PUPILS at Dunbar Grammar School are being given a helping hand with their reading thanks to a one-year-old Labrador called Bella and her four-legged friends.

Bella, who is owned by teacher Darren Martin, has been working at the school as part of a Paws To Read programme.

She joins in literacy classes, providing youngsters with a non-judgemental listening ear as they read out loud to her.

And she has become such a hit that she is now joined in class by Buddy and Toby, two friendly toy poodles who accompany their 14-year-old owner Jacob Mells to the class.

While Bella patiently listens as the pupils take turns reading out loud, Toby and Buddy join in, often sitting on knees and cuddling in.

Teacher Sandra Park said that the school first introduced Paws To Read last year when a guide dog in training came to help out.

She said: “The presence of the dog was so calming for the pupils and so we decided to try it again this year and brought in Bella, who belongs to Mr Martin.

“Bella helps give the pupils confidence, which is invaluable and keeps them relaxed when they are reading.

“There is no judgement, just a calm environment.

“Buddy and Toby coming in as well adds to the excitement and helps focus the class.”

The trio of dogs are popular with teachers and pupils, and while they attend the school for the reading classes they are always available to help when any student needs a distraction or becomes overwhelmed.

Often a few minutes of cuddles with one of the dogs is all it takes to help a pupil who may be stressed or anxious.

Paws To Read started in America and has been growing in Scotland. Dunbar Grammar School is the first in East Lothian to introduce the programme to pupils.

Teacher Mrs Park is in no doubt it makes a huge difference. She said: “It absolutely helps with our reading classes to have Bella and her friends coming to the school. And she is always so calm and friendly, everyone wants to see her.”