I hope you enjoy this article, just in time for Easter and published in the March Issue of the La Quinta Gem!
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.
We often make the mistake of thinking that kids are “too little” to make a difference, but there is nothing further from the truth. Here are ten fun and engaging ways to help children express love and kindness to animals:
1. Cuddly Book Buddies: If you are a teacher, invite your students to bring a stuffed animal to school to read with a younger grade level. You could arrange for a special visit from your class to another, bringing their pups with them, to snuggle up and read a great book with them. Use this opportunity to plant the seed for children to consider reading with their own animals at home.
2. Give a Little, Get a Lot: Brainstorm a list of things dogs and cats need in their daily lives, and then challenge each child to bring one care item to school (a can of food, a leash for a dog, a cat toy, a tennis ball, a bowl, a blanket, etc.) to create a care package for a local animal shelter. Then involve your class in creating a letter to the animals at the shelter, including a class pic of the kids with their own dogs, and send it to your local shelter. This is such a wonderful way to express compassion for these often very lonely animals.
3. Cook Up Some Goodness: Involve your students in a class cooking project to make dog and cat treats for a local animal rescue group. You can invite each child to bring one ingredient from home to create your masterpiece. Then if possible, actually deliver the treats on a class field trip, along with a class letter to give to the rescue group and its’ animals.
4. Stuffed Buddies for Other Kids: Invite your students to bring a gently-used stuffed animal to school – to donate to a local children’s charity (or even to another school) so they too can have their own reading buddy. Ask each student to write a letter to another child, explaining that this is a new reading buddy for them so they won’t have to be alone as they learn to read.
5. Add a Splash of Creativity and Color: You could have your students create animal-themed bookmarks for a younger class, with each bookmark listing three things kids can do to demonstrate kindness to animals in their lives. You could combine this idea with #1 above to make that experience extra-special!
6. 100 Acts of Kindness: Challenge your students to list 100 kind acts towards animals in their lives for the week. This could mean making sure your pet has clean water every day, offering to take your dog out first thing in the morning, feeding your fish every day, cleaning your hamster’s cage, offering to walk your neighbor’s dog, giving a special treat to your grandma’s cat, or spending extra quality time with your pet this week.
7. Kindness for Animals in Your Community: Cleaning up trash in your neighborhood or even on your school grounds helps to keep both people and animals healthy and safe. Challenge your class to pick up 10 pieces of trash each to help your school stay beautiful and clean, while also preventing animals from eating foil and other items that can be dangerous for them. Remember, animals in the wild do not have doctors or veterinarians to help them if they eat a candy wrapper or some Styrofoam – one way we can help to protect these animals is by cleaning up our trash.
8. Raise a Little Love Money: Hold a “class garage sale” where each child brings in one toy or stuffed animal to donate to the sale, or organize a Valentine’s Day Candy Sale – with all proceeds going towards an animal shelter of their choice!
9. Kindness in Our Everyday Lives: Here’s a great way to encourage children to think about ways they can express simple acts of kindness. In different parts of your classroom, place five poster board signs:
Divide your students randomly into five groups, and then have each group brainstorm and list ideas for how they can show kindness to both people and animals in each place. Then come back together as a group to see how many ideas you can generate together. Finally, challenge your students to actually do these acts of kindness over the next week, placing a heart-shaped sticker beside each act of kindness children carry out. ☺
10. Think Beyond Ourselves: Challenge your students to think big about ways they can continue to help animals in their lives, such as asking for donations for an animal rescue group for their next birthday party instead of asking for gifts. There are some wonderful examples of how other children have done this on the Humane Society of the United States website at: http://www.humanesociety.org/parents_educators/kids/kids/.
You might also want to consider subscribing to the Humane Society magazine, Kind News (http://www.humanesociety.org/news/magazines/kind_news/) , which features child heroes for animals.
Thanksgiving can be a wonderful time for everyone in your family – including the dogs – because of the delicious goodies and aromas filling our homes. But just in case you are tempted to indulge your pet with a special “treat,” make sure you know which human foods can actually be a nightmare for our dogs.
Published this November in the La Quinta Gem:
Many people have asked me the question: “So exactly how does your program teach children lessons in compassion, responsibility, and safety around dogs?”
Although my usual preference is to write articles and stories on my blog, I decided that perhaps it was time to create a video that showcases the top 10 lessons children learn about humane education during this program. In this video I share how each lesson is taught, highlighting engaging children’s literature that helps children to learn each concept, and fun and creative activities to reinforce each skill.
But for all of you readers out there who prefer the printed word to a video screen, I’ve also included an overview of my top 10 list below for your enjoyment. Happy viewing and reading!
The Top 10 Lessons Children Learn about Kindness, Responsibility, and Safety around Dogs
- How to meet a new dog safely.
- Behaviors that are ok and not ok around dogs.
- How to spend quality time with their pets.
- How to read a dog’s body language.
- What a shelter dog is.
- To think big about how they can help animals.
- What a service dog is.
- That dogs have special needs, too.
- How to love themselves the way their dogs do.
- What it means to “foster” and “adopt” a dog.
To learn more about this program and how you can implement it at your school, please visit www.howdogshelpkids.com today!
Recently, I’ve had several school administrators and teachers ask me for advice: they have heard about all of the wonderful benefits of dogs interacting with children, and they would now like to bring a dog into their own school, either to read with children or to use as a support for children with developmental challenges. But then they inevitably run up against the same problems – what do they do about children who suffer from allergies to animals, and how do they protect children who are scared of dogs?
In this article, I would like to address both of these issues. Although real and pressing (I too am allergic to most dogs!), there are certainly ways to bring a dog into a school setting and protect all of your students. As an elementary school teacher and researcher who has brought dogs into many schools and 2nd grade classrooms, here are my top 10 tips for bringing a real dog into a school:
Preparing to Bring a Dog into Your School
10. Select the Dog Carefully: When selecting a dog to become part of your school or classroom community, if possible, choose a dog that is known to be hyper-allergenic and/or does not shed. Poodles are a great choice, as are maltese. Check out this article by the American Kennel Association that lists best dog breeds for allergy sufferers by clicking here.
9. Keep Fido Clean & Happy: Ensure that the dog is well groomed and is bathed just prior to each visit to help minimize allergens. Especially if the dog sheds, ask the dog’s handler to bring a clean dog bed or blanket (free of dog hair) for the dog to sit or lie on during the visit to help minimize potential dander transfer. To help keep the dog clean, ensure that children use a hand sanitizer before petting the dog, and to protect the children, ensure that they use this hand sanitizer again after interacting with the dog (and before they eat or come into contact with children who might have allergies). Also, ensure that the dog has been walked (and has had opportunity to go to the bathroom) before entering school property, and that you have a bowl and fresh water on hand for your visit.
8. Train the Dog and Handler: Ensure that the dog is over one year of age, has been well-socialized around children, and has received a Canine Good Citizenship Certificate. Also ensure that both the handler and dog have received Therapy Dog Training.
7. Insurance and Permissions: Pre-arrange appropriate and necessary insurance before you bring a dog into your school. Also, ensure that you have received written consent from the parents of the children who will be interacting with the dog (some parents do not want their children in contact with dogs for sanitary, health, or cultural reasons). When requesting parental consent, be sure to clearly articulate what the nature of the interaction will be, the purpose of the interaction, the dates and number of times the child will interact with the dog, and where the dog and child will work in the school. Also let school staff and parents know about the schedule for the dog’s visits (publishing the schedule in the school newsletter and/or on the school website is helpful) so teachers can make adjustments to their plans as necessary. For example, if the dog will be working with children in an otherwise common area such as a section of the school library, teachers will want to ensure that their students do not venture into this area at that time. When determining a schedule for the dog and handler, be aware that it is not recommended for a dog to be in a school environment for more than one hour per visit, with no more than 2-3 visits per week. Although it might not appear stressful for a dog to be in this environment, research indicates that asking dogs to do this work more than this is linked to stress-related illnesses.
6. Ensure a Stress-Free Experience: It will help to minimize potential stress for the dog if you can bring the dog onto the school property several times either before or after school hours (before the program with children begins) so the dog can become more familiar with the strange smells and environment a school offers, and so they can become more comfortable with the space where they will be working.
Before the Dog Comes to the School:
5. Consistency with Entry & Exit: Ensure that the dog you want to bring into the school always enters and exits the school from the same pre-arranged side entrance, and that the dog enters and leaves the school after the bell has rung and children are in their classes. This will minimize potential contact with the dog for most students.
4. Prepare Staff and Students: On the school announcements at the end of the day before the dog arrives and on the morning before the dog enters the school, arrange for a general reminder to students and to staff that there will be a dog at the school during specific hours. Ask classroom teachers to discuss this briefly with their students, taking note of which children are afraid of and/or are allergic to dogs so they can ensure that those children are not in the hallway (or are supervised) should they need to leave the classroom for any reason while the dog is at the school.
3. Consider a Dog Stroller: If the dog is small enough, using a dog stroller can be a wonderful way to bring a dog into and out of a school. This way, the dog can be contained but still visible as he/she is in public areas such as hallways. It is also a very helpful way to carry books and other materials you will need if you will be reading with children, and will prevent small hands from reaching out to pet (and possibly overwhelm) the dog as they pass by in the halls.
2. A Safe Space for Learning: Arrange for the dog to always work in the same space in the school so this routine becomes comfortable for the dog, the students, and your school staff. If the weather allows, using an outdoor space such as a school courtyard or learning under the shade of a large tree can also be a wonderful option to minimize allergies for children. If the space must be indoors, choosing a room that is outside of the general flow of student traffic (such as a meeting room or school counselor’s office) can be a nice option for ensuring a peaceful and uninterrupted learning experience.
1. Prevent Problems through Education: Did you know that dog bites to children account for more than 400,000 emergency room visits in the United States each year? This isn’t because children and dogs aren’t a good match – it’s because we often bring children into close proximity to dogs without teaching them the necessary skills they need to interact with dogs safely and compassionately. If possible, encourage a school-wide effort for teachers to teach students how to meet a new dog appropriately, how to read a dog’s body language, how dogs are similar and different to children, and behaviors that are okay and not okay around dogs. My program, How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed in the Classroom, is designed to teach second grade children these very lessons – all while inspiring them to become motivated, eager readers. Therefore, you may want to consider implementing this program in your school prior to bringing a therapy dog into classrooms.
This Sounds Like a Lot of Work
Yes, I know. It does seem like a lot of preparation and planning to bring a dog into a school or classroom, and it is.
But now ask me if it’s worth it.
I would argue that inevitably, the answer is yes. But don’t take my word for it – check out the Intermountain Therapy Animals Association for a complete listing of schools across the United States that have brought R.E.A.D. dogs into thousands of classrooms for over two decades. I wish you joy and success as you explore this fantastic, innovative, and heart-warming approach to enhancing your students’ educational experience.
With love, joy, and tail wags,
I’d love to hear from you! If you have a question or a comment about bringing a dog into your school, please contact me below:
Can you imagine the trouble that a playful puppy might get up to if she romped into an elementary school classroom? This is a delightful story with gorgeous, heart-warming illustrations and high-spirited, endearing text about a little dog named Tinka who really, really wants to come to school with her favorite boy. When she finally discovers a secret way to get to school, she unknowingly breaks all the rules and wreaks havoc in the halls and in his boy’s classroom, until the teacher finally orders Tinka to leave. But at the very last moment, Tinka’s secret talent is discovered – Tinka is a reading dog! As the children bring books to read to Tinka, this playful pup happily settles down on her special little bed to listen to great stories, and is then invited to come back to school every day to showcase her talent. Artistically crafted and beautifully presented, this book would make a wonderful addition to any home or school library.
As an elementary school teacher for over ten years, I can relate first-hand to what it’s like to have a puppy in a classroom. When I first got my then-puppy Tango (who is now turning 13 in March!), my second grade students kept asking if I would bring her to the classroom to visit. After much consideration and even more careful planning, I decided that we could go ahead and arrange for this. I taught my students, before Tango even set foot in the classroom, how to meet a new dog properly, how to behave in kind, respectful, and appropriate ways around a small animal (who was much smaller than they were), and how to read a dog’s body language. They also needed to earn the letters to spell the words “Tango Time” by being kind and respectful to each other throughout the week, and when Tango finally arrived that Friday morning, each pair of children earned ten minutes of “Tango Time” in the reading corner. This was time they could just play quietly with her, talk to her, or cuddle with her. But you can imagine my surprise when my students began bringing books to read to her – and then arguing during recess over which books Tango liked most!
I didn’t know it then, but this experience marked the beginning of my thinking about How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed In the Classroom. This program has, in truth, been over twelve years in development, and this wonderful story, Cool Dog, School Dog floods my heart with warm memories of the very first time I brought my sweet Tango into my own classroom. Thankfully, Tango was invited (she didn’t have to find a way to sneak herself in, though I’m partially convinced that she would have done so had I not invited her) and the students were prepared – but I can only imagine the fun and chaos that might have ensued had she discovered her own way in the way adorable Tinka did!
Thank you, Deborah Heiligman, for this delicious and delightful poetry-as-story, and Tim Bowers, for your bubble-gum lovely illustrations that have danced into my heart. It’s no surprise that this book made its way onto my “Featured Books List” for inclusion in this program, and it is my hope that it will soon be in thousands of classrooms across the country! To learn more about this great author and illustrator and about their many entertaining books, please visit their websites at: http://deborahheiligman.com and http://www.timbowers.com
You can also purchase Tinka’s other books on Amazon – just click on the pics below!
I’d love to hear from you! If you have a question or a comment, please contact me below:
Here are my top five tips for ensuring that your dog has a wonderful holiday season – and please note, I do NOT suggest dressing your pup in swanky holiday outfits like these ones. No, that’s usually just for my enjoyment, and I know I can only get away with this for about 5 minutes at a time before Tango (the white dog in the picture who is clearly not impressed), has had enough. (Sparky is her little brother, who has since passed away but who was much more willing to pose for treats than Tango). Anyways, I hope you enjoy these tips and that you have a wonderful holiday with your pups!
5 Ways to Give Your Dog the Best Holiday Season Ever!
One of the things I love to do for my Tango each Christmas is to wrap 5-7 of her very favorite treats of all time individually, and then place them into her very own stocking. She loves to sniff and scratch and dig and explore as she tugs each little treasure out of her stocking, then lays down with her legs splayed on the carpet, holding her gift in her paws, as she delights in ripping the wrapping off of each one in shreds, and burying her nose into the delicious-smelling reward. Few things make me happier than watching her munch away on her special treat, joining in the holiday fun with the rest of the family.
Just a couple words of warning: If your dog isn’t a picky eater and will happily swallow paper and/or tape as a snack if given the opportunity, a great trick is to place each treat into an empty paper lunch bag and then roll it up or twist it shut, and/or use an empty paper towel roll with the treat inside, folding over each end to secure the treat. Using paper bags ensures that your dog does not ingest the artificial colors and dies in most Christmas wrapping paper.
And I don’t mean fatty turkey skin or chocolate, both of which can be dangerous for dogs! Holiday meals are delicious for us, and because we love our pets, we want to share all of the goodies with them as well. But many foods can make Christmas a nightmare for your pets, so be sure to keep your dog away from the following: avocado, bread dough, any kind of alcohol, macadamia nuts, grapes or raisins, onions or garlic, or chocolate (as previously mentioned). For a more complete listing and for more information about how these foods can harm your pets, check out the SPCA’s website by clicking here.
Instead, to make the holidays a wonderful experience for your dog, give him or her a serving (ok, maybe two!) of some chicken breast, a little piece of steak, and/or a little bit of pork chop with the fat cut off and a few carrots or other veggies (if they will eat them – I’ve never been able to convince Tango to eat her vegetables). Your dog will likely gobble up this special treat AND will stay happy, healthy and safe during the holiday!
One of Tango’s favorite games has always been to play “Let’s shred the wrapping paper!” This game is very, very complicated, as you can imagine. Here’s how to do it. After you unwrap each gift and revel in the beauty and gratitude of the moment, simply dangle the used piece of paper above your dog’s head. I almost guarantee you, this game is instinctual for most dogs. They seem to be born having read and comprehended detailed instructions on what to do next: Wag tail furiously, pounce into thin air, clamp down on dangling paper and shake head like mad. Once said-paper is firmly on the ground, pounce on it and shred it to smithereens. Yes, it’s a little messy with clean-up, but free and fantastic entertainment for the entire family, and likely will remind you yet once again why having a dog is so much fun.
Again, just a word of warning – make sure you supervise your dog to ensure that he’s not ingesting heaps of dyed paper. If you notice him actually eating the paper, stop the game and give him a goodie to chew on instead – he might just be hungry. 🙂 Tango would never dream of eating paper; there are just too many other delicious things around that she would rather munch on!
Although it can be fun for your dog to play and visit with the many guests you may have coming and going from your home, it’s important to remember that dogs have unique personalities, just like humans do, and that some dogs are more out-going and extroverted than other dogs. Tango will happily mingle and soak up attention from anyone and everyone who is willing to admire her for the first 45 minutes of any party, but then she seems to wilt and look up to me for help in finding a retreat. Sparky, on the other hand, was much more wary of new people and would want to escape to his secret hiding place the moment guests arrived, and would then gingerly peek his head out about mid-way through the evening, and only if he smelled food. Tango’s favorite place to retreat to would be under the Christmas tree in the warmth and the protection of the lights, while Sparky preferred to escape to the depths of his kennel with a good treat to munch on to soothe his sensitive nerves. Large crowds and noises can be challenging for even the most out-going dogs to handle, so it’s important to have a couple of safe-retreat options available for your pets at all times. Can you spot Tango resting under the tree in this picture?
During the holidays, we often get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season that our dogs end up being left alone for long hours as their humans attend parties and race around fighting the crowds at busy malls. Do your best to take a little time each day, both for you and for your dog, to play, to rest, and to let him know how much you love him. One of the ways I do this with my Tango is to tell her, each and every day, the Love Pledge that I’ve taught the many children who have participated in my program, How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed In the Classroom, to do with their own pets. You can modify this Love Pledge based on your own relationship with your dog. Here is what I tell my Tango each morning as she wakes up, and each night before I go to sleep. While stroking her softly, I say:
Tango, how did I get this lucky to have you for my dog?
You are so special.
You are so smart.
And I love you.
Then I place a kiss on her sweet little nose, and I go to sleep knowing that she knows how well-loved she really is. (And this is a wonderful way to then begin your own love pledge for your children, if you have them). I wish you and your family, both human and non-human, all the love in the world during this holiday season!
As an elementary school teacher for ten years in North America and teaching children in Hong Kong, Australia, and Japan, I’ve come to understand that a child’s behavior towards him or herself, others, and animals is intimately connected to the way they have been treated by the adults in their lives. Too often, when I’ve witnessed a child being cruel to another on the playground, when I’ve seen them spit, hit, or bully another child, it later becomes clear that that child has himself been the victim of bullying, neglect, or another form of abuse. Children are the ultimate imitators – whether or not we are aware, they are constantly watching the behavior of the adults in their lives to learn patterns of behavior for themselves. And sadly, when adults in these young children’s lives are abusers, too often, children tend to become abusers themselves.
The American Humane Association clearly documents the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence, and has found that “71% of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims; 32% reported their children had hurt or killed animals.” Further, “68% of battered women reported violence towards their animals,” and 75% of these incidents occurred in the presence of the children to psychologically control and coerce them.
Children who have been abused tend to imitate their parents behaviors in an effort to re-direct their anger onto another victim. And because pets live most frequently in homes with children, with 64.1% of homes with children under the age of 6, and 74.8% of homes with children over the age of 6 having pets, animals can become the ancillary victims of children’s re-directed hurt and anger.
Bob Ferber, former Animal Abuse Prosecutor and Los Angeles City Attorney, states that the FBI has found that animal abuse is one of the greatest indicators of future violence. He notes that because of this strong connection between child abuse and animal abuse, we need to do all we can to help prevent animal cruelty. To learn more about Bob Ferber’s incredible work, please watch the 7 minute video below.
In all my work with children, it isn’t uncommon for me to witness or to hear stories about children interacting with animals in a way that might not seem humane, but often, children just don’t know any better, or haven’t observed a positive model for how to develop a kind and compassionate relationship with the pets in their lives.
How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed In the Classroom teaches children to act in compassionate ways towards animals by helping children to understand that just like us, dogs have feelings, and that dogs can feel lonely, scared, and vulnerable, just like we can. We teach children that it isn’t ok to hit or hurt a dog when he or she makes a mistake (and it’s not ok for us to hit another person when we are angry with them). We help children to understand that it is our responsibility to take care of our dogs’ unique needs by ensuring that they have fresh water and food every day, by teaching them that they need love, companionship, and a warm, clean, and comfy place to sleep. We teach children that dogs need to see their own kind of doctor, a veterinarian, not only when they are sick, but to help prevent them from becoming sick, and that dogs need to be spayed and neutered so they don’t have unwanted puppies who later end up in shelters – or worse.
But we don’t stop there. This program also encourages the parents of these children to become more compassionate towards animals by engaging them in weekly “BoneWork” challenges that provide a natural extension and application of the lessons their children are learning at school. For example, the children are challenged to write a list of 5 ways they will show love and appreciation for the animals in their life that week, and then receive a star from their parents for each action they take. The parents are also challenged to show love and appreciation for their children in 5 ways that same week. Encouraging this ongoing cycle of love and compassion offers families a positive model for how to shift from possible pain and neglect to empathy and respect for the incredible and vulnerable animals in their care.
As Mahatma Ghandi so eloquently said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” To learn more about How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed In the Classroom and to find out how you can get this program in your child’s school, please click here.