At UKC shows, Junior Handlers are often asked questions about the breed of dog they are handling. Later, the judge told me Connor had informed her that since he was Autistic and may not be the best handler, he was going for extra credit with the knowledge part. Through working with dogs, we helped teach Connor to own his Autism. He had to learn to think about how his actions affected others who had no voice. Connor would go on to show Foster to a UKC Championship and they would later appear on “Dogs 101 – Shetland Sheepdog.” Now in high school,[at the time of writing this] Connor has swapped dog work for academics. However, the lessons he learned young helped lay a foundation. Now Connor volunteers with children. He learned patience, communication and compassion.
After losing our beloved Himalayan cat, my daughter, in first grade at the time, asked if we could get a Persian. Yet when a little, mangled, tiny, kitten was brought to the vet clinic my sister worked at, he eventually became available. Three legs, missing an ear, Sarah said very solemnly “He is not the kitten I dreamed of but I am the person he needs.” Looking like a feline Frankenstein’s Monster, the little guy spent many nights snuggled under her arm, by his choice, while he healed. As Stig recovered, Sarah gently helped him learn to climb stairs, jump and run like a “normal” kitten. Sarah has learned to see past the initial impression and see the value in those that many would ignore.
However, other lessons can be taught. Timmy was allowed to climb all over Spike. Spike has to endure rough hands, kicking feet as Timmy plays horsey and other injustices. Timmy is never corrected for his behavior or taught better ways to interact with a dog. Spike’s discomfort is ignored. Finally, Spike wheels around and nips Timmy in the face. Timmy’s parents smack Spike for his behaviors. Now, whenever he sees the child, Spike growls. Timmy has learned when Spike is bad he needs to be hit. It does not take rocket science to figure out how dangerous this can become.
Sally is allowed to treat her kitten like a toy. Her parents think it is just darling. The poor thing is dressed in doll clothes, toted around in a toy stroller, forced to sit in a play high chair, etc. Mr. Fluffykins eventually starts to scratch and hide from Sally. Sally begins to fear her kitten because kitten has thorns is his paws and makes ouchies when she wants to play. The poor kitten now fears people and spends much of his time in hiding. Sally was never taught how to treat a kitten like a kitten.
How we work with our children and our pets will teach various lessons. As you sit and reflect over the past year, please look to the coming and ask yourself “What lessons will I teach? “
Please keep looking at this blog future lessons on child/pet interactions and safety.
I pray you all have a Happy and Safe New Year.
Karen Peak is owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County, founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, author, wife, mother and the manager of a multi-dog, multi-species household.