Many training organizations recognize that owners can be “trained” along with their dogs to become better citizens in the community. However, there are many more dog owners than those who bring their pets into training classes. As the number of dogs and dog owners increases so does the number that can be regarded as irresponsible and so does the number of non-owners who feel that something must be done. A community education program is becoming an essential activity of a training organization to reach as many dog owners as possible and to remind the public that responsible dog ownership does exist.
The programs and the material can be as varied as your imagination and talents permit. They can range from a lecture discussion with an obedience demonstration to specially prepared slide sets or movies. The program can be presented to individual groups or reach the community as a whole through radio, newspapers and television features.
Each program should be tailored to the particular group. A class of third graders would have different interests than an adult civic club. A talk to kids should be very basic involving the need to see that the dog has adequate food and water, to realize a dog can get hurt if allowed to run free, and to approach a dog properly before petting. If a demonstration is given, try to include jumping since it is exciting to watch. Other exercises can be given a twist to make them more interesting. I’ve used scent discrimination after telling the kids that the dog can add (or subtract) and then asking the dog to find the article with the number that equals 2 + 3. After the performance, the trick is explained. If the dog fails to get the correct article, I say something like, “He must not be doing his homework”. Always allow some time for questions. With youngsters this generally means telling stories about their own pets. Don’t discourage the tales, it makes the kids feel a part of the program and still provides opportunities to make additional points.
With adults it is possible to speak more directly about the fallacies of permitting a dog to roam or breeding “for its health”. It is also an opportunity to dispel mistaken notions about delaying training until the dog is at least six months old or that training breaks a dog’s spirit. A demonstration might include using dogs at different levels of training, an approach that can provide an opportunity to involve some of the students in your classes.
Whatever the audience, the program should be entertaining. Try to inform without preaching, avoid recommending specific vets, dog foods, etc., and making decisions for questioners. Above all, do not use these occasions to advertise your classes, puppies that may be for sale, or anything else that may be construed as self-promoting; this goes double when speaking to children.
Don’t be hesitant just because of not knowing what to say after you’ve said hello. Begin with a school; kids are a great audience. Start your programs with a presentation that is mostly demonstration (to be perfectly honest, with the elementary graders the big attraction is the dog, not you). Several question and answer sessions will provide the material for a lecture. Be sure that the dog you take is extremely stable because all the kids will want to pet him at the same time.
Once the decision has been made to embark on a community relations program, the initiative will have to be taken by the trainer to publicize this service. Contact radio and television stations that feature interview or question-answer program that are locally produced. Check with the Chamber of Commerce for a listing of area associations and send letters to those that seem suitable. If at all possible, try to get information on your availability along with a brief outline of the presentation(s) to the schools during the pre-planning session since many teachers like to correlate programs with subject matter. However, it is never too late to approach the
schools since some states require a specified amount of time each week be devoted to humane treatment and care of animals. After several presentations, program chairmen from various organizations will begin to contact you, but it is still advisable to remind schools and associations routinely each year of your willingness to come and speak.
Long held beliefs and habits are not discarded easily so the effects of a community education program will not be immediately obvious. But any question of whether such a program is worthwhile will be answered by the first batch of thank-you notes from the school children.
©1972 W. Herbert Morrison, III