Kids find confidence in dog training

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(Host) Around the country, “Dog Agility” is becoming a popular competitive sport. In agility trials, handlers train their dogs to complete a timed obstacle course of hurdles, chutes, tunnels and balance beams. Now one Vermont educator is using dog agility to help children learn to focus and interact successfully.

VPR’s Susan Keese has the story.

(Keese) At the North Star Dog Training School in Tinmouth, 10-year-old Zak Beauregard is putting Skeeter through her paces.

(Beauregard) “Skeeter, come! Jump!”

(Keese) The feisty golden retriever obviously can’t wait to jump another hurdle. But Zak keeps him on course, up over a green A-frame ramp marked as obstacle Number 4. After a jump through a suspended tire there’s a run of parallel poles for the dog to weave through.

(Beauregard) “Go weave! Go weave!”

(Keese) Skeeter bounds onto a high green box and at Zak’s command, skids to a stop. Next there’s a tunnel, and a purple see-saw where a lesser dog might lose her nerve. But Skeeter is a champion and in this small arena, Zak feels like one too.

He finds it easier to keep his focus here than in the classroom. And following directions doesn’t seem to be a problem when it’s you teaching the dogs instead of someone else teaching you.

(Signa Read) “It’s awesome. It’s extremely fast. Kids just love to do it, so they just learn, learn, learn, learn. They just eat it up.”

(Keese) Signa Read has been bringing kids to work with dogs at the North Star Training School for a little over two years. Before that she ran a therapeutic horseback riding program for special needs adults and children. She says she simply woke up one morning and decided to “go to the dogs.”

(Read) “I just thought it would be a wonderful thing to do. And again you would learn the same things. People learning to be articulate, people learning to memorize courses and to keep in sequences – things I know I always need brushing up on. So I thought it would be a great thing for kids.”

(Rachel Gordon) “Diggity, come. Sit, wait jump!”

(Keese) Sixteen-year-old Rachel Gordon was born with a form of cerebral palsy. She started in Read’s riding program, where her mother says her motor skills improved a lot.

Being an ace in the dog training ring has boosted Rachel’s confidence and communication skills, her mother says. Rachel says it’s taught her patience, and how to work toward a goal.

(Gordon) “Sometimes I want to give up, but I don’t – even if I want to give up. I keep going, keep going and keep going.”

(Keese) She says she hopes to have a career working with animals some day.

For Vermont Public radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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