Monday, June 28, 2010

Kids Thinking Pawsitive at Agility

Each week-long session of HAWS Kids 'N Critters Day Camp goes on an animal related field trip. Last week's session of Camp Gone to the Dogs had a fantastic opportunity to visit Think Pawsitive Dog Training in Oconomowoc.

Think Pawsitive, owned by Katie Oilschlager, specializes in the canine sport of Agility. Agility is a fast moving sport consisting of an obstacle course and requiring teamwork on the part of the dog and it's handler.

It takes some time, training and practice before a dog and it's handler are ready to do many of the obstacles properly. In order to give the campers a true sense of what Agility is, the kids used dogs who have been trained in the sport. Katie's dog Rella volunteered for duty, along with Dixie (who belongs to HAWS employee Cassie Gugin), and Mystic.

Katie did an excellent job explaining what agility is, and had the kids practice doing obstacles without the dogs. One of the more difficult obstacles is the weave poles -- the dog always enters the poles with the first pole on his left. Katie had the kids go through the poles themselves.

Then they got to work with the dogs. Fortunately the kids had worked with adoptable HAWS dogs for four days before they did agility because they had already learned how to be motivating and patient with dogs. Those skills came in handy -- although the dogs were good at agility they were working with complete strangers and so needed a little extra effort.

The campers had a fantastic time. Many of them have attended HAWS camps in the past, and they told me doing agility was the best field trip they'd been on. And Katie, Cassie and I were grateful that they tired our dogs out.

Below is video from that day - enjoy!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Camp Gone to the Dogs!

It was an idea I toyed with for our summer camps several years ago, but at that time it just wasn't feasible. Back then our camps consisted of up to 24 kids at a time confined for the most part to just one room. Restricting the number to a smaller group would have meant a loss of income for HAWS. And there wasn't any way for us to pull it off with 24 kids.

The idea was that a small group of kids would have the same dog to work with for an entire week. With the building addition the idea became much more realistic since we now have two fairly large rooms in which to hold camp. This year's camp consists of two sessions running at the same time. So while one room can hold 24 kids attending a "regular" session of camp, the smaller room can allow a group of 15 kids to attend a different camp during the same week.

Tomorrow will be the last day of our first session ever of "Camp Gone to the Dogs", and it couldn't have gone better. Kids between the ages of 9 and 13 years were placed into groups of 3, and each group assigned a dog for the week. During the camp day the kids are responsible for walking, grooming and training "their" dog. If the dog poops on a walk the kids have to pick up and dispose of it. When the dogs are taken out of or returned to their kennels the kids have to ensure that the kennel is clean -- if it isn't they have to clean it.

About half of the 7 hour camp day is spent with the dogs. The rest of the time the campers are involved in other activities such as watching short PowerPoint presentations on dog safety, training, and canine body language. They meet other HAWS animals such as cats, rabbits, turtles and HAWS education snake. They baked Salmon Training treats, and then had the opportunity to use them in training.

Not only do the kids love this camp, but the dogs are gaining huge benefits from it as well. With a minimum of 2 walks and 2 training sessions a day, as well as opportunities to just "hang" with their kids to get petting, massages and brushing - they get more attention and exercise than any other dog in the shelter. And I'm amazed at what a wonderful job they are doing with the dogs. The training is fantastic -- I never thought they'd be able to lure Jersey into a down -- but she's doing it with just a verbal cue already! And our little Bichon Sherlock looks so handsome now that the girls gave him a bath and spent a lot of time brushing him.

I want to thank the kennel and adoption staff for putting up with this camp program this week. Shelter Manager Kelly made sure we had enough kid-suitable dogs by going to Milwaukee Domestic Animal Control Commission and transferring a large number of dogs to HAWS a few weeks before camp started. Our kennel staff has had to endure kids wandering through the kennels to take out and return dogs to their kennels. And our adoption staff had to let potential adopters know that they couldn't take the camp dogs home for a week. This really was a shelter collaborative effort!

We have two more sessions of Camp Gone to the Dogs left and I'm excited at the impact this will have on both the kids and dogs involved. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Endings and Beginnings

I can't believe that the school year is almost over (already finished for some schools)!

I just graduated another group of boys from Lad Lake through our Positive Empathy Training Program. Each week 6 boys came to HAWS on Monday and Wednesdays to learn about a dog related topic and train HAWS adoptable dogs.

What was really interesting about working with the boys is that they would sometimes appear to be bored and not really paying attention, and then later they'd say something that told me they really were listening to what I had to say. It was very gratifying to hear them tell each other to ease up on a dog that was stressed, and point out all the stress signals the dog was displaying.
I will miss these young men, and hope nothing but the best for their futures. I look forward to working with a new group of Lad Lake boys next fall.

In the meantime I'm getting ready for another summer of our Kids 'N Critters Day Camp. With our building expansion we now have much more space and are actually going to be running two different camps concurrently. I'm looking forward to some of the new activities I've added to the schedule -- such as clicker training cats and dogs in their cages. It's another way for the kids to be hands on with the animals -- something both parents and campers have been asking about.

Keep an eye out for future blogs about camp -- especially the new specialty camp I'm calling "Camp Gone to the Dogs".