Monday, June 1, 2009

Dogs in the Classroom: Why Not?

Doggone Safe does not use live dogs in its Be a Tree bite prevention programs. This is because we noticed that the live dogs we used to use (highly trained and socialized service dogs - Newfoundlands and a German Shepherd) were very happy to be petted by the first 25-30 children and after that they started yawning or licking their noses or trying to lie down facing away from the children. Since we had just taught the children that a dog showing these signs does not want to be petted, it was contradictory to allow the petting to continue, even though the chance of these dogs actually being stressed enough to bite was negligible. Since most children wanted to meet the dogs, this caused a problem. We could either contradict the lessons we just taught, or have the remaining children be upset. We also found that many children are distracted by a live dog and they want to look at the dog and ask questions (how much does he eat? how much does he weigh?) that were not relevant to the topic of the presentation. We have discussed this issue with many other experienced bite prevention educators and all agree that live dogs do not have a place in a bite prevention seminar. Delta Society Australia uses a stuffed dog as do others and we are working toward securing funding so that Doggone Safe can also have a stuffed dog that children can practice their skills with.

Another reason that Doggone Safe does not allow certified presenters operating under the Doggone Safe name to take live dogs into the classroom is that there is no way to evaluate the dogs or the handling skills of the presenter. Even certified service and therapy dogs handled by professional dog trainers and behaviourists will show signs of anxiety and stress when large groups of children are allowed to pet them and so it is better if the dogs are not subjected to this. The classroom is not the place for people to show off how nice their dog is or how nice their breed is. Surrounding a dog with children potentially sets the dog up to fail, even if the dog generally does like attention from children. If dogs are taken into the classroom as part of another presentation separate from Doggone Safe, we recommend that this be done as a demonstration only (grooming, tricks, obedience, service work etc) and that the children be allowed to watch but not to interact with the dog. This will avoid any chance of a dog reacting and hurting a child and will avoid stress to the dog.

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