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Mobile Petz - breaking barriers

IN THE aftermath of the general election one issue which is engaging all the main parties is education, although when Mr Blair uttered his now famous and oft quoted words, "Education, Education, Education!" we can be sure he did not have in mind the teaching programmes being run by Sue and David Lindsay of Mobile Petz writes Polly King.

Nevertheless Sue and David, both qualified teachers, have been quietly getting on with the job of educating children to be dog safe for the last seventeen years. With the general media more than happy to pounce on any dog-related incident and blow it all out of proportion, their efforts can only be commended.

Mobile Petz was formed when Sue and David realised that there was much more they could achieve than simply visiting a school as they had been doing with Pat Dogs. They realised they could design courses which would help develop children’s learning skills and teach essential skills such as road safety. Another aspect of their work in schools has been to run anti bullying programmes, as well as how to be safe around dogs.

These courses have been very popular and in constant demand, so much so that David & Sue are finding they simply cannot visit every school which nvites them. As well as teaching in mainstream schools, the Mobile Petz team have developed training courses, to aid children with Downs Syndrome and other learning difficulties. The courses are designed to develop the children’s skills for learning, to increase their self-confidence, improve concentration levels and work as part of a team.

"It is wonderful to see the children develop a relationship with the dogs and develop their learning skills in the process," Sue explained, and indeed her enthusiasm for and delight in the work is very self-evident when speaking about the courses which both she and David are very keen to promote.

Sue and David’s classroom assistants are their "Mezanda" Keeshonds and Westmalyn April May, a Labrador, who are highly trained and very responsive to the needs of the children into whose classroom they are invited. All the dogs are exhibited and many have BOB wins; one which many Keeshond owners will know is Mezanda Class Act who has 2 CCs.

There are currently six dogs that regularly visit the schools and one "part-timer" a Bearded Collie, Bethlyntee Bannock, owned by David’s mother. This unusual team of classroom assistants was built around the Keeshonds, as Sue explained, "There are children who are not used to being with dogs and some are naturally very wary of approaching them, but the ‘fluffy’ coats give the keeshonds a teddy bear like appeal, which helps the children feel at ease with them". The way the dogs appeal to the children is important; for example for older children another canine member of the team, Dax - Julyn Jadzia At Merzanda - will use a skateboard, which the children think is very funny.

The dogs are taught tricks which help to break down any barriers. One such trick is to wave to the children on entering or leaving a classroom. "It can take quite a time for some children to develop trust and for them to develop a friendship with the dogs, but we have found that the simple act of waving, or playing games such as statues with the children can help". David’s Labrador, Skye, will ‘speak’ on command, so the children are told that they can move about the classroom but as soon as Skye barks they have to freeze, and stay silent. This is used as part of the dog safe programme, and teaches the children that running from a dog is not the best option.

For children with learning difficulties, the aims of the courses are to develop the child’s abilities especially their listening and following instruction skills. One type of exercise employed for this is to encourage the children to dance with the dogs, who will move to the music in much the same way heelwork to music trained dogs know their cues. This is especially useful for children with Downs Syndrome or Autism.

Another exercise the children are encouraged to do is to complete simple obstacle courses with the dogs. The obstacle courses use hoops on the floor, tunnels and plank walking, similar to that which an agility dog might do, although obviously much easier. To complete an obstacle course the children are encouraged to give the dog a treat, so that the dog will follow their hand, and they then guide the dog to the obstacle they want it to tackle. This is built up over a number of weeks.

"The schools we visit do not have money to spend on courses and visits, so we do run the courses for free, none are financed by local authorities, or charity", explained Sue. Mobile Petz are sponsored by Hill’s Pet Nutrition, as Sue pointed out, without whose help they would not be able to do the amount of good work they do.

As demand grows for Mobile Petz to visit more and more schools, social services groups, college’s skills for life groups and young offenders units, Sue and David are hoping that other dog owners would be willing to join them and help, by forming teams across the UK. "The news of what we do is spread by word of mouth, we do not advertise our services in any way", Sue said, "And the requests keep coming in. There is no way we can visit every school, college or group we are invited to, it is just not possible".

Later this year Mobile Petz will be at Canford Park Arena, in Dorset, on the 24th and 25th September at Paws In The Park which is being supported by Our Dogs.

If you can’t make it to Paws In The Park and would like to help Sue and David, please contact them on 01202 891690 or email