About Anxiety…..

About Anxiety.....

This is Archie. He turns one pretty soon. He is the newest dog at The Prince Street Puppy Project. Archie joined us at the start of our 2013/14 school year this past September. His “mom” Erin adopted him a couple of months before, from the PEI Humane Society. Archie is a gorgeous reddish-colored mix.

Sometimes “teenage dogs” can be a bit spooky and, unfortunately, if they get something spooky into their heads, they can’t just tell us what it is so we have to figure it out. A couple of weeks before March Break, so near the end of February and early March, Archie started to demonstrate some stress. Time to put on our best Sherlock Holmes hats!!!

At first, we thought he may be uncomfortable in his crate because, even though we have done lots of positive work with the crate, and even though he uses one at home some of the time, he was sometimes doing a minor refusal to go into the crate and we would have to food lead him in and jackpot him for going in. Also, he had started panting for no particular reason while resting in his crate. As we continued to try and work it out, such as determining that he would only do the stressed behavior in the crate, only while in the crate at school, and only while in the crate in the classroom at school, his stress got worse.

One afternoon, about a week before March Break, the students came to get me because Archie was panting worse that we had seen him ever do. Again, he had been resting quietly in the crate and nothing had happened, yet here he was panting. I watched for a few minutes to assess the situation when he began panting hard with a wide open mouth- looking much more like gasping than panting. I told some of the students, very calmly, that I thought we should move him to the lobby with his crate to see if he would calm down. He would not go into the crate when we placed it in it’s regular spot in the lobby, so we moved the crate to another location and he ran into it and laid down. I continued to check on him over the next half hour and he calmed down completely. I won’t lie- I was watching pretty closely, worried that the vet may be necessary!!! Things that make you go hmmm…

Then began the decision-making with his mom, Erin. What do we do? Where do we go from here? Now, if this was an anxious or stressed-out child, we would find some sort of an acceptable fall-back position. For example, if the child was anxious or stressed-out in certain school situations, we would try to find locations in the school where the child would be more comfortable as we worked toward increasing the comfort levels around the stressors. Well, much the same is done with dog stress, assuming you can figure out what is going on. All the detective work we needed to do with Archie is not unlike the detective work we sometimes have to do with children. Sometimes you CAN ask them and they can tell you what is up but often, the child is not sure what is up or how to help solve it, but is able to participate in the fall-back comfort position conversation. Archie couldn’t so we had to decide.

Erin and I feared that leaving Archie home for a while may make the stress worse if we tried to bring him back to school later. Much like when a child falls and then checks the adults for reaction level before deciding to cry (when they are more startled than hurt, obviously), we can make our dog’s stress level or reaction worse. When we do things like coo that it will be okay or we pick them up in a startled way and coddle them or we pull hard back on the leash when meeting other dogs, we confirm for the dog that there IS something to worry about, that I as your handler don’t “have it”, so you, the dog, may need to handle it. We had to support Archie and ease him back into the game, We needed a plan.

So, we decided we would let Archie stay in the lobby for a week or so. Yes, he would have to come to school, and yes he would stay in the crate, but no, he would not have to go down to class. We left his treats in his bin on his crate so the students and staff could walk by and slip him a treat and praise him for calm behavior. We also decided, when we WERE ready to move him back down to a class, we would ask him to go to the grade five classroom where he did not have his little breakdown- to offer him a harder situation than the lobby but not the hardest situation of going where he was most anxious most recently.

Now, as usual, it was the students who came to us and wondered out loud with us, after about one successful lobby week, if it was maybe time to give the classroom a try again. With LOTS of positive reinforcement, lots of out of crate time, lots of praise and treats, etc, Archie was back in the classroom. The students did a lot of baby steps with Archie, easing him down the hall with food leading and praise because, as he got closer, he would sometimes put the brakes on, signalling us that it was getting hard. We needed to find a way to respect what he was showing us and support him. There were a couple of times when we would stop and let him rest, not asking him to move forward, but not letting him go backward, all the while encouraging him to choose forward movement with praise and treats. There were even a couple of times when teacher (and one of his “school moms”), Kathy Kiley, came down the hall to excitedly recall him to her and he would forget his fear and bound down the hall.

All the while, as with so much of what we do with The Puppy Project, thinking together with the students about what the problem could be, solutions we could try, and how to get our win-win situations. Our students have learned SO much about pushing through stress, making choices easier, and offering supports in this last month. This picture was taken by Kathy Kiley and it is Archie playing the role of teacher during a Guided Reading session in Kathy’s class. When I had to take Archie out of the class and down the hall just over a month ago, I figured we would get back to here, but the fact that we have done that so quickly is a testament to all that is right about Prince Street School. We say it all the time but it warrants once more: Prince Street School ROCKS!!!!

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This is what happens when students believe you…….

This is what happens when students believe you.......

I am calling this photo “Lili’s Schedule” and this is what happens when you listen to the children around you, when you encourage them to solve the problems they identify, and when they believe you when you say you believe in them and their abilities.

You may be wondering what this is. Short story, a schedule system for handling the dog in Lili’s class that she created. Long story, a student identifying an inequity and being encouraged and empowered to create a solution.

So Lili came to me, I think it was a couple of weeks ago now? She was concerned that not everyone in her class who wanted to be responsible for the dog in the class was getting a fair chance and, that those who were getting chances, were getting an uneven amount of chances. Basically, when left to random selection, Lili had noticed that some students were getting left out and, not only did she care about that, she wanted to try and fix it. As usual, Lili had not only brought a concern to me, she had given some thought to a solution. Truly a girl after my own heart as I feel, if you identify a problem, you become responsible to play a part in solutions!

So we chatted a bit about what she had in mind and I said give it a try! This schedule is what she has developed as she worked her system. This is what she keeps on her desk- a list of the names of who wants to help with the dog in the run of a day, a check system for keeping track of when someone has had a turn, and a larger paper that can be written on, wiped off, and changed, to help her (and everyone else) easily keep track of who is on that particular day.

I am constantly inspired at what my students notice, identify as concerns, and the new learning opportunities they find as a result. Often society gets a little jaded about the “new generation”. The new generation we are producing at Prince Street School and in the Puppy Project Program are going to be the best of the best!! So, fret not, world!!!

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Sometimes I forget……

Sometimes I forget......

Yes, really, sometimes I forget the impact the dogs have and the changes they have been responsible for over the last couple of years. Today’s blog is all about one girl, who reminded me yesterday. I am not going to name her but she will know herself when she reads this.

Most of the students in our school are not wary of dogs but a few are. Much of the time, it is our EAL students who have come from countries where dogs are not often kept as pets. They are not really scared of the dogs, just not familiar with dogs, and need some exposure to become more comfortable. Once in a while, we have a student who is a bit scared, based on past experiences, but wants to push through that because the desire to be with the dogs is greater than the fear.

When this girl was in grade three, she came to me and shared that she was scared of dogs. I asked her if she wanted to work towards overcoming that. She did, very much!! So we started our work, gradually, at her pace. First, she started with coming around the dogs while they were still upstairs in the cages in the morning. When that was okay, she started coming to watch our daily training sessions every so often. By grade four, she was ready to get a little closer.

Although the daily dog training focus group is the grade five students, we start training our grade five leaders in the last part of grade four. This young lady is quite smart, listens well, and is kind to others and I was so sure she could be one of my grade five leaders, if we took our time. She spent the first part of grade four doing more watching, getting closer every time, and finally working beside me. THEN, it happened!!! She was ready to hold the treat in her hand. I was right there to encourage her and she did it! She was SO proud of herself and I was very proud of her. We continued to work and, by later that year, she was ready to start taking the amount of training required to lead.

Miraculous gains are an understatement!! The summer between grades four and five, she got her own puppy! She was so excited to tell me about her pup when she came to see our Dog Performance Show at Old Home Week that August. She showed me pictures. Her parents were equally thrilled.

So, now she in in grade five and is one of my best leaders. Her biggest hurdle this year has been to do some of the higher contact trick training with Kannon. Some of the tricks Kannon will do involves having her jump over your legs and over your back. She will also bounce off your belly and jump into your arms. Once again, desire overrides fear as this girl desperately wanted to learn these tricks so she could do her own dance routine with Kannon. She had seen other students perform the routines in talent shows and during assemblies and she wanted to do that too. That required working the high contact tricks but she was ready and we were all there to encourage her. If she got too scared, she would pass and try again later. Through backing and forthing, she has them all down now and she is working on her own dance routine that has a surprising amount of high contact moves. I am going to let her do a series of jumps to the hand that I haven’t let anyone else do so far but she is ready!

She will perform her routine for the school before the end of the year. She MIGHT even be confident enough to be a guest headliner at this year’s Old Home Week show??? One of the students guested one night last year in front of about 2000 people- and it was one of the best routines Kannon has ever done- following the directions nearly flawlessly. This student’s routine is really cool, lots of interesting ways to move that I had never considered, and it will be a sure hit at Old Home Week!

So, why blog this?? Because yesterday, she came to talk to me. She has a quiet way and will slide up beside you and wait. It was just us, there in the hall, near the end of the day, when she reminded me of her journey. I love those moments with my students- the quiet spaces are almost holy and what we shared will remain hers and mine only. Some say I am the gift giver, bringing the dogs every day. I am not- my students are the gift givers- they make the magic, every day. Thank you, you know who, for ending my week with that gift!

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Let Me Count The Ways…………

Let Me Count The Ways............

So, as many our regular readers know, the dogs do a lot of different things at Prince Street School. This week was no different and next week, we will expand again!! If you are following our Facebook page, you know Archie is on vacation for a week so Kombat is spending some time in his place and Fling will be around a bit when Kombat is not.

This week, Charlene R-B took her Kindergarten class up to sketch the dogs as a pre-writing activity. I shared some of this on the fb page. What I did not share is what Charlene and I just could not get out of our minds. There was one student who made an electric connection with Shazam when we were letting the students a dog as part of their experience. Shazam wanted to be with L and L wanted to be with Shazam. I told the students they could hug and kiss Shazam if they wanted. Adorable does not even begin to express what we saw next- L reached out with his little hands and put his arms around Shazam and then, ever so gently, pulled Shazam’s head in to his cheek and they just sat there like that. He did this a few more times before the K kids had to go back to their classroom to continue their work. It stuck with me and I know it stuck with Charlene because she came back in to me today to ask me if I saw what she saw.

Now, many of you would think Charlene and I would talk about that right then, soon after, or later that day. Yes, most people probably would but we are not most people here at Prince Street School. We knew to not even dare make eye contact when we saw the connection between this student and the dog. Powerful things happen in our building every day- some are great and some are not but they are powerful- and we are often forced to “park it” if we can, for now, until we get a chance to mull it over. There are times when the connection to the moment is SO powerful that, if we were to linger there, right then, we would find ourselves crying. Sometimes it is okay and we do it anyway, as long as it will not upset the students. Our students watch us very carefully and are very good at reading and measuring adults.

There have been six students doing all the leadership/training for the last three weeks and I finally got another chance to check in with them today. It has been so rewarding to give them opportunity to take their skills and try to do their work with limited adult interference. It has not been without some bumps- it can be hard to share leadership with your peers!! The respect has to be mutual and you have to have confidence; that you can lead, that they will follow, and that you know what you are doing. These six students have come so far in the three weeks and I am SO proud of them!!! They even lead a few sessions for the students in the A+ Program, who are peers they do not know!! Talk about upping the ante!

Next week, we will do another session with Kindergarten. Denise MacDonald’s class will come upstairs Monday to do their research with the dogs before they do their writing assignment. They plan to come upstairs and sketch, take some notes, and do some touching. I won’t be able to be there this time but, with so much leadership capacity built within out school, I am confident we can find a couple of students from Jo-Anne Parson’s grade six class to let Shazam out for his touch, hug, and kiss experience with that class.

So, with our daily grade five training sessions, our sharing with K, our regular visits to A+, and some planned expansion of our individualized dog time (as breaks, calm-downs, and/or rewards), we sure are covering a lot of bases!!!

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Expanding Opportunities!! New Leaders in Training

Expanding Opportunities!! New Leaders in Training

So, at Prince Street School, we are lucky enough to house a special program run by the Board called The A+ Program. This program runs separately but, as with all who come into our building, this staff and these students are considered Prince Street family. We have been visiting the program a bit to give these students the opportunity to benefit from the dogs. It had been sporadic up until the last few weeks. Now we are trying to visit for one half hour once per week. (This picture is of today’s newly trained leader)

So far, three of these students have acted as the group leader. A couple of them have been leader twice. This week and last week, I used these visits to let my regular leadership trainers go in and do a kind of Train the Trainer session with the A+ students. My leadership dog trainers LOVED doing these sessions.

I lingered in the door today to watch and listen. My leaders ran a great session. All I did was ask them to pee Kannon and bring her to A+ for a specific time with her treats. We started the session with me setting out the goals for my trainers- To demonstrate what they have learned as leaders so far and to develop a new leader’s skills. I was thrilled to hear how my trained leaders worked with these students, who they had never worked with before and do not really know- could have been pretty intimidating- but they know what they know and their confidence in their ability is strong. My trainers gave good directions, took control as needed, allowed the new leader to lead, partnered with each other very well, and gave well-timed positive, respectful feedback to the students.

As they left the room, I delivered my feedback; that I was proud of them, liked how they worked together, was pleased to see them take control as needed, and thought they demonstrated excellent leadership. They were pleased and proud but all they really wanted to know was how soon they could do that again!!

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It’s A Dog’s (Wonderful) Life!!!

It's A Dog's (Wonderful) Life!!!

The students, well some of them, eh M??!! have been admonishing me for never updating this blog. (This picture is of a different M. I am going to put my blog policegirl M up on our fb page in a bit). I have been having trouble staying faithful to the blogging. Unfortunately, many of my best ideas come to me in the middle of the night as my day rolls through and gets reflected upon, and I am not going to get up in the middle of the night to jot my ideas. I do keep a writer’s notebook and I do scribble ideas there. So, as a bit of a solution, to share what we do and to be more faithful at updates, I started a Facebook page called The Prince Street Puppy Project. Check it out!!

It is not very often that I load a picture of what Kannon’s work INSIDE the classroom looks like. Usually the students are sitting up more but I never like to show their faces. I know the students can figure out who is who though, and that is all that matters!! There is a lot of Kannon’s day where you will find her outside the crate, usually on one of her blankets, usually with a student on the blanket with her. Kannon gets a reading time with at least one student every day and she often gets to do a bit of work time that would look a lot like this!

Kannon is also an important part of Book Buddies with Kathy Kiley’s class and one of the Kindergarten classes. Many times, it is only a few select younger students who get time with Kannon because there are just not enough hours in the day to do it all. BUT there is one whole K class who gets Book Buddies with a grade five partner AND Kannon. There is usually a bit of snuggle time which is always a favorite.

I will talk more about the leaders I have working right now in a future blog. There is a team of six grade five leaders who have been working with limited supervision. There are several goals of this work to be shared later. One hope (and we did do one experiment with it this week) is that some of these leaders could do visits in other classes or run sessions with some other younger students.

Every year we run this program, we expand what we can accomplish! I really do have the best job ever! I get to go to work at a school everyday, with my dogs, and share them with fantastic administration, colleagues, and students!!!

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A Different Kind of Pressure

A Different Kind of Pressure

So, I can’t remember if I have shared any other photos of the kids getting into the crates with the dogs??? but here is a neat one.

First, the disclaimer…..because my dog friends are probably cringing right now, hoping I will elaborate on why this is generally a very, very, very bad idea!! The dog’s crate should be a sacred place; a place where the dog can go to find peace and escape from the hub bub. Most children should never do this with most dogs. There! So, pretty much, unless you are really, really sure about the dog and the child, DON’T DO THIS!!!

Now, my dogs are quite used to this and seem to enjoy it quite a bit- Kannon in particular. This is a shot of Kannon with a boy who does this every so often and they have a great relationship built on a lot of mutual trust, respect, and love. This student likes to have the dogs close to him and loves to have the dogs all over him. Some of us will seek pressure, such as a hug, in times of anxiety, stress, or distress. Pressure, for most of us, should be used much more often as it is a very calming thing. At Prince Street School, we have been very lucky to have access to an Occupational Therapist over the last few years and she has taught us some pressure relaxation techniques. Many of our students would call them “movement breaks”.

A couple that I really like involve sitting in a chair and either pushing or pulling against your own weight. Next time you are feeling stressed out, overtired, spastic, anxious, or any other thing that would be categorized as not running at optimal levels, try this: Sit in your chair. Put your hands down beside you, palms down on the chair, and push up. You may or may not raise your body just slightly off the chair. Now reach your hands so you are holding the bottom of the chair and pull up. You will be forcing all your weight down into the chair. Lather, rinse, repeat! and you should feel relaxed or re-energized very soon!!

Okay, back to the dogs. Many of you know I play flyball and, in my sport, we use a lot of crates and expens for the dogs to rest in while they are not racing. Now, I have never seen a crate that someone thought was big enough for them to get in that they haven’t tried it. I have seen more than a few flyball kids, and adults!!, walk by a crate, think “I can fit in there”, and in they go! When someone has puppies at a tournament, you will often see the flyball kids climb into the expens to play with the puppies. Getting in crates and pens with dogs for flyball kids is as natural as can be- they know how to seek and receive the pressure. I am thrilled that my dogs are able to bring that same experience to our kids at Prince Street School!

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Back at it!!!

Back at it!!!

Well, we are back at it here at Prince Street School with our Prince Street Puppy Project! We are feeling very lucky to be able to continue our work this year! Here you see a picture of Kannon settling in to one of her new grade five classes. She gets to hang out and listen to a student read every day in addition to her daily training session. She will again be part of Kathy Kiley’s and Karla Willdey’s grade five classes. This year we are going to have her stay for one month in each class so we can give all the students more time with her.

SHAZAM! is having a great time already in Jo-Anne Parson’s grade six class. He is quite the dog, I must say!! Earlier this week, Jo-Anne and I moved him down the hall to her class because her students were gone to a specialist. Jo-Anne let SHAZAM!’s leash go and he ran all the way down the hall to where his crate is kept in her classroom, turned around, and sat down, exactly where his crate is supposed to be- YEP!! He knows his job already!! AND smart!! He has been observed more than once reaching both his paws and arms out of the crate to try and reach for something he wants. He also bumps his head on top of the cage strategically to knock the basket of treats across the top of the cage and off the edge in hopes of getting some. Staying one step ahead of this bright boy will keep us all very busy this year!!

Kannon has been getting lots of snuggle time from her students! She had her spay a couple of weeks ago. She was done on a Monday and was back with her kids on Tuesday. The students loved spending time doing their work down on the floor beside Kannon while she relaxed on her mat outside the crate!!

SHAZAM! has been doing great working with his students and they have done a great job adapting to working with him and his style after losing their KaBoom! I am really not sure what it is about these dogs but they seem to know how to do the pressure to settle the students. SHAZAM! just had his second Friday work/reward session with one of his girls. It amazes me to see him go from romping and playing with his toys with her to being settled in her lap, just hanging out.

So, what is on tap for us this year!!?? We never really know all of it. We do know there is a local television show being produced about Kannon and SHAZAM!’s flyball team, Fast n’ FURious Flyball, so we will be in the studio to finish that tomorrow. We are hoping to have a visit from my friends, Devin and Tara and their dog, Driftwood. Driftwood is being fit for some prosthetics- check him out of fb!! Driftwood is also having a television show made about him- a little more national coverage than we will have 😉 and our vet friend, Dr. MacLean from Charlottetown Vet Clinic wants to come in and have a little talk and visit with our dog classes- likely about animal first aid and some of the other science and health curriculum outcomes at those grade levels. Kannon will go to Indianapolis next month to compete in a North American Flyball Competition so we will have to blog some of that!! AND, of course, Annik performed at Old Home Week this summer- have to share the footage of her dance with Kannon, oh, and SHAZAM! got stung by a wasp last week so the kids had to do and learn some canine first aid- have to do a little bit on that………

So, lots to come!! Stay tuned!!

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CBC Island Morning story

I thought this would link but it didn’t seem to? Laura Chapin from Island Morning came to do a follow-up story about our Isle Award, found out KaBoom had died the week before we were presented with the award, and asked if she could talk to us about how we are handling that as she heard about our Community of Healing approach to our grief.

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Time to Continue: Our Community of Healing Approach

Time to Continue:  Our Community of Healing Approach

For the last few times I have written, I have promised my readers to continue with some sort of frequency. Perhaps I have been unrealistic in my ability to write on a schedule, but at the same time, I may need to write on a schedule. A couple of times a week is likely not going to happen but a few times a month probably can. So, thank you for those who have stuck with me, shared my posts, and continued to look for new ones!!

So, a little update is needed I guess. You all know from my last post that we lost one of our Prince Street dogs last month. We have been handling it okay at school and have been using a Community of Healing approach. The picture I am sharing today is how Kannon has been spending a lot of her time in Kathy Kiley’s class. Kannon is very good to “stay mat” so you can open her crate, pull out her blanket, and she will hang out there and not wander around. You see the students who are and have been acting as her “Compassion Buddies” on the floor doing their lessons.

KaBoom died on a Thursday and Kannon and I went back to school on Friday and she seemed not too bad- and this is a good picture of how we handled the Friday- but then I got her home and she cried ALL weekend!! So, starting on the Monday, this is how we handled her. Kathy and I also feel this has dramatically helped the students.

Now, KaBoom’s class is empty and quiet and they have been handling it a little differently, talking and writing amongst themselves, and it does seem to be helping them.

The students have all responded a little differently as you will hear from the link I have included from CBC’s Island Morning. I have to constantly be ready for them to respond as they are still working through it (as am I). Some have asked to see the urn. Others have asked to see inside the urn. Many have asked about cremation in general.

Others have asked if my dogs have noticed. I explain that, initially, I think so, but it is hard to know. I do know my pack has reformed back to how they were before KaBoom came. Kombat stopped playing with Kannon all the time when the baby came and Kombat aligned herself with the “older” dogs. Now Kombat is back to opting to hang with Kannon most of the time.

Some have asked if I will get another dog (and that answer is, of course, yes, but I am not sure when). Just last Friday, a student asked if she could see the last picture I took of KaBoom (when I handed her off to Karen at the vet for her operation- she has a little cone on her head). I didn’t have my phone right there but told her I would show her this week.

So, my new resolve is to write a few times a month. I do have lots of ideas so I will keep on. Really not sure I would. Mourning is such strange thing. I have now lost three dogs; one took it out of our hands, one let us ease him out, and a third was a punch in the gut. Each had it own individual challenges. Sometimes I still don’t sleep. Sometimes I am despondent. Sometimes I am okay. Having the Community of Healing has certainly helped me so I can only hope it has helped all of our students learn to deal with grief in a healthy way.

Blog at you again soon!

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