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Program Uses Assistance Dog Training to Help at-Risk Teens

I'd like to thank Denise, of San Francisco, for drawing my attention to a clever program in Merced County, California. The program highlights my all-time...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Jun 23rd 2009


I’d like to thank Denise, of San Francisco, for drawing my attention to a clever program in Merced County, California. The program highlights my all-time favorite blogging theme: the benefits that humans derive from dogs and cats.

Last October this blog covered a program in which veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder trained service dogs. The veterans enjoyed demonstrable improvement and the dogs went on to help other disabled individuals.

Merced County’s program is similar. In the program, at-risk high school students train assistance dogs. According to the county’s website, the students have reaped numerous benefits.

  • While training service dogs for the disabled, at-risk youth learn about child abuse, animal abuse, and domestic violence, and also explore empathy, citizenship, responsibility, and good choices.
  • The dogs are accepting and non-judgmental while offering love and motivating the students.
  • Watching the dogs’ rapid, measurable progress teaches the teens that positive reinforcement, empathy, and an encouraging, upbeat attitude are effective methods of interacting with others.
  • The children that participated have improved self esteem, behavior at home, school performance, and many are no longer involved in the child welfare system.
  • Through pre-testing and midway-point testing, HSA is able to show the teens knowledge of dog behavior, domestic violence, and child / animal abuse.
  • Interviews with the teens reveal diminishing gang involvement, self-injury, and substance abuse.
  • Interviews with parents show support for the positive impact on the teens, including improved home relationships, grades, and a decrease in trouble at school and negative peer relationships.
  • The community receives an increase of well-trained dogs to provide assistance to those in need.
  • As for the program’s downsides . . . I can’t think of any.

    According to the County Website, the program was the idea of a social worker who noticed the positive effects of an in-training service dog on children. My hat goes off to that individual, and to the County of Merced.

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