Middlesex University London: Canine teaching assistants

Middlesex University recognises that students who undertake a professional degree are more likely to require support with completing their programme. Managing work across both practice placements and academia as well as life commitments can mean it’s a struggle to have a work-life balance. Over the past 18 months, the nursing and midwifery department at Middlesex University has established a ‘Canine Teaching Assistants Programme’. This is a project that uses dogs to reduce the stress and anxieties that students may face. The project was created following an interprofessional learning event held by the department looking into the therapeutic use of animals. The department recognised the positive effect animals had on students and explored ways in which students could experience these effects on a regular basis.

Key actions taken:

  • The project enabled nursing, midwifery and nursing associate students to engage with dogs during a drop-in session held over a two-hour period. Each of the dogs is owned by a member of staff at Middlesex University.
  • After the nursing and midwifery department established a relationship with the counselling and wellbeing department, the sessions were held in a room within their department, ensuring that students can experience the effects of the canine teaching assistants in a neutral environment not associated with academic work.
  • The project was discussed at health and safety meetings where a robust risk assessment was completed. There were initial concerns regarding the safety of students and potential allergies as well as concerns regarding the welfare of the dogs which had to be addressed.
  • The dogs came in for a number of trial sessions to ensure that they are all comfortable with the team before engaging with students.
  • The nursing and midwifery department actively encouraged students to develop ongoing relationships with the canine teaching assistants.


The department has recognised that collaborating with the counselling and wellbeing department on this project has removed barriers that some students may face when trying to access support services. Over the last academic year, the project has continued to grow and there are currently eight dogs (canine teaching assistants) and six members of staff who facilitate twice weekly drop-in sessions. Due to high interest, the nursing and midwifery department has increased the drop-in sessions by 28% compared to the previous academic year. The number of students attending sessions has increased by 12% in comparison to the last academic year.

Initially this project was developed for students within the nursing and midwifery faculty. However, the project has now been expanded university-wide and allows students from all disciplines to experience the effects of the canine teaching assistants. The university has received positive feedback from students about this initiative.

‘Whenever I feel under extreme pressure and I’ve been uncomfortable with uni, work, or home life I always go and see the dogs. I would have liked to go more often but I previously had classes at the times when the dogs were available for drop in sessions. Now my classes have changed, and I can see them on Mondays. I’m incredibly excited and I feel so much better going into classes knowing I can see the dogs after.’

Nursing Student, Middlesex University