One of the benefits of my job at HAWS Waukesha is that not only do I get to bring my dogs to work with me, but I get to have use them in our education programs. This turns out to be a win both for my dogs and myself, but also for the kids since I know my dogs will be safe for the kids to handle.
During camp the kids take my dogs on walks, give them baths and help with training. Over the years campers have helped me with honing Mystic's tricks, helped me proof him in behaviors such as stay and leave it, and have been entertained and educated as I used him for training demonstrations.
This summer has seen the addition to my household of Quinn, a 9 month old border collie mix, which means that Quinn has also been an addition to our camp program.
Quinn is a very different dog than Mystic. He's a bit more mellow and laid back, but he also lacks confidence. While he really loves kids, I've started to see him become more cautious in new situations. Adolescent dogs can go through a fear period in which they exhibit fear in situations that they wouldn't have been afraid of when they were younger. When this happens it's important to help them develop more confidence in these situations.
The most important thing to remember about fear and animals is that it's not wise to force them to interact with something that scares them. Locking me in a room for an hour with hundreds of spiders isn't likely to make me love spiders, but may actually traumatize me further and cause me to be even more afraid. Helping me feel more comfortable around spiders by encouraging me and allowing me to make progress at my own pace is much more likely to be effective.
Recently Quinn started displaying fear by barking and backing up at a park when he saw a woman who had been doing sit ups suddenly stand up. I decided I needed to address this before his fear people doing unusual things escalated, and since we have so many kids at camp it's the perfect opportunity. Additionally using the kids allows them to learn about dog training, and actually do some training with a dog themselves.
Below is video of Quinn at camp. One of the kids is his trainer luring him over kids who are laying on the ground. Quinn is starting to enjoy this game, gain some confidence, and the kids think it's a lot of fun to not only be stepped over, but to have a turn as his trainer.