Mohawk Valley Kennel Club Teaches Kids "All About Dogs"

The Mohawk Valley Kennel Club “mini course” at Glendal Elementary School originated four years ago when a member had a daughter who attended the school.

Mini courses are three-week after-school courses held each spring. Volunteers teach their area of expertise for an hour and 45 minutes after school each week. Students interested in the extracurricular options such as cooking, different historical periods and jewelry-making, may enroll in the classes. Mohawk Valley’s “All About Dogs” is the only animal-related option and has become one of the most popular among the students.

Courtesy Mohawk Valley Kennel Club

Members of the Mohawk Valley Kennel Club in Scotia, New York, thought it would be a really great idea to teach kids about responsible dog ownership and dog shows in a fun and informative way, so club secretary Carol Rose and other members developed a mini course for the school. The school was receptive to the idea of a dog-related course from the beginning, and having a club member who was part of the school’s PTA was a plus. After getting the nod from the school, the club fleshed out the course mission and goals.

“We were very fortunate we did not have any problem getting into the school to have this course,” Carol said. “I think there may have been some apprehension the first year we did the class because no one knew what to expect, but now the school looks forward to having us each year.”

Throughout the course, the club tries to convey knowledge of different dog breeds and appropriate dog care to about 14 third and fourth grade students. By the end of the three weeks, instructing club members hope that the kids will have a better idea of how to choose the right dog for their family situation and have the knowledge to care responsibly for a dog.

During the first week of Class, Rose, who also serves as the club’s Public Education Coordinator and another club member divide the students into two groups: one person supervises kids on the classroom computers while the rest examine The AKC’s Guide to Purebred Dogs breed poster and The AKC Complete Dog Book for Kids. The group on the computer visits the AKC® website and looks through the breeds section. They then talk about which breeds they think would fit best suit their lifestyle and family. The other group looks at the poster and discusses the information included on it such as the place of origin of each breed and the different jobs for which the dogs were bred.

At the end of the first session, each student picks a breed and writes a report about it for homework. Everyone must choose a different breed.

During week two, the fanciers start off by watching the AKC Safety Around Dogs video with the class. The AKC created this 14-minute video to teach children how to properly greet a dog, what to do when they see a loose dog and how to understand and react to a dog’s body language, among other topics. Then students can practice what they’ve learned on a live purebred dog. Each child takes a turn approaching the dog and its owner, asking permission to pet the dog and then greeting the dog. Rose, who owns both Standard Poodles and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, supplies the dog, usually a Standard Poodle, for this portion of the course.

“I feel that a bigger dog is easier because they will be on the same level as the kids,” Rose said. “It’s easier to teach a student the proper way to pet a dog when the dog is sitting face to face with the child rather than having the child standing over the dog or bending down to reach them.”

It’s essential to use a dog that will sit quietly for attention and follow the directions of its owner, Rose noted. Some kids have been a little bit afraid around the dogs, but getting the chance to be around a well-behaved, under-control dog helps them learn safety skills, put them into practice and build their confidence. After successfully and safely greeting a dog, each student receives a certificate noting they have passed this portion of the course.

Next, students view the AKC’s Best Friends video, which features children teaching children the fundamentals of responsible dog ownership, including proper grooming techniques, the importance of basic obedience training and regular veterinary visits. After the short video, the club members discuss the topics with the students and talk about the real-life responsibilities that dog ownership entails.

During the third and final week of class, the students have the opportunity for hands-on interaction with a variety of dogs. Carol contacts club members and local fanciers to secure representatives of each breed that the students chose as the subjects of their reports during the first week of class.

The club brings in purebred dogs and mats used for matches and sets up a dog show ring. Off to the side, they set up a grooming table with a variety of brushes, combs, nail trimmers and other tools available to examine. Students watch the club members groom the coated breeds and clip the dog’s nails.

“During our last class, one of the boys did his report on Tibetan Mastiff -- we were not able to have this breed represented on our final day as there is no one locally who has them, but we did have a Pharaoh Hound, Havanese and Schipperke,” Rose said. “We sometimes have Whippets and Standard Poodles and almost always the ‘regulars’ like Labs, Shelties and Rottweilers. And, because Cavaliers are my breed, we always have them there in all four colors.”

“When they see the breeds they’ve picked themselves standing with their handlers, the kids’ eyes light up. Sometimes kids have never seen certain breeds in real life before,” Rose said. “It’s exciting for them to meet the breeds, and seeing the different breeds in person really builds upon the lesson of the importance of the distinctions in purebred dogs and the importance of finding the right dog for their family.”

Besides getting to see a stunning array of beautifully groomed and well-trained purebred dogs, the students also get to try their hand at showing dogs. Handlers take the students through a mini Junior Showmanship class, explaining what goes on at a dog show. They demonstrate basic dog handling and ring procedure.

“The members really enjoy it, and the kids love it,” Rose said. “Club members and fanciers in the community are always very good about bringing dogs in to use for the course. I also think that because of all of the dog shows that are televised today, children are quite dog savvy. They are familiar with many more breeds than I may have been as a child. This age is great because they really participate when we discuss things like choosing a dog for your family, and they are able to really comprehend what we tell them.”

Finding a school that is eager to work with community volunteers and developing a good relationship with them is important. The Mohawk Valley Kennel Club wanted to expand their program into other schools, but Rose finds many schools don’t allow dogs in their building.

“The first time we organized the course, it took a long time to plan. Now that we have a set curriculum, there is less preparation time involved,” Rose said. “We started off by going through all the materials and reproducibles offered on the AKC website, and we tailored them to our needs, combining bits and pieces from the printouts with what we wanted to do. One important thing to remember is to keep the flow going – keep the whole session moving the entire time. If you lose the students’ attention, it can be hard to get it back. We kept it pretty basic and fun.”

“The first time we went in to the school, I think the main worry was, ‘I hope this works!’ But when you’re with kids who are very interested in the topic, it will work. The very first year we did the class, one little girl came up to me at the last class and hugged me and cried that she was going to miss us. The kids are just great and we have so much fun with them.”