Woodbridge Camp Teaches Kids 'Dog Psych 101'

Jason Deckert, 12, and Lou, above, participate in training activities at All About Dogs camp, which teaches children about canine behavior. Jake, below, waits for a treat from owners Joseph and Connor Patrick. Brendon Pelar, 10, and Gordo, left, rest between activities.
Jason Deckert, 12, and Lou, above, participate in training activities at All About Dogs camp, which teaches children about canine behavior. Jake, below, waits for a treat from owners Joseph and Connor Patrick. Brendon Pelar, 10, and Gordo, left, rest between activities. (Photos By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)
By Amy Orndorff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 1, 2007

Jake, a black Lab, looked up at his owners, Joseph and Connor Patrick, a bit confused. They tugged at Jake's leash and begged him to walk across the red, yellow and green doggie walkway, without success. Jake just sat there.

Trainer Colleen Pelar swooped in to show the Woodbridge brothers how it's done. Using a handful of treats and lots of love, she coaxed Jake up the stairs and across the ramp. She told the brothers that their dog was scared and just needed encouragement -- and a yummy bribe or two.

Joseph, 10; Conner, 12; and Jake were campers at All About Dogs, a week-long camp in Woodbridge that taught children to understand dog behavior so they can have a safe and fun time around canines. The camp ended Friday.

"Kids are just doing things that kids do, and they are just miscommunicating," Pelar said. "Good kids and good dogs will still have miscommunications every day."

The camp stressed how to act around an unfamiliar dog, an important lesson, especially in the summer when children spend more time outdoors. Every year 4.7 million people -- 60 percent of them children -- are bitten by dogs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pelar said most often that's because children act in a way they think is loving, such as hugging a dog around the neck, but that can hurt the animal.

"It's extremely important for children to become educated about dogs," said Lisa Peterson, an American Kennel Club spokeswoman. "Even kids who don't have dogs, in case they see a stray dog in the neighborhood or even if they see a dog coming down the street on a leash."

Peterson said AKC members often visit schools to teach children how to be safe around dogs. Tips include not cornering a dog and not getting in its way when it's eating.

Officers at the Prince William County Animal Shelter tell young visitors that they should not run, scream or put their faces in a dog's face when meeting it for the first time. Lt. Pauline Shatswell of Prince William County Animal Control said kids should always ask permission from the owner before approaching a dog they don't know.

Shatswell said anyone who comes in contact with dogs should know how to read a dog's body language and how to talk to a dog. Understanding physical signs "is very important -- that is one of their ways of talking," Shatswell said. Someone's tone of voice also affects how a dog reacts.

Officers at the shelter tell people who want to adopt a dog to take it to obedience courses with the entire family to help kids become more comfortable with their new pet and around dogs in general.

"I always suggest obedience training," Shatswell said. "Dogs actually learn very fast, but they can learn bad habits as well as the good habits."

Pelar, author of "Living With Kids and Dogs . . . Without Losing Your Mind," and All About Dogs owner Robin Bennett tell campers that if a dog they don't know approaches them, they should be a tree by standing with their feet (or roots) firmly planted, while looking at the ground, counting to the highest number they can and closing their hands in front of them so the dog won't feel threatened.

They also teach campers how to know when a dog wants to be touched or left alone. A good sign is if a dog licks or sniffs your outstretched fist. A bad sign is if it turns away or it freezes.

"The dogs use body language to show what they need and want," camper Robyn Bleck, 11, of Woodbridge said as her dachshund, Marcus, rolled over -- a clear sign to her that he wanted a belly rub.


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