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HOW DOGS TRUST ARE TEACHING THE PET OWNERS OF TOMORROW

Prep and junior schools across the UK are being targeted by Dogs Trust as key to improving animal welfare for future generations. Mark Kebble takes the lead to find out more

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Beware of the dog. It’s a sign that’s filled postmen with trepidation for many decades, but it’s a message that’s equally relevant in everyday life. It may sound simple, but we all should learn how to stroke a dog safely. ‘A lot of dog bites happen to those who already know the pet,’ Hollie Sevenoaks, Education & Community Manager of Dogs Trust, surprises me. ‘It happens when children are overconfident and don’t give the dog the space they need. If you come across a dog you haven’t met before, ask the adult first if you can stroke the dog and where they liked to be stroked, and put your hand out to be sniffed first. Safety is an integral part of the workshops.’

Dogs Trust was founded in 1891 and today is the largest dog welfare charity in the UK, with rehoming centres all over the UK. They run a crucial education department, which includes the aforementioned workshops that are heading into, predominantly, prep and junior schools to teach pupils all about dog welfare. ‘We start with the 7-9 years of age range because they are starting to form their own opinions,’ Ms Sevenoaks explains. ‘It’s all about educating the dog owners of tomorrow. We do a lot of education work anyway with adult dog owners – promoting neutering, microchipping, training – but by going back to school we can talk to the dog owners of tomorrow.’

Rather than simply head into the classroom and focus purely on dog welfare, the education officers from Dogs Trust tie sessions in with the curriculum. The likes of literacy, numeracy, PSHE (Personal, Social, and Health Education), English and citizenship are all subjects covered through the workshops. ‘There are so many ways of teaching these subjects,’ enthuses Ms Sevenoaks. ‘We may look at the story of the dogs in our rehoming centres, discussing why they come to us in the first place. On the back of that the children may do a poster, do some creative writing, read extracts from books… There is a school in Scotland where part of the curriculum is dedicated to a budget week and we get asked to go in and talk about the costs of owning a dog. Activities vary by area throughout the country.’

Are the children enthusiastic? ‘Always,’ is the assertive answer. ‘Children love dogs, they see them out and about, so they are very receptive. They may never own a dog, but they need to keep safe. They haven’t got to love dogs, but need to know how to behave around them.’ As well as tying in with the curriculum, the pupils’ teacher can get involved too. ‘Some education officers get teachers up and get them involved in a bit of drama, or we may bring a dog into the classroom where we can get the children to ask the teacher for permission to stroke the dog.’

Dogs Trust have been going into schools for a decade now and the numbers of those keen to welcome them in continue to increase. Last year they visited 1,000 schools and spoke to more than 100,000 children, and they expect figures to be much higher come the end of 2014. Plans are afoot, too, to expand the workshops they offer. ‘We haven’t done a programme for secondary schools yet, but we would look at harder hitting subjects if we did,’ Ms Sevenoaks adds. ‘Society continues to change. Ten years ago it was a very different education programme to now – today it’s a lot more about “status” bull-type dogs, whereas a decade ago it was more about not giving your dog up, so was a lot fluffier. Dog fighting and abuse is more prominent now. Our work is on-going.’ Thanks to the Dogs Trust, perhaps future generations won’t have to be so wary of our canine chums and truly enjoy the companionship that owning a dog brings.

To find out more about inviting Dogs Trust into your school, visit learnwithdogstrust.co.uk

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