grew in her tasks and matured enormously in her self-confidence. Today she is no longer afraid of anything, goes through all imaginable situations with me with great confidence and she is “burning” for the protection service!

On the other hand, you can definitely be critical of the sport, mainly:

  • because there are still some who practice it thoughtlessly and use training methods such as strong coercion
  • because there are still some who bully dogs to the point where they feel seriously threatened


For this sport, I very much hope that such training methods will soon become a thing of the past, that dog athletes will inform themselves, educate themselves and not continue to do things the same way because they have “always done it that way.”

Finally, for me personally, the result of responsible and fair training in the protection service is by no means “a weapon on four legs”, but rather a self-confident, stress-resistant, well-used dog that remains obedient to its handler despite a high level of irritation.

Figure 1: Anni in the classroom
Figure 3: Anni at the dog park
Figure 2: Saru playing with school children
Figure 4: Saru during protection duty
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