Dogs Give Emotional Support to Rookie Trainers
Princess, a playful Border Collie dog who is deaf from birth, and Rafi, a rail-thin eighth grader who has seen his share of sorrow, are learning the language of love. Each week, Rafi and Princess meet at the sports field for an extracurricular Dog Training course offered by Boys Town Jerusalem sponsored by The Jack and Harriet Rosenfeld Foundation. Yet the knowledge that Rafi and his classmates are gaining goes far beyond the skills to tame their canine friends: both boys and dogs are learning lessons for life about communication, cooperation and trust. For Rafi, this means a boost of much-needed emotional support.
“Dogs with problems are easier for kids with problems to relate to,” explains instructor Shaked Yisrael. “These dogs are no threat to children who are frightened or traumatized, and they can open the way for healing. Princess, for example, is a wonderful, intelligent dog who cannot hear a command, but she can understand hand motions and other means of communication. We’re teaching the boys the specifics of working with Princess, but as with every dog, they will need sensitivity, patience, creativity, and the will to succeed.” Rafi and his classmates are accepting the challenge with a passion.
Regardless of the boys’ backgrounds, there’s a world of success and confidence to be gained from the experience of teaching a dog to obey. The course aims to give the boys hands-on experience in giving clear directions and orders, as well as developing consideration and respect for the dog’s feelings. Without a doubt, these lessons carry over into the human sphere as well.
Cocker spaniel in hand, Shaked advises the students, “A dog won’t listen to someone who yells or insults him and puts him down. He does need praise and rewards when they’re due. But if and when the dog doesn’t grasp what you’re trying to teach him, you’ll have to devise a different method to teach. A dog trainer needs endless patience.”
The sessions include ample time for the boys and dogs to interact, as the future dog trainers practice their techniques on the frisky canines of all sizes and breeds. Watching Rafi stride by with Princess on a leash, BTJ Principal Rabbi Yehudah Rosencrantz noted, “Traumas at home had made Rafi so frightened that he couldn’t even touch a dog at the start. But gradually he’s learned the ‘language’ to relate to Princess, whom he adores. When you give a dog love, he will give it back to you with all his heart.
“Overall, we view the dog training course as a fun, informative activity for Boys Town Jerusalem students to gain skills and sensitivity. But for a number of boys at risk, this course has proved to be an invaluable key towards emotional support, healing and growth.”