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Monday, January 24, 2011

Special Needs Classroom Visit

Gopher Visited a Special Needs High School Classroom on 1/24/2011

Disclaimer:
Names/conditions and other personal information from a Therapy Visit cannot be shared.
Chad Burgess, Carla Donovan-Burgess and Gopher are volunteers and do not officially represent any institution mentioned in these visits. The names of the institutions have also been changed or not used and if the name of a person is used it will likely be changed as well. 

The experiences, conversations are true and really took place the names of persons, and institutions have only been changed to protect the privacy of those we visit.

Gopher was invited to visit with a Special Needs classroom on 1/24/2011, the visit lasted for nearly three hours with intermittent breaks throughout the time. While visiting he interacted with approximately 25 different students with diverse backgrounds. Some of the students had minor learning disabilities while some of the students were developmentally disabled.

Gopher was in his element on this visit, the purpose of which was to help the students relax prior to final exams which were being held this week at the school. As some of you may know it has been proven that many animals including dogs have a calming effect by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, increasing endorphin etc. So that was Gophers and his fellow therapy dog, a black lab named Zeus, goal of the day to help the students relax.

The majority of the students Gopher visited with were afflicted with minor learning disabilities in need of extra help and whom were often hard on themselves when they made mistakes increasing their anxiety and causing them to make more mistakes. This played perfectly into a problem Gopher has regarding differing between the commands for High Five, Paw (shake) and Touch (pushing his nose against the palm of the hand).

While visiting with the students they all wanted to know what tricks Gopher knew. Carla and I had been so focused on obedience exercises and conditioning him to be calm and confident around foreign objects and strangers that we have lacked in the tricks education portion. He has known touch for a long time as this is a focusing exercise taught to handlers and dogs in early obedience. Paw and High-Five are both newer tricks all of which deal with an outstretch hand held flat so is easily confusable. Gopher is solid with the tricks when he has his gear on, the treat bag is visible, and the verbal command is given. He is shaky if no verbal command is given due to similarity in hand position he often resorts to giving all three typically with in this order, high-five, touch, exaggerated high five lifting onto his hind legs putting both paws against my palm (high fifteen?) and then leaving one paw behind in my palm (Paw). This is followed with a huff and quick lick of his lips showing his frustration.

The educator led in with a discussion of training a therapy dogs highlighting any time we mentioned a minor fallback in the process, and I used this to demonstrate with Gopher. I told them about the tricks commands and what I wanted and then demonstrated with treat bag not visible. Gopher performed and showed all the signs of frustration. Then I mentioned about ho Gopher wasn't fully focused and knew the answers but was uncertain, something kept him from seeing what he actually knew. I then set up to do the same tricks with treat bag visible. Told the students whom were with me that once he took a deep breath relaxed he was able to focus and the correct answers that he knew were inside him were able to come out. Then went forward.

Gopher, "Sit".

Perfect Sit.

Gopher, "Paw"  he gently put his paw in mine.

Gopher, "High-Five" you could almost hear the leather of his paw slapping my hand.

Finally Gopher, "Touch", this one was exaggerated with my palm held a few feet above his head forcing him to jump off the ground. The students applauded.

After that we talked about how only moments before Gopher had made mistakes, knew he made them, allowed himself to be frustrated, but then when it was time to try again he did with confidence and did not give up. I think they got the message and came in a gave Gopher a lot of pets, one student saying "Don't worry pup, I make mistakes sometimes too, we just got to keep trying."

The time flew by much too quickly and Gopher was still happy and rearing to go at the end of the day, but was also happy to be done and passed out as soon as he got back to the car. As is becoming our tradition with our visits Gopher went to Key's Cafe and got his post visit pancake.

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