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The Paw Pals program focuses on building student engagement and confidence through animal assisted educational-based activities and individualised learning sessions.

Working alongside our trained therapy dogs and program facilitators, our program offers a planned and structured student intervention with specific academic and educational goals. The program provides a positive learning environment which supports students to quickly develop trust and self-esteem as an independent learner.

Our Animal Assisted facilitators work within a trauma-informed framework using the Reframing Learning and Teaching Environments (ReLATE) model and understand the impact of developmental trauma on a student’s learning and education.

What the Paw Pal program aims to do

  • Increase student social confidence and emotional intelligence
  • Improve student self-regulation and behavioural management skills
  • Increase student engagement in academic based learning tasks
  • Deliver positive learning experiences and opportunities for student success


Our Services

The two main services Paw Pals provide is school-based programs and 1:1 Individual mentoring.

School-based programs

Our school-based Paw Pals program offers social and emotional learning sessions that create a positive foundation for learning. In a small group, students work alongside a therapy dog and program facilitator to develop skills in the areas of behaviour regulation, and social and emotional learning.

Our program coordinator works with schools to design a uniquely tailored program drawing from sessions from our Paw Pals course curriculum that meets the engagement needs of students.

Who is the school-based program for?

We support students from grades 3-4, 5-6 and year 7-8 with a range of learning, and support needs.

How long is the program?

The school-based program runs for approximately 8 – 10 weeks during a school term. The program can run for longer (12 – 14 weeks) to enable students more time to practice skills and reinforce learning outcomes. Each session ranges from 50 – 60 minutes and occur on a weekly basis for the duration of the program. The length of school-based sessions is flexible and tailored to individual, group and school classroom timetables, in collaboration with the school.

How many students in each group?

Each session booked supports the same group of students. Group size can range from up to 8 students per session each week. This is based on the needs and timetabling requirements of the school.

It is great to see the Mahogany Rise primary school engage in a program such as Paw Pals. It creates a safe, fun and most importantly, a learning environment for students to thrive in. The support staff are incredible with the students and cater for all needs in the classroom. Students are able to enter the Paw Pals classroom knowing they will be heard and have a safe environment to grow together with others around them.

– Mahogany Rise Primary School

1:1 Individual support

We love getting out and about and visiting our young people where they need us most. Whether this is in a school, at home, at the library or in a community setting, our 1:1 individual support helps young people to attend school, persevere during hard times, try new things, adjust to new environments and connect with community.

Who is the 1:1 Individual support program for?

We support all young people and are trained and qualified to support young people with a range of social and emotional challenges. We support vulnerable young people in their homes, living in foster care, in out of home care arrangements and NDIS clients.

How long is the program?

The length of individual support is determined in collaboration with the client. Sessions start from 50 minutes and the number of sessions is flexible and decided on an individual basis.

In Paw Pals you learn about the dogs, and how their emotions are and how they act every day, and how they’re so nice and kind. For example, Indie – she’s always excited, and Ivee is very calm.

– Grade 6 student

How to access the program

Individual students or student groups can be referred by their school, family, case manager or Child Protection Worker. To obtain a referral form, please complete the form below.

Frequently asked questions

Download our Paw Pals referral form in the form above, and send this to our program coordinator, Sarah Castle, at sarah.castle@mackillop.org.au. Alternatively, you can reach out to Sarah on 0418 302 195 to discuss your specific needs.

As an external service, the MacKillop Paw Pals program delivers strong program governance which safeguards the management of risks to schools and individuals and provides the delivery of best practice standards across both program management and animal welfare.

The school-based program is $340.00 per session ($374 GST Inclusive) from 1 January, 2024.

The 1:1 individual mentoring / tutoring program is $200.00 per session ($220 GST Inclusive).

For other Paw Pals services including our Paw Pal consultation and mentoring program, holiday program and Paw Pals experience program, please reach out to our program coordinator, Sarah Castle, on sarah.castle@mackillop.org.au to find out more.

Payments vary depending on the referral sources and the nature of the request for the Paw Pals service. These come from a range of members in the community including schools, case managers, parents, guardians, the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing and NDIS recipients.

We always listen to the needs of children and young people, and endeavour to be responsive to requests. Careful consideration is given to a range of issues when matching our therapy dogs and facilitators with children and young people. Allocation and matching decisions are dependent on factors including matching the children’s needs with the unique strengths and skill sets of the Paw Pals facilitators and their partner therapy dogs.

Each therapy dog has completed extensive training to enable them to undertake the unique work of supporting children and young people, especially vulnerable children with unique and complex needs, young people in specialist schools and children in out of home care.

Our Paw Pal facilitators are a multidisciplinary team. They have rich and diverse qualifications coupled with professional experiences, strengths and skill sets which enable them to undertake work supporting vulnerable, disengaged and at-risk children and young people.

The Paw Pals facilitators also have a passion and commitment in supporting their beloved therapy dogs. The facilitators all intuitively know how to engage their therapy dogs in activities which seek to support and build connection with children and young people. This is complemented by the trauma-informed training which underpins their approach to supporting young people.

Our therapy dogs and Paw Pal facilitators run a number of activities to help students to develop confidence, skills, and positive learning experiences. Each activity has different intended outcomes that offers opportunities for student success including improving literacy skills, team work and building self-esteem. Discover some of the activities we do by visiting the MacKillops Paw Pals Instagram here.

The safety, health and well-being of our therapy dogs, young people and school communities is always our primary consideration. With this in mind, it is imperative that school dogs are secured away during Paw Pal sessions.

The Paw Pals program is funded by community support. Our annual fundraising campaign, Paws4Kids, allows the community to donate to the program and have their donation matched by our sponsors. Find out more about Paws4Kids here.