Positive reinforcement training wins the day for children and their dogs

Hazel Johnson holds canine classes for children in Embo. | SUPPLIED

Hazel Johnson holds canine classes for children in Embo. | SUPPLIED

Published Mar 17, 2024


Durban — In a township just outside Hillcrest, a group of children are determined to learn how to care for their pet dogs, thanks to Inja Yethu, an organisation that is helping them to do just that.

Here children are not only taught how to control dogs’ behaviour with compassion but also to build a deep and meaningful relationship with their canine companion.

It is for this reason that the founder of the organisation, 60-year-old Hazel Johnson, is this week’s unsung hero.

For the past year, Johnson has been working with children in the community of Embo and their dogs.

The children need to be taught how to care for their four-legged fur friends, and Johnson and her team have been imparting the knowledge and skills to them.

She meets with the children and their dogs twice a week, for an hour, during the school terms at the Siyajabula Trust Children’s Home in Mademeni and the Inhlangano Senior Primary School in Embo.

Johnson says training the children and their dogs was not just about teaching the children how to control the dogs’ behaviour but about building a deep and meaningful relationship between them. Canine classes hosted by Johnson and her team teach children that dogs need to be trained with positive reinforcement to learn the desired behaviours.

Grant Smith from The Smart Dog organisation volunteers his services to train dogs at the school on Thursdays. Each child receives a “marshmallow bracelet” sponsored by Nation Changers, a spiritual group.

Loose marshmallows have to be made into a disposable bracelet, which is done by Caroline Moyle, a volunteer at the organisation. Every child is given dog treats and dogs are sent home with a kilogram tub of treats to be used as homework rewards.

Water is provided for the dogs to drink and the kids to wash their hands.

Johnson said their lessons also taught children respect for all creation, kindness, compassion, responsibility and leadership among other life skills.

Inja Yethu also provides potential career opportunities, canine care promotion, community and animal healthcare through rabies campaigns and animal sterilisation.

It relies on donations to provide dog food, leashes and collars, T-shirts, chocolates, biscuits, marshmallows, second-hand dog beds, kennels, bowls, shampoo and veterinary treatment.

Johnson said they were grateful to the Kloof SPCA, Animal Anti-Cruelty, Pulse Veterinary clinic and Snip Veterinary Clinic, and vets.

Among the challenges she said they faced were communication and veterinary treatment.

“Basic dog handling skills is our method to teach kindness and non-violence. This sounds like a simple calling, but these animals become more and more important to these children so how do we turn our backs when the pets need treatment?” she said.

Johnson holds a Diploma in Public Relations Management and is motivated to help others because of her spirituality.

“I am passionate about the creation and everything that lives because they have as much right to be here as you and I do. I am motivated by God who created heaven and earth,” she said.

Sunday Tribune

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