Pets can communicate very clearly using the only means they have. They don't speak our human language but are able to let us know what it is they want from us. When they want to be petted, when it's time to be fed, when it's time to go out for a potty break and when they want to play. I (Nadine) find that bringing my dog to work helps me engage the kids while providing fun and important lessons about non verbal communication. My little dog, Sadie, is a 3-year-old cavapoo (a mix of a cavalier King Charles spaniel and a miniature poodle). As you can see from the photo, she's a cute ball of fluff and she's truly as sweet as she looks.
Before I bring Sadie to a social group to be a furry friendship coach, I address directly any of the kids who's parents have mentioned any aggression toward animals at home. I make the kids promise that no matter what, they will never hurt an animal again. Not mine or their own, ever. No matter how angry they get, they will never ever again take it out on a pet. I have them pinky swear while looking me in the eye.
I also check with the parents for any dog allergies or phobias. I never surprise the kids with her presence. They know and expect that she'll be there ahead of time.
When the kids come in, Sadie will be in her crate as they all enter the room. One little dog in a room with eight excited 9-year-olds can be a lot to take on at once. As they all wait for her to be released from the crate, I ask them, "How do you think Sadie feels right now? There's only one of her and eight of you." I'll get the right answers of "excited" or "nervous" and so on. Sadie is already teaching perspective taking.
I lay out the ground rules. I tell the kids that if at any point Sadie puts her paws on my leg, that means they need to stop interacting with her. It's her way of asking for a time out. The kids are reminded that she needs the break right then and not "after a few more minutes." Sadie is teaching when to stop and personal space boundaries.
Sadie will then come out of the crate and greet each child. She's very well trained and naturally seems to give each child a turn. She also loves to fetch and the kids have a blast. They all want her attention so multiple voices will be calling "Sadie! Come!" I stop and ask if Sadie is able to attend to all those voices at once. The kids understand that she can't come to all of them at once. Sadie is teaching turn taking and communication skills.
The kids learn that Sadie knows hand signals for some commands. I explain that not everyone can speak clearly enough for a dog to understand. Sadie is teaching that even dogs can accommodate differences.
When Sadie needs a break, she puts paws on my leg and I pick her up or put her back into the safety of her crate. The kids are disappointed that they have to stop playing with her for a while. Sadie is teaching that someone else's needs are more important than their own in that moment.
During the calmer part of group when the kids are all sitting on bean bags and pillows, Sadie will walk around to each child. She might hop into a child's lap or lay next to another or drop a ball by the foot of another. Sadie is teaching that she values each one of them and they matter.
Sadie lets the kids know that they have all made a new friend.