BOURNEMOUTH University students who need a helping paw have been able to rely on staff member Jack since 2013.

But Jack is no kindly professor. He's a shih tzu - and the first therapy dog to work in a UK university full-time.

Now his impact on students is to be assessed as part of a study the effects of canine assistance for those with additional learning differences.

The research will examine the perceptions of students who have visited Jack, and the result it had on their learning.

Jack is based within the university’s additional learning support (ALS) team with his owner, ALS specialist tutor Carolyn Atherton.

Carolyn supports students with a variety of additional needs, which range from depression and anxiety to social communication issues and dyslexia.

Jack, who is registered with dog assisted therapy charity Caring Canines, sits in on some of the individual learning support sessions that Carolyn holds with students.

Carolyn, who is one of the researchers into the new project, said: “We thought it was important to explore a little more about what students really think of the support Jack provides.

“Because he’s a very calm and relaxed dog, I have had students who come in a really bad state and sit down and become calm. It also breaks down barriers and helps to make things more informal.

“He is not judgemental, so I think they feel safer talking about their issues, and it may also help with student retention and make them want to keep coming back to sessions to focus on their studies.”

As part of the qualitative research, which will take around six months to complete, students who have accessed ALS services at BU will be asked about their perceptions of Jack and what they think he brings to their learning experience.

Lead researcher Jennie Faithfull said: “There’s anecdotal evidence that students value sessions with Jack and we felt it was important to explore more about how and why this may be.

“We aim to unpick what students believe the benefits and effects of working with Jack are, so we can find out what student perceptions really are. This may be beneficial to illuminate how we can best utilise what he brings.

“The research will give us a tangible idea of the impact of canine assisted learning, as well as offering an insight into the way forward both for canine academic assisted learning and the ALS service.”