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Conference views dogs as educational tools

During his presentation at the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum program

During his presentation at the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum program hosted at the Roslyn Claremont Hotel, Cesar Millan channels a cat to demonstrate and explain what is really happening in the minds of dogs and cats when they meet. Cesar Millan is the internationally renowned dog expert and host of The Dog Whisperer. (Apr. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Nancy Borowick

It has been said that you can't teach an old dog new tricks -- but a dog of just about any age may be a great teacher.

That is the lesson behind a two-day orientation and training conference in Roslyn for more than 100 educators, which ran Friday and continues Saturday, on a Mutt-i-grees curriculum that builds upon a child's affinity for animals and highlights unique characteristics of shelter pets.

"If a child learns to calm a dog down, he will practice that wherever he goes," said canine expert Cesar Millan, who hosts the "Dog Whisperer" TV show on Nat Geo WILD and was a highlighted speaker at the conference, held at the Roslyn Claremont Hotel.

Lessons on dog behavior developed with Millan are integrated throughout the curriculum, which uses animals to help teach social and emotional skills. Millan, whose eponymous foundation funds the curriculum, spoke to teachers and showed how tension and energy can affect a dog's behavior. He demonstrated with Junior, 4, a white-and-gray pit bull.

"We ask kids to focus on the dogs," he said. "The dog is our vehicle to reconnect."

The curriculum was developed by Port Washington-based North Shore Animal League and the Pet Savers Foundation, along with Yale University's School of the 21st Century. It builds social and emotional skills -- empathy, self-esteem, team-building -- to help kids better care for themselves, the people around them and animals, according to the animal league.

Misty Ginicola, an associate professor at Southern Connecticut University and a training and evaluation associate for Mutt-i-grees with Yale, said the instructional plan covers pre-K through high school. It does not require the presence of a dog in the classroom; puppets can be used or some classes can videoconference with shelter animals. Lessons for younger students include role play, reading books that highlight dogs, and arts and crafts.

The first order of lesson plans for pre-K through third grade and for grades 4, 5 and 6 is free. After that, extra curriculum kits are $50 each.

Nearly 1,200 schools in 43 states use the curriculum, including about 30 in Brooklyn and Queens. Animal league officials said they are looking to expand the program into Long Island schools.

East Northport Middle School guidance counselor Theresa Braun said she planned to bring back information to her district.

"It has a very pro-social approach, and I liked that," she said.

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