Canines Breed Community-Based Service Learning and Citizen Science Opportunities

Canines Breed Community-Based Service Learning and Citizen Science Opportunities

Affectionately dubbed man’s best friend, dogs have a special place in human society. Through museum exhibits, opportunities for service-based learning, and psychology-centric citizen science, families can engage in meaningful studies of all things dog!

Lovingly known as man’s best friend, dogs have lots to offer to humans. Not only are they great companions, but they’re fascinating subjects of study, and can teach us a lot about ourselves – despite differences in genetics. By utilizing a range of resources, families can use dogs as a lens through which to explore service learning, citizen science, and the evolution of human society.

Currently, the Springfield Museums are hosting a special dog-centric exhibit. Titled, “Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs, the exhibit chronicles canine history all the way from its lupine forefathers to its close connections with modern humans.  In chronicling the history of the relationship between dogs and humans, Wolf to Woof aims to provide answers to the question of what makes the dog/human relationships so unique. The largest and most comprehensive of its kind, this special exhibit includes four separate themed sections that share a wealth of information with visitors through artifacts, photo murals, multimedia displays, dioramas (including taxidermic specimens of wild canines), and models of familiar domesticated dog breeds. Human visitors to the exhibit can imagine themselves as canine while exploring some of the exhibits experiential components, including challenging their own sense of smell, listening closely to find meaning in dogs’ varied howls, and examining fossil and gene-based evidence of the links between modern day domesticated breeds and wolves. Exhibit is up through May 12, 2016.

In March, families can deepen their understanding of dog/human relationships by attending a special event spotlighting the role of service dogs in modern society. Held on Thursday, March 17th from 12:15-1pm, Trust the Dog: Partners in Exceptional will be a lecture-style presentation focusing on the meaningful work done by dogs trained in the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation. The presentation will not only teach visitors about how the organization’s German Shepherds are trained, but will share amazing stories of their accomplishments, as well. Highlights include leading the first blind hiker to the summit of Mt. Everest and saving an elderly man from his burning home.

To make studies of canines truly community-based, families can draw on resources from local humane societies and other canine-centric organizations. Children who are interested in learning about the ins and outs of dog ownership and cultivating a loving relationship with a canine, but who may not yet be able or ready to make a permanent commitment to care of an entire canine lifetime can make short-term commitments (with the help of family members) to care for dogs through a local animal shelter’s pet fostering program. Through pet fostering, families can do meaningful community service work and learn about caring for a dog together without having to make a forever commitment. While pet fostering is great way to get just a taste of pet parenting, it’s not a great option for families who have no experience in caring for dogs: sometimes, fostered animals can have special needs resulting from their pre-shelter experiences, so fostering is best for families whose members have had some experience with dog ownership.

Another way to engage in dog-centric service-based learning is by fostering service dogs through local organization, Diggity Dogs. Fostering service dogs isn’t as complicated as it might sound, but it requires a more serious commitment than fostering shelter dogs does. Families helping to raise a future service dog make a one-year commitment and help puppies for their future career by using certain commands and procedures. While developing a temporary relationship with a puppy can be difficult, the impact that service dogs can have on the life of the people they support is far greater than the challenge of losing a canine friend, and the experience of raising service dogs can teach powerful lessons to children.

Does your family already have a dog (or two)? Citizen science comes into play in dog ownership in the form of leading through example. Citizen Canine, a Canadian organization committed to creating a culture of responsible dog ownership, offers tips for creating Canine Community amongst dogs and their caretakers. Rather than collecting data and contributing to ongoing research, this citizen science opportunity is more psychology-based, and asks participants to work to make a positive impact on their community by demonstrating and spreading the word about the behaviors that are part of responsible dog ownership. In doing so, dog owners will, the organization hopes, make a positive impact on their communities.

[Photo credit: (cc) michael; (cc) Mark Strozier; (cc) Takashi Hososhima; (cc) Jan Truter]

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