Saturday, May 22, 2010

When Opportunity Knocks

One of the things I've learned over the years in my job is that you have to be flexible when doing presentations. Sometimes training demonstrations with dogs don't go as planned, sometimes kids ask questions that take you off track, and sometimes things happen that end up being a really great education opportunity.

Yesterday I participated in a High Interest Day at St. John Vianney School in Brookfield. Whether they're called High Interest Day, Try-It Day, or Kid's Choice Day (depending on the school) -- they are very popular this time of year. The school brings a variety of presenters in on topics as varied as karate, rock climbing, baking, criminal forensics, and pets. The idea is to give kids a way to try new things and perhaps find where their interests may take them.

This year St. John Vianney asked me to talk about pet care to three different groups of kids. As we were playing a pet care game some of the kids were petting Mystic, and interrupted me to ask about a bump they'd found near his ear. Thinking it was an irritation left over from the tick I had removed the day before I told them not to worry about it. But they were insistant that it was huge and I should look at it.

It turned out to be a dog tick -- already dead because I treat Mystic with Frontline. As I removed the tick I talked about how pet ownership sometimes involves doing something unpleasant - such as pulling out a tick. Then I talked about the fact that Mystic is treated with Frontline -- which is a tick and flea preventative and the fact that dogs can get Lyme disease from ticks.

Of course pulling a tick from Mystic wasn't part of my presentation, but what a great opportunity to show them one of the more unpleasant sides of pet ownership!

That same day I had another opporunity. Three years ago at a different school's High Interest Day I trained Mystic to "play the piano". I haven't had him around a piano since -- so when I saw that there was a piano in the room where I was working with the kids I decided to see if he still remembered how to do it. You can see the results in the video below.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kids in a Shark Tank

What do you get when you put three innovative kids into a shark tank?

It turns yout that you get compassionate hearts, great ideas, and a generous donation to HAWS!

Brooke Zyla, Jacob Vance and Ashlyn Denniston took part in their school's Shark Tank contest -- based on the TV show of the same name.

Brooke, Jacob and Ashlyn put together a presentation that was given to the students and faculty of their school -- Merton Intermediate. They came up with the concept of selling suckers with the proceeds to benefit the needy animals of Waukesha County by donation to HAWS.

Not only did they win, but they sold enough suckers to donate $190.00 to HAWS -- a tremendous amount of money!

HAWS would like to thank not only Brooke, Jacob and Ashlyn, but all of Merton Intermediate for supporting our cause!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wagging Tails

One of the myths I hear quite often from both children and adults is that a when a dog wags his tail it means he's happy. Unfortunately this is a misconception that can be dangerous to someone who thinks it's safe to approach a dog simply because he's wagging his tail.

The truth is that a wagging tail by itself only tells us how excited or aroused a dog may be. To know whether is a dog is friendly, aggressive, or fixated or something behaviorists and trainers look at other parts of the dog.

Learning how to "read dog" is not an easy thing to do. Professionals go to seminars, read books, watch videos and observe dogs for months or even years before they feel comfortable enough to say they are good at reading canine body language. "Reading dog" consists of looking at the eyes, ears, mouth, facial expression, tail and body posture. What makes it even more difficult is that some body language is fleeting and you need to be very focused and observant if you are watching a dog who is overly excited or aroused since you can easily miss a split second change in expression. (People have this too -- called "micro-expression". This was first discovered by Dr. Paul Ekman and is the basis for the TV show Lie to Me.)

While I talk extensively to children about when it is safe and when it is dangerous to approach a dog, I talk very little about body language since it's difficult enough for a professional to learn how to read. One thing I do tell them is that you can't just look at a wagging tail to tell you if a dog is safe or not. A happy friendly dog wags not just his entire tail, but his body as well.

In the videos below I have examples of two different tail wags. The first video is of my dogs. They aren't overly excited, but their whole bodies move along with their tails. The second is of a dog who is overly aroused by the movement of the scooter going past. His body is stiff as he runs back and forth, and his tail is held high and wags stiffly as well. Which dog would you want to pet?