AURORA — If learning from example is most effective, canine campers at Edgerton Explorit Center should be experts.
Nebraska State Patrol service dogs Malloy and Jerry brought their handlers, Trooper Kendall Reed and Trooper Mike Rice, to the Explorit Center Tuesday as part of a weeklong camp about dogs.
Mary Molliconi, Edgerton Explorit Center executive director, said having highly trained service dogs like Malloy and Jerry, and handlers like Reed and Rice, as part of the camp fits well.
“It just gives them (campers) an idea of what dogs can do as an occupation and how dogs and people work together,” Molliconi said.
Kids participating have been bringing their own dogs to the camp throughout the week to do some training of their own.
“We talk about why it’s important for dogs to heel, sit down, come … the basic seven commands,” Molliconi said.
Also covered during the camp are dog anatomy and dog health.
The participants are making healthy dog treats and learning what is safe for dogs to eat. The week will culminate in a camp dog show.
“It’s fun to see how it starts out as total chaos,” Molliconi said. “Into the end of the week it works out really well. They all do a great job.”
Reed and Rice brought along examples of equipment used when training and handling the patrol’s service dogs.
Explaining the technical aspects of obtaining, training and working with law enforcement service dogs can sometimes be challenging, Reed said.
“It’s kind of hard with the younger kids,” he said.
Having something for the kids to handle and see is important, Rice said.
“The younger kids might not understand what you’re explaining until you get a sleeve or a muzzle out,” he said. “You make show and tell a part of it.”
On the center’s lawn, Reed and Rice explained what breed Malloy and Jerry are (Belgian Malinois) and why, what they are trained to detect, and let campers handle some police service dog equipment. Later, Jerry tracked down a hidden object in the Explorit Center’s basement.
Molliconi deemed the day a success.
“The officers do a great job in talking to them about what they do for training,” she said. “That kind of reinforces the things we do for the dog training.”
The dog-themed camp has been going on for nine summers, Molliconi said, and has been full every year. This was Malloy and Jerry’s first visit to the Explorit Center’s camp.
She said selecting camp themes is a personal endeavor for her and the Edgerton staff members.
“A lot of it goes with what as a staff we’re passionate about,” Molliconi said. “I’ve always been passionate about animals, so I do a dog camp.”
Also on the center’s camp roster are sessions about horse science and a veterinarian camp.
“Kids go to veterinary clinics to get some hands-on experience,” Molliconi said.
Aspects of science that might not have otherwise been explored are also on organizers’ minds, she added.
“I always say, there’s science everywhere,” Molliconi said. “Part of our responsibility as a science center is to introduce students to things maybe they haven’t been introduced to before.”
That includes learning about drug-sniffing dogs like Malloy and Jerry, who had the campers’ rapt attention Tuesday afternoon.
Human-canine relationships are center to much of the week’s activities, Molliconi said.
“The most important thing is that connection between the dog and their person,” she said.
Jessica Votipka is the education reporter at the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420.