Two years ago we created a program in Las Vegas called Be Cool, Not Cruel as a way of looking at bullying through the eyes of the dogs.
This program is in partnership with RISE Educational Resource Center, an organization that supports educational choice and provides space for students to come together for a myriad of classes and activities, whether they attend public or private school or are being home schooled. Many of the students have special issues and have experienced difficulty in traditional school environments.
The class always starts by asking “Do dogs have feelings?” “How do they express their feelings?” “What makes each dog an individual?” The students learn to recognize how each dog is different and those differences are to be acknowledged, respected and appreciated.
They learn about different breeds and breed traits and instinct, they learn how to care for a dog and how to teach positively. They learn how to choose the right dog for their family and how to “speak dog.”But the most powerful lesson is always how to understand that even the shy, scared, nervous, misunderstood dog has a place in this world. We ask every student the question “Have you ever been misunderstood” and this leads into our discussion of bullying, through the eyes of the misunderstood dogs.
All of the dogs who participate in the program are rescues and registered Pet Partners.
The students see how a dog like Benny, who was returned to the shelter several times in his first year of life, was misunderstood. Benny was so misunderstood because of his shyness and fearful behavior he was labeled unadoptable and so easily bullied by other dogs and people. He was on the cusp of becoming the bully himself. But with positive training, great appreciation for his innate personality and an enormous amount of kindness and patience, Benny has become a stellar therapy dog.
The students meet a dog like Dash who spent his first year being neglected and ignored. An Italian Greyhound, he exemplifies his breed characteristics but those were not understood by his owners and he became timid and nervous. Then he met Leslie and joined her home with many other dogs, and Dash became to come out of his shell. He learned how to play and be a dog and do everything a Pet Partners therapy dog needs to do. But most importantly, he loved, which he always knew how to do but never had the love returned. Dash has become a star in the classroom. The children learn to not rush him and understand his need to be quiet and private and alone sometimes. This respect for an individual’s unique personality and needs translates into those of themselves and the people in their lives.
The students meet a dog like Kirby who was thrown away for being old and sick. They see how he could be brave and have a whole new life and at the senior age of at least ten, find a new career and place in the world. They learn to appreciate his frailty and to be gentle and have impulse control and be grateful for the joy he sees in life.
After the first class one student came to me and said “Thank you for sharing your dogs with us. I know I’m not the only one who is shy and misunderstood.”
The greatest outcome of this program is seeing the growth in the students’ focus and ability to pay attention, lessening of frustration and outbursts and this is all because they have the dogs in class and they are learning self-worth, self-love and empathy for every living being.