North Carolina Teens Socialize Shelter Dogs

 |  Apr 20th 2008  |   1 Contribution


I love sharing these stories! So why doesn't every city and town have a program like this????

Thanks to WRAL.com for this article.

Students Help Socialize Shelter Dogs
By KIM GRIZZARD
The Daily Reflector of Greenville

GREENVILLE, N.C. Ken and Barbie are not the perfect couple. They have fears to overcome, and they lack social skills, probably due to the way they've been sheltered all their lives.

Catherine Brown is helping them work through their issues. But she's not a therapist; she's a teenager. And Ken and Barbie aren't dolls; they're dogs being cared for at the Humane Society of Eastern Carolina.


The Daily Reflector of Greenville reports that all are part of a program that pairs pups with people who try to help them become suitable companions.

"We've been working with the puppies to socialize them," said Dr. Linda Kuhn of East Carolina Veterinary Service. "We're trying to teach them some good dog manners so people will want to adopt them."

Kuhn, whose children attend The Oakwood School, began about a year and a half ago recruiting Oakwood students to participate in training exercises with dogs at the Humane Society. Since then, students from some other area schools have joined the program, which meets once a week after school.

Under the supervision of Kuhn and Linda Monico, owner of New Levels Dog Training, students work with dogs awaiting adoption to teach them behaviors that will appeal to potential owners. Students use positive reinforcement, including dog treats, to teach dogs skills that could give them a leg up on other dogs awaiting adoption.

"We try to teach them the basic (commands), sit, stay, down," said Maddie Daniel, a seventh-grader at E.B. Aycock Middle School, who started volunteering with the program in January.

Students initially began working to teach new tricks to older dogs that had been kept for a long time at the Humane Society, a no-kill facility. A recent influx of puppies at the pound has given students a chance to test their training skills on younger dogs.

Humane Society Facility Manager Callie Clements said pairing the Humane Society's youngest volunteers with some of its youngest pets is proving to be a perfect match. Since the program began, the Humane Society's puppies have been getting placed into homes faster than before.

"It's very helpful with our puppies because no one wants to adopt a puppy that won't come to you," Clements said. "People want dogs that are loving and respond to human contact."

That can be a problem for dogs that spend their earliest days in pens at the Humane Society, Monico said. When puppies are brought in, they generally must be kept in isolation for a few weeks so their health can be assessed.

Monico said that, for dogs, early socialization with people can be key. It is also important to expose dogs at a young age to sights and sounds of a typical household, she said, so that they will not develop fears of objects they may encounter later. That's why she brings a range of props for students to use with the dogs.

"We try to bring all kinds of things," Monico said. "We're trying to get the dogs used to it so it's not such a frightening thing ... so they don't panic."

Nick Reed, a freshman at Oakwood, often plays the role of guinea pig, trying on ball caps and raincoats to gauge the puppies' response to changes in their environment.

"We try to get rid of some of the normal fears in dogs," Reed said. "We reward them if they come close to us."

During weekly sessions, students introduce different foreign objects into the dogs' environment. A cookie sheet, for example, may be placed on the floor of a pen to see if a dog will step on it or walk around it.

"A cookie sheet looks like a scale at the vet's office," Kuhn explained.

As the dogs progress in their social training, students may mimic some of the basic examination procedures a vet would perform, such as looking into a dog's ears or mouth or touching its feet.

Clements said students have worked with dozens of dogs of varying breeds since the program began. To her knowledge, none have been returned after adoption.

At Oakwood, where students are required to participate in community service each year, the Humane Society has become one of the most popular choices for volunteer work. Students like Oakwood sophomore Catherine Brown continue volunteering even after they've completed the hours the school requires.

"I've always liked animals," she said, "so getting to interact with them like this is really fun for me."

Lauren Thorn, school social worker at Oakwood, said the program has other benefits as well.

"It teaches them independence and gives them a sense of accomplishment," she said. "Learning to work with difficult dogs is symbolic of working in other difficult situations."

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