Welcome to our webpage where you can find out about our exciting new project! We are a research team based at the University of Lincoln. We will be looking at how dogs can help children learn and develop in the classroom environment. Here, you can find out everything about the LEAD project and get regular updates. We hope you enjoy finding out more and if you have any further queries or questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

Best wishes,
The LEAD Team

The Team

Research Lead

Prof. Kerstin Meints (University of Lincoln)

Kerstin Meints completed her PhD at Hamburg University in 1997, then worked in Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, before moving to the University of Lincoln where she opened the Lincoln Infant and Child Development Lab in 2000. Since 2013 she is Professor in Developmental Psychology. She is also Head of the Development & Behaviour Research group, Head of Lincoln Education Assistance with Dogs (LEAD@Lincoln) research grouping, Director of the Lincoln Infant and Child Development Lab, Head of Mentoring, and a Member of the Autism Research & Innovation Centre. Prof. Meints is also Chartered Member and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Her research spans cross-sectional and longitudinal studies on children’s development of language, categorisation and trust as well as comparative and applied research in human-animal interaction, especially dog bite prevention, and in animal-assisted interventions with children with and without special educational needs.

With about 30 years of experience, her interdisciplinary work has seen the creation of assessment and educational tools (e.g., UK-CDI – early word learning norms and questionnaires), dog bite prevention tools (e.g., Blue Dog programme), safety and welfare tools for animal-assisted interventions (e.g., LEAD Risk Assessment tool). She is part of the international dog bite prevention project The Blue Dog and recently founded the Lincoln Education Assistance with Dogs (LEAD@Lincoln) group investigating how dogs can help children learn and develop in the classroom environment.

She has been awarded a range of externally funded research grants from ESRC, NIH/NICHD, MARS-WALTHAM, Waltham Foundation and others and is an active reviewer and mentor.

In 2017, she has been awarded the prestigious Suffrage Women in Science Award by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences. In 2018, she and her team received the Vice Chancellor’s award for Public Engagement with Research.


Victoria Brelsford (University of Lincoln)

Victoria Brelsford studied Psychology at the University of Lincoln and then obtained her Masters in Developmental Psychology with Distinction. She received the Deans Prize for her work in 2011, followed by work on several externally- and internally funded research projects as research assistant across a range of topic areas within Developmental Psychology and Human-Animal Interaction / Animal-Assisted Interventions. Victoria then embarked on a PhD within the externally-funded research project on Animal-Assisted Interventions with school children. Her PhD investigated ‘Animal Assisted Interventions in Children in mainstream schools’. Victoria also has a

background working in Early Years Care and Education, with a wealth of experience in relation to Primary Education Policy and Practice, an excellent understanding of the requirements of interventions in schools and effective inspection criteria due to her school governor role which she has now for over 12 years. Victoria is currently employed as Skills Development Officer at the Early Years Alliance, London, and she is also Associate Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Lincoln.

Mirena Dimolareva (University of Lincoln)

Mirena Dimolareva studied Psychology at the University of Lincoln. Having completed her degree successfully, she worked in different teams with therapists and consultants to provide one to one support for children with Autism. Mirena then obtained her PhD at the University of Lincoln within the externally-funded research project on Animal-Assisted Interventions in schools. Her PhD is titled ‘Animal Assisted Interventions for Children with Special Educational Needs – What works?’ The research assessed effects of visiting dogs within school settings on children’s language and cognitive skills, physiological measures (cortisol and galvanic skin responses), self-esteem and anxiety.

Broadly, Mirena’s research interests are early child development, with a particular focus on language and emotional development as well as the difference between typical and atypical development in relation to educational outcomes. As a result, Mirena has started a Linked Education And Research Network (LEARN) where academics and schools will collaborate on meaningful and impactful research. Mirena is currently employed as a lecturer at Bath Spa University.

Research Administrator

Dr. Elise Rowan (University of Lincoln)

Dr Elise Rowan gained her PhD at Cambridge University Orthopaedic Research Unit in 1996. Elise worked previously at Newcastle University in a number of different roles. Elise’s work experience includes research projects for patients with dementia, stroke and Parkinson’s disease as well as two international surgical trials for patients with spontaneous intracerebral haemorrhage and traumatic head injury. These roles have provided her with a broad experience in data management, ethical applications, protocol development and in research project and clinical trial management.


Dr. Nancy Gee (WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition)

Dr Gee has spent the past several years documenting the effect dogs have on pre-school children within the classroom setting. Her work has found that the presence of a dog in a classroom can provide many positive benefits for children, including enhanced motor skills, better ability to follow instructions and improved memory. Taken together these findings have important implications for the use of therapy dogs in education


Dr. Kyla Pennington (University of Lincoln)

Dr. Kyla Pennington is a Lecturer at Lincoln University within the School of Psychology. She holds a PhD from the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, a PGDip in Psychology (Distinction) from York St John University and a BSc in Neuroscience from Glasgow University. Her broad research interests lie in the psychopathology of psychiatric and neurological disorders and gene x environment interactions and their influence on biological and cognitive processes. Kyla is also interested in the wider societal effects that beliefs about disease causation has on behaviour. As Kyla has substantive experience in cortisol analysis, she will oversee cortisol analysis as well as train the RA to analyse the samples.

Dr. Susan Chipchase (University of Lincoln)

Dr. Susane Chipchase gained her PhD in experimental psychology investigating the influences of emotion on memory, at the University of Nottingham in 2009. In between her undergraduate studies and PhD she gained experience of research in a variety of clinical, medical and occupational settings. Her subject specialisms are emotion and memory interactions, emotion regulation and she has considerable experience in carrying out skin conductance measures.

Dr. Laëtitia Maréchal (University of Lincoln)

Dr. Laëtitia Maréchal has a broad interest in Primatology/Anthropology, Conservation Psychology, Behavioural Ecology, Endocrinology and Conservation Biology. She is particularly interested in the application of multidisciplinary methods for understanding the relationships between humans, animals and their environment, including human-wildlife interactions.

Dog Behaviour Specialist

Dr. Hannah Wright (University of Lincoln)

Dr. Hannah Wright is currently a postdoctoral Research Fellow within the School of Life Sciences. Her research interests span the fields of Animal Behaviour, Cognition, Welfare, Psychology and Human-Animal Interactions. She has worked on the PAWS (Parents Autism Workshops and Support) project (Dogs for the Disabled 2013) on the impact of pet dogs on stress of primary carers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She is also an applied animal trainer with extensive experience in working with and training dogs for both research and domestic purposes.

Prof. Tiny de Keuster (Universiy of Ghent)

Consultant Prof. Tiny de Keuster is a veterinarian, dog behaviour specialist and founder and organiser of international Blue Dog project. The Blue Dog is a unique, international, scientifically validated, multi-discipline, multi-lingual project (translated into 14 languages) that is handed-out via the veterinary associations in 19 countries. The programme is intended to help families with young children live safely with their dogs by reducing the incidence of bites within the home to reduce the rate of euthanasia and relinquishment of unwanted dogs to shelters, hence improving animal welfare. Prof. de Keuster carries out research and publishes next to running her day-to-day veterinary practise. She has over 19 years of experience in assessing and treating dogs with behaviour problems.

Contact Us

Contact us If you have any questions. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.