Canine Ambassador Program
Recognizing that not every teacher is knowledgeable regarding dogs, proper dog care, safety and the sport of purebred dogs and knowing that local dog clubs are full of experts in this area, the AKC encourages clubs to share their knowledge by offering supplementary presentations (with live dogs whenever possible) to local schools using the AKC’s Canine Ambassador materials.
We created the following guidelines for new Canine Ambassadors interested in making presentations for children. Use what works best for you, and feel free to change or adapt any of our suggestions as you see fit. You may want to contact other ambassadors in your area and ask them for advice in getting your program off the ground.
As an ambassador, you are listed in the Canine Ambassador Directory. Teachers and leaders of community youth organizations are encouraged to contact the nearest ambassador to arrange a presentation.
The AKC has created two sets of lesson plans — elementary and middle school. You can use these lesson plans for your presentation, or just as a guide and inspiration for presentation topics.
Elementary School Lesson Plans (K-5)
The American Kennel Club designed lesson plans to specifically meet the needs of the kindergarten through fifth grade students. The lesson plans cover a wide range of topics such as responsible dog ownership, learning how to interact safely with dogs and learning about different careers with dogs. Canine Ambassadors can adapt each lesson plan to meet their specific needs. A list of materials, a suggested procedure and a list of discussion questions are provided as well.
Middle School Lesson Plans
The AKC designed the middle school lesson plans to complement middle school subject areas such as language arts, mathematics, technology, civics and art. These lesson plans expand the AKC’s curriculum to sixth, seventh and eighth graders. The plans will serve as a base to help you teach middle schoolers about responsible dog ownership, purebred dogs and our sport.
You can find these lesson plans on the website in the Canine Ambassador Resource Center.
Approaching Your Local School
- Consult your local phone book and contact friends, relatives and fellow club members to compile a list of local schools.
- Find out if the school is familiar with AKC programs. Check with local friends and neighbors who have children in those schools, or call the school directly.
- Contact the school’s principal in writing to introduce yourself and your club. Explain that you would like to make a presentation.
- When offering to do a presentation, be sure to mention the topics you will cover (canine safety tips; basic dog care and training; differences in breeds, etc.), the length of time you will need (give a range to allow for the school’s scheduling) and the grade levels you can accommodate. Promote your program by emphasizing the benefit to the children of learning about responsible dog ownership, and promote yourself by detailing the activities your club offers to the community.
- Include your contact information to share with individual teachers if they’d like to have you visit their classroom.
After a teacher has agreed to a presentation, make an appointment to discuss your upcoming visit. This appointment can be made as soon as the teacher accepts your offer to visit and should be held after school hours in the classroom or assembly room you will be using. Be sure to invite anyone who will be assisting you.
At this meeting, you can become acquainted with your working surroundings. If you are planning to include a dog in your program, you may want to bring the dog with you to this meeting so it can also become familiar with the space. This will also allow the teacher to meet the dog in advance.
If a face-to-face visit is not possible, you should send a printed outline or script to the teacher for his/her review at least one week before your visit. Include a supply list. If you plan on showing a video, remember to ask for the proper equipment (internet access, speakers, projector, etc). If you plan to visit with your dog, be sure to ask if any of the children have allergies or a fear of dogs. Arrangements may have to be made to excuse these children from your presentation. Be sure to discuss these issues with the teacher so that there are no complications on the day of the presentation.
You may want to provide printed materials for each student. Ask the teacher if he/she can make copies for you or if you should make them yourself. Remember to ask the teacher how many children are in each class. Make sure the teacher will handle discipline problems if the children become excited.
When you visit the classroom you should be thinking about how much space you have to work with, as well as what visuals you may want to use. Is there a chalkboard, bulletin board, a table or other equipment that you can use? If you make the arrangements by phone, ask the teacher to describe how the room is set up.
Two to three days in advance, email the teacher to check that everything is going as planned, and review your presentation. Be sure your presentation fits into the time granted to you by the school. On the day of the presentation, you can ask the teacher to signal you when there are only 5 to 10 minutes left, so you can wrap things up and end on time.
Preparing Your Presentation
- Know your audience. One of the most difficult tasks in preparing an outline for your presentation is determining the educational level of your audience. Will kids know what veterinarian means? Are they too young to understand what it means to spay/neuter a dog? When speaking to a group of children, always keep in mind that they are little people. Talk with them as you would other people, but make sure you do not talk above them. Keep your vocabulary level and the complexity of your sentence structure in mind. Use short words and short sentences for younger audiences. If you are not sure what ages are in a grade level, refer to this list:
Kindergarten 5 to 6 years First Grade 6 to 7 years Second Grade 7 to 8 years Third Grade 8 to 9 years Fourth Grade 9 to 10 years Fifth Grade 10 to11 years Sixth Grade 11 to 12 years Seventh Grade 12 to 13 years Eighth Grade 13 to 14 years
- Decide what you want to discuss. Keep in mind that the grade level should determine the difficulty of concepts and amount of detail you present.
- Don’t be surprised if you feel nervous. Many people experience the same feelings. It is helpful to remember that your audience wants to like you. They want you to be interesting and fun. They are not out to get you. After a few presentations you’ll feel more relaxed and gain more confidence. You’ll be a pro in no time!
- Plan your visual aids and handouts. Younger children in particular need tangible learning tools. The following are other visual aids that can help you:
- CHALKBOARD or WHITEBOARD– Already in the classroom. Use it to write down key points, your name, your dog’s name, etc.
- LARGE SIGNS – Instead of using the chalkboard, you can bring colorful signs and ask the children to read them aloud as you go over the various points.
- PICTURES OF PEOPLE HELPING DOGS – or dogs helping people (e.g., a blind person being led by a service dog). You can ask for volunteers to come up and explain to the class what is going on in each picture. Conversely, you may want to bring pictures where a dog is not being properly cared for, and ask: “What’s wrong with this picture?”
- ACTUAL DOG ITEMS – These can include a bowl, brush, leash, collar, license, dog biscuit, toys, toothbrush, etc., to use as you talk about properly caring for your dog.
- DOG PUPPETS/STUFFED TOY – This can be used to point out different parts of a dog’s anatomy (the muzzle, the stop, the withers…) or to demonstrate the proper way to pet a dog – or how to pick up a small dog.
- YOUR OWN REAL DOG – Nothing excites children more than a real dog they can pet. We recommend choosing a dog that is CGC certified. *Keep in mind that not all kids like dogs, and even those who do might be intimidated by a large dog. Be sure to let the children know that they do not have to pet the dog if they do not want to. Never force a child to pet a dog.
- HANDOUTS – These are always a good idea, because they give children something to do. The AKC’s coloring pages are a good place to start, but here’s where you can be creative. One ambassador hands out laminated pictures of dogs she collects from magazines; these can be used to tell stories or to explore the differences in breeds. Another ambassador makes cookies in the shapes of dogs. You might consider giving each child a bookmark or a fun sticker…use your imagination!
The Day of the Presentation
If you haven’t already visited the school, make sure you have clear directions and given yourself ample time to get there. Make sure any assistants you have are also well prepared and able to get there on time. If you are driving, be sure to ask where you should park.
Leave yourself enough time to calmly set up your room and make that last trip to the restroom before you get started. If you have your dog with you, now might be a good time to take him for a short walk or reacquaint him with the area.
Begin your presentation by greeting the children warmly, telling them your name and the reason for your visit. You may want to have your dog wait outside the room at first (accompanied by a volunteer) or in his crate at the front of the room so the children can concentrate on what you are saying without being distracted. Once you have gone over the proper way to greet a dog, you can introduce him to the children.
When your program is under way, be sure to involve the children by asking for their input, and always respect their comments. A point you think obvious or inconsequential might be a whole new concept for a particular child.
If a child offers an incorrect answer or falters midway through an answer, respond by saying “Yes, and would someone else like to add to that point?” or “That’s true, and what about…?” Never respond with a blunt “Wrong!” or you risk intimidating that child and dampening class enthusiasm.
With younger kids, it may be best to wait until the end of your presentation to open it up for questions, because often a youngster’s question (or answer) turns into a complicated story that can go off on a tangent. (Ask the teacher to help get you back on track if this happens.)
If you’ve brought your dog to the presentation, keep in mind that it is always a good idea to go over the basic points on approaching a dog (ask the owner’s permission; let the dog sniff the back of your hand; pet the dog gently under the chin…) before you allow the children to come up – in an orderly fashion – to meet your dog.
At the end of your presentation, thank the students for paying attention, and thank the teacher for inviting you to visit the class.
The most important thing to remember: HAVE FUN! Your enthusiasm and love of purebred dogs will be evident, and the children will eagerly follow your lead.
The AKC would love to hear about your experiences in the classroom. We will gladly share your tips and anecdotes with the entire Canine Ambassador network. Forward your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.