The Dog Whisperer on KidZania: KidZania Adds Canine Center

LOS ANGELES, California. Cesar’s Way. August 20, 2012. (English). -KidZania, a chain of the world’s most entertaining and educational theme parks for kids, has gone to the dogs—well, a dog-centered theme, anyway.

With theme parks located in eight different countries around the world, KidZania’s concept centers on fueling a child’s natural desire to create, explore and collaborate by encouraging them to role play through more than 120 different hands-on trades and professions that are required to run a real-life city, including an airport, city hall, banks, restaurants, hospitals and more.

In June in Mexico City, the park opened its 10th location, and it includes a new group of vocations: dog care and services. Called the Canine Center, it introduces children aged 4 to 14 to professions like working with a guide dog, using a dog to do security as a customs agent, and running a veterinary clinic.

“The Canine Center is incredibly popular,” says Cammie Dunaway, Global Chief Marketing Officer for KidZania, which is headquartered in Mexico City. “The love of dogs is very apparent as the kids want to train them, take care of them, and ‘check their vitals’ just like a veterinarian does in real life. It really gives the children the feeling of being an animal doctor and trainer, plus the benefit of the affection shared between child and pet.”

The key part of the process, she adds, is that the children learn the importance of being responsible pet owners while enjoying the whole experience.

Kids Love Dogs

KidZania locations in Santa Fe and Monterrey, Mexico, included a veterinarian experience for the pint-sized park-goers, and it was always one of the most popular activities, Dunaway says. That’s why park organizers decided to expand on the theme in the new Mexico City park in Cuilcuilco.

“In our new facility, we wanted to feature dogs that work in different types of jobs—guide dogs, rescue dogs and working dogs as well as pets,” Dunaway says. “All of them provide a fresh perspective of what pets can do for us as society. Kids love animals and this is a great way to show them that that love can also manifest itself into a great career as a trainer or a vet. Getting a few hugs and kisses from the dogs along the way does not hurt!”

The Canine Center also helps children familiarize themselves with and learn to not be afraid of the animals, which are typically used to guard people and property in Mexico.

“The goal of the activity is to familiarize the kids with different types of dogs and their duties; warn them to not approach a stray, sick or guard dogs; and then to give them the opportunity to work alongside a dog with different training techniques,” Dunaway says.

Real Dogs, Real Experiences

Unlike the other professions that the children experience, the Canine Center—which is sponsored by pet product giant Pedigree—features real-live dogs, which are carefully selected for calm temperament and trained and handled by professional dog handlers. The dogs come from organizations and animal shelters that participate in the Pedigree Adoption Drive initiative in Mexico, Dunaway says.

“The dogs were rescued by the shelters and by Pedigree’s request, some of them were selected to participate in KidZania by UNAM [Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, or National Autonomous University of Mexico] experts in ethology,” Dunaway explains.

The furry friends are chosen for their love of children, mellow nature, and ability to show affection and trainability, she says. With the help of Pedigree and Valley Dog Spa and Healthcare Center, they’re given top-notch medical care, training and boarding at KidZania—and lots of love. “We have identified the best way to protect the dogs while providing the best experience to all parties,” Dunaway says.

A Safe, Hands-On Experience

To help facilitate the experience for the kids, “Zupervisors” lead the way through the Canine Center. They are specially trained to handle the dogs and teach them everything they need to know about caring for the canine ambassadors.

“The Zupervisors are trained to answer all kinds of questions and properly handle any situation during the activities in the park,” Dunaway says. “They have enough understanding in each one of the career experiences to provide thoughtful and educative answers for any questions a child may ask. They love what they do and are fully prepared to represent their experience area perfectly!”

Though the dogs are carefully selected for their calm temperaments, the staff still has tools and safety protocols in place should a problem arise between a dog and a child, Dunaway says.

“We have never had an issue, but we are very strict on the dynamics in the park,” she says. “The dogs and kids are not allowed to roam freely. A Zupervisor is always with the children, taking them through the various exercises related to being a vet or a trainer, like checking with a stethoscope or teaching a dog to play with a toy. If there is a child that is misbehaving, the Zupervisor will separate them from that experience and work to calm them down.”

Coming to a Town Near You

Currently, KidZania theme parks are in Mexico, Japan, Malaysia, Chile, Dubai, Portugal, Indonesia and South Korea—but the organization has plans to open 12 new parks, including Thailand, Brazil, Kuwait, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, Russia and the United States.

 Will they have Canine Centers, too? “Woof!” laughs Dunaway. “You can bet on it!”

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