Last week I had the privilege of visiting PS273 in Brooklyn (grades K-5) on Career Day. Bunches of volunteers from various professions rotated from class to class talking to and taking questions from students. I talked about what it’s like to be a dog trainer and how we can help make dogs happier – and vice-versa.
First let me say, what an amazing school! Neat, clean, jam-packed with books and labs and learning materials, the walls of every hallway papered with colorful, fun, and educational projects made by the students. I learned so much just walking down every hallway! The faculty, from staff to teachers in every grade, seemed committed, kind, knowledgeable, caring, and incredibly talented. I’ve seen many schools – public, private and in many states – and this one stands out. I felt honored to be able to contribute to this institution and hopefully give something memorable to the lucky children who go there.
When I showed up, however, I must admit I was instantly intimidated by the firefighter in full uniform – complete with oxygen tanks – and military official in army boots and fatigues. Who the heck is gonna want to listen to a lil’ dog trainer in a “Calm Energy” shirt next to all of that! 🙂
But my fears quickly subsided as I was warmly welcomed by the faculty, and the kids were upbeat, interested, and loved learning and talking about dogs.
I kicked off by passing around photocopied lists with pictures of of the AKC’s recognized breeds, by category: Sporting Breeds, Herding Breeds, Working Breeds…etc. No other species exhibits such physical and psychological diversity.
Next came trying to get into the mind of a dog – what is the world like from their perspective? My method here was to get the kids to act like dogs. Perhaps because of this, I will never receive a NYC teacher certification. But they had fun! They crawled, barked, and panted – and even raised their paws then they wanted something.
Following in the footsteps of one of my own teachers Renee Payne (author of a children’s educational book about dogs, Be A Dog’s Best Friend), I spent a good amount of time helping the kids learn to read dogs’ body language and also how to communicate and approach them in a non-threatening way. The theme was that most dogs are far more afraid of you then you are of them – so it helps to be calm and gentle.
Among the questions we discussed:
- run excitedly toward a dog, or walk slowly and calmly?
- approach facing forward, or sideways?
The kids asked wonderfully insightful and interesting questions during the Q&A period. Why do dogs bark? Why are some dogs so small? Can they really smell fear? How fast can they run? What is training? How do you train a dog?
Obviously some of these latter questions couldn’t be answered so easily. Which is one of the reasons I love teaching in general, and in particular talking to children: needing to boil ideas down to their simplest core and explain them in as few key points as possible is an invaluable tool in gaining an understanding of the concepts ourselves.
I made sure to put in some plugs for the need to adopt instead of buy – the consequences of buying from puppy mills, and how many loving dogs are always in need of good homes.
Thanks to everyone at PS273 for an amazing experience that I feel lucky to have been a part of.
I’ll definitely be back next year!