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Dogs Go Back to School

Some middle school students received a hands-on agility experience.


Two days before Thanksgiving, about 200 sixth grade students from Gililland Middle School in Tempe, AZ got some hands-on experience with some local agility dogs. Throughout this semester at school, the students learned about animal intelligence, how they problem solve, if they show emotion and how they process and learn new things, and an agility demonstration was the perfect way to connect all of these elements.

Fifteen local agility competitors from throughout the Phoenix-metro area volunteered their morning to help with the presentation and agility demonstration.

The presentation started with the basics of being a responsible pet owner and reminded the students that taking care of your dog's basic needs - food, water, shelter, vet check-ups and training, all play an important role in how dog's learn, behave and interact with both humans and other dogs.

From there, the agility demonstration began. With just a few jumps, a tunnel, a see-saw and weaves, the students oohed and awed at the variety of dogs running a basic agility course. The volunteer dogs varied in their training levels, which was a perfect way to discuss how animals learn and process. Also, the variety of dogs participating - from a Maltese to a couple of Malinois - demonstrated that even though all dogs can do agility, the breeds of dog also play in role in learning how to perform the obstacles. And, that it's up to us, their owners, to help the dogs understand what behavior we want them to perform.

Another important aspect of the presentation was to always use positive training methods. The students clearly saw the dogs enjoying the agility demo, and it was stressed to them the importance of rewarding the dogs for a job well done. It was also pointed out to the students the dogs would not be smiling if they were afraid something bad could happen to them.

Besides agility, many of the volunteer dogs also performed a variety of other activities including herding skills, flying disc skills, search and rescue and fun tricks like jumping into your arms, speaking on command and other fun, visual acts.

After the main presentation, about twenty students were allowed to have some one-on-one time with the demo dogs. This included performing a variety of tricks, doing agility obstacles with the dogs and just plain loving on the dogs.

Overall, the students and teachers enjoyed themselves and stated how the presentation really brought home the messages they'd been teaching all semester. The teachers also stated they were going to have the students write essays on what they saw and learned, and even have a question or two on some upcoming tests.

While the students and teachers benefited greatly from the presentation, so did the volunteers and dogs. By exposing the students to dog agility, it demonstrated all the possibilities you can do with your dog, and that training dogs is fun and rewarding. With any luck, we may see a few of these students on the agility course in the next couple of years.

The dogs benefited by being exposed to a new environment, new equipment and literally hundreds of children. No matter how experienced a dog is, these types of presentations solidify and reinforce the skills of a well-rounded dog.

If you're ever given the opportunity to participate or host an agility demo for children, please dont hesitate to be a part of it. The smiles on the faces of the children, dogs, teachers and volunteers is priceless.

Photo credit: Daron Gonzales, M.Ed. and Gililland Middle School. 

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