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How does it work

The Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum teaches social and emotional skills and is unique in its bridging of humane education and the emerging field of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL is based on the research on emotional intelligence and is the process by which students learn to manage their emotions, get along with others, acquire empathy and compassion, and discover essential decision-making and teamwork skills. The notion underlying SEL is that being socially and emotionally competent leads to school success; just as we teach academic subjects, we can teach social and emotional skills.

In a series of easily implemented lessons, students learn critical skills that will help them in their interactions with people (and animals) in school, at home, and later on in the workplace. The lessons are presented in five units: Achieving Awareness, Finding Feelings, Encouraging Empathy, Cultivating Cooperation, and Dealing with Decisions. Activities and readings focus on dogs and include feature lessons on dog behavior developed with renowned dog behavior expert Cesar Millan, from NatGeo WILD’s Dog Whisperer.

Each lesson is scripted to enable easy implementation and includes various different types of activities. Depending on students’ developmental level and their own teaching styles, teachers may select from discussions, role playing and hands-on activities, or they may use the readings and vocabulary words highlighted in each lesson plan. Song and dance, art, and writing activities provide opportunities for creative expression and collaboration. Letters to parents and specific activities for parents are included to ensure that families have opportunities to participate and follow up on what their children are experiencing in the classroom. The lessons have been field-tested with each grade level in 35 classrooms across the country, in schools ranging in size from 300 to 1,400 students in rural, urban, and suburban communities.

A unique aspect of the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum - and the reason it engages students, parents and educators - is the focus on Mutt-i-grees®, or shelter dogs. However, the Curriculum does not require the presence of a dog in the classroom, although some schools involve a therapy dog for some of the lessons. Research has shown that there are many positive effects of dog-human interactions, including laughter, conversation, and excitement. Even the vicarious presence of a dog (in the form of a puppet or toy) or simply thinking or reading about dogs has been shown to be effective in commanding attention, improving cognitive abilities, and contributing to happiness. People in the presence of dogs are often perceived to be calmer, happier, healthier, and less stressed. As one teacher said, "The kids look forward every day to ‘Mutt-i-grees® Time.’ They even love the name. It’s not some abstract title about social and emotional learning. It’s about dogs, something they can understand immediately and have fun saying.”

Outcome studies have been conducted with more than 800 students in schools in rural and low-income urban communities. The studies randomly assigned some classrooms to receive the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum and included student and educator surveys on school climate, as well as behavior, empathy, and parent involvement measures. Comparing students in classrooms using the Curriculum with students in non-Curriculum classrooms, we found:

  • Significantly higher understanding of shelter dogs and dog behavior among teachers and students in classrooms using the Curriculum;
  • Significantly higher levels of empathy and pro-social behaviors among students and
  • Higher levels of positive school climate (linked to bullying prevention) and parent involvement.

In open-ended responses, school principals reported that the Curriculum reduced the incidence of bullying, improved relationships among teachers, and reduced overall conflict in the classroom.

The Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum may be implemented in:

  • Mainstream classrooms
  • Service learning
  • Special education classrooms
  • After-school programs
  • Character education / Life skills programs
  • Health education
  • Preschool, childcare, and Head Start programs
  • Parent education programs
  • Title I Schools
  • In conjunction with bullying prevention programs
  • Mentoring programs

Lessons in the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum include:

  • Vocabulary / Key Words
  • Discussion
  • Focus on reflection
  • Hands-on activities
  • Role play
  • Song and dance
  • Opportunities for art, writing, and creative expression
  • Readings and resources
  • Family and community involvement activities