The first was our Critter Club's recent field trip to Heartland Farm Sanctuary. This was our club's second visit, the first being a year ago. Many of the kids were new to Critter Club and this was their first visit. The kids who had already been on the field trip were thrilled to be able to go again since they loved the experience so much the first time.
The year the weather was much better and the kids had a great experience helping out with farm work. They cleaned chicken coops, cleared manure from the goat pen, mucked out some stalls, and made sure that animals had food and water. We left the farm that afternoon tired, happy, and feeling good about contributing our time to helping needy animals.
The next story is about a program I started at Saratoga STEM Academy in Waukesha. Based on my success with working with kids from Hadfield Elementary during spring break camp and having them do a canine cognition study, I decided to see if I could get a similar program going at a middle school. A STEM school seemed like the perfect place to implement such a program. Luckily the staff at Saratoga agreed with me and were really excited about a collaboration.
My program ran during the Connect Session at the school over a period of 10 weeks. Connect is the hour during lunch in which kids have options to engage in different activities, programs, or just do homework. Ten students were interested in learning about dog cognition and enrolled in the program.
During the course of the session I showed a lot of videos on cognition studies being done with various species of animals, talked about the difficulties that a person runs into with animals such as the "Clever Hans Effect", and had the kids come up with their own study to be implemented at HAWS.
The study they came up with was a variation of the Social Eavesdropping study in which a dog observes someone begging for food from two individuals -- one of whom is generous and gives the dog food, and the other a selfish person who says "No". The dog is then released to see which of the two individuals he approaches.
The Saratoga group put an interesting twist on it. They decided to see if the dog was more or less likely to go to the owner if the selfish person was the owner of the dog, rather than a stranger.
While the sample size was only 11 dogs, the majority of the dogs did go to their owners rather than to the generous person. The kids came to the conclusion that social interaction was more important to dogs than the opportunity to obtain a treat.
I was really proud of the work they did on this project, and especially proud at their conclusion of the data. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to do the program at Saratoga again next year, and perhaps even expand it to other schools in Waukesha County.