A central Ohio facility for dog agility training is more for children than animals, 10TV’s Jerry Revish reported on Wednesday.
Dog agility is a canine sport in which dogs crawl through tunnels, jump over bars and weave past poles. In competition, the dogs are usually handled by adults.
At Agility Ability, the focus is on children with special needs, though.
Delaware resident Connie Will, whose 8-year-old daughter Avery has special needs, said that she noticed an instantaneous difference in her daughter after she led a dog through an agility course.
"She ran through the course with the dog, and honestly I looked at her, and I said, 'Oh, my gosh, look at how happy she is!'" Will said.
The mother said that she thought what helped Avery gain confidence and skills might help other children.
Along with friend Cindy Warren of Baltimore, she founded the non-profit Agility Ability, located on Morrison Road in Gahanna.
"I said, ‘I need dog handlers, I need dogs. We have got to get this going for kids with special needs,’" Will said.
Handler Gale Haugh, who spent 26 years teaching special education, said the program helps children with autism spectrum issues, who have trouble making eye contact with other people.
"Making eye contact and doing conversational kinds of things can be really challenging," Haugh said. "One of the things they have to learn in Agility Ability is to look at their dog and make eye contact with the dog. That eye contact that they make with the dog, then translates to learning to make eye contact in conversations with people."
Haugh said that it helps some children learn how to follow a series of directions, and it motivates others with physical delays who would rather sit, get up and run with the dogs.
"We'll see them socializing with the dogs, but then they're also socializing with adults,” Will said. “You will hear these kids that don't talk typically, going 'Jump, jump.' And then you sit there and you're like, ‘They're talking!’”
Agility Ability, which was founded less than a year ago, now has 20 dog handlers who have helped two dozen special needs children overcome some of their challenges, Revish reported.
"We're using the dogs as a motivator to get the kids to work on some skills. The dogs are just key in motivation," Haugh said. " And I think that's the biggest plus in using dogs in therapeutic interventions.
Agility Ability will start two sessions of summer classes for children in about a week.
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