Public Education Corner

Canine Ambassadors Turn Passion for Purebred Dogs into Vocation

Educational studies show the significance of giving children learning opportunities early on.

Canine Ambassadors bring smiles and knowledge to children across the country.

Canine Ambassadors, who visit nursing homes, libraries, other venues, but primarily schools, provide kids with exciting opportunities to learn about purebred dogs, the American Kennel Club, fun things they can do with their dogs, how to be safe around dogs and how to best love and care for dogs. Often Ambassadors bring their AKC-registered or ILP dog to the presentation. Each Ambassador receives mailings from the Public Education department with topic suggestions and activity sheet copymasters.

Canine Ambassadors are volunteers who support the public education efforts of their AKC-affiliated kennel clubs. AKC-affiliated dog clubs may appoint as many Canine Ambassadors as they wish.

“I like the title ‘Canine Ambassador,’” said Kathy Zipkin, a Canine Ambassador and member of the Tonawanda Valley Kennel Club and Iroquois Labrador Retriever Club. “It can open a lot of doors for me to teach responsible dog ownership, mainly to children in school. I’m very proud to have that title.”

Zipkin and her Labrador Retrievers have visited high schools and middle schools but most of their Canine Ambassador efforts target elementary schools.

“I bring my grooming tools: a brush, toothbrush, dog toothpaste, nail clippers, plastic bags and artificial poop – I emphasize the importance of picking up after their dogs,” Zipkin explained. “I always show them the proper way to pick up after their dog – how to put the bag on their hand, etc. They’ll laugh and squeal, ‘Eeeeeeuuuw!,’ but they’re very receptive to it.”

Zipkin tailors her Canine Ambassador presentations to feature a variety of topics. When she participates in annual Career Days in the City Schools of Batavia (New York), she brings copies of the AKC’s Careers in Dogs resource booklet and highlights its key points. And she and her dogs participate in weekly reading-to-a-dog programs.

Zipkin, who competes with her dogs in AKC Obedience trials, also conducts presentations that demonstrate training techniques.

“Just seeing a dog heel – walk beside you without a leash – gets a big round of applause from the kids,” Zipkin said.

“I love to see the reactions I get with my dogs,” she added. “The children are hungry to know more about dogs and find out more about their own dogs.”

“The children absolutely love the presentations. They write me letters thanking me, and I save them,” Zipkin said. “One kid said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be just like you.’”

“I truly enjoy it (the Canine Ambassador presentations), and the dogs do too. The rewards are unbelievable,” she added. “It’s wonderful to be able to really bring joy to the life of some of these kinds. You walk by with your dog, and people smile. What could be better than that?”

Sue Anne Bangel, Canine Ambassador for the Northern Neck Kennel Club in Virginia, agreed.

“What the children love to see are the dogs,” said Bangel, who has done Canine Ambassador presentations with a German Shepherd and Siberian Husky.

“It’s a rural area here, and we don’t have numbers, but we have made an impact taking our dogs into nursing homes and the schools,” Bangel said. “We have visited public schools, private schools and public libraries in four counties.”

“We’ve done reading programs and use the AKC Best Friends and Safety Around Dogs videos and follow up with demonstrations with our dogs,” she added.

“I have a passion for dogs, and it’s so neat to share my dogs with others,” said Bangel, who also is involved in therapy work and conducting AKC Canine Good Citizen® tests. “We talk to kids about what dogs need, good manners and training. If people take the time to train their dogs, they’re not going to end up in a shelter.”