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Shaping Both Ends of the Leash

Posted on February 07 2015

He had been abandoned at the age of five, literally left on the streets to fend for himself. By age ten he had been shuffled from foster home to foster home. By thirteen he had racked up enough points to be incarcerated for two years. His probation officer noted that “He often speaks of death and appears to be numb and closed off to the world.”
On the first day of class the boy was exactly what the probation officer had said. Sad, closed off, quiet, and seemingly untouchable. We introduced the dogs on day two. We demonstrated safe touch, treat giving and simple body language. We noticed one of the dogs was indifferent to the youth introduced and even to some of the adults, except with this youth. The dog clearly responded to the “very” slight gestures the youth made to give him a treat and scratch him on the chest. It was hard to tell how the youth felt or how he would handle the dog.
Several classes later it was clear there was a bond forming between the youth and his dog. We knew trust and empathy were not ordinarily a part of this young man’s repertoire. We all saw the smiles and pride our youth had for the accomplishments of “his” dog. Towards the end of our session the bond between the boy and his dog was heart warming. It was incredible to see them on the floor, rolling and the youth laughing! The boy would communicate regularly with our team, giving input and suggestions. He was very proud of what he had taught his dog. We knew that it was most likely the first time he had been able to point at an accomplishment and say “I did that, I helped this dog!” The dog was adopted during the program but stayed to finish his “training” with his youth. The adopted family attended the graduation. The boy was offered the opportunity to hand over his new found friend to the adoptive family. He was visibly sad. As the boy handled the dog for the last time he had tears in his eyes. The boy reached down and gave the dog a hug and told him “Be good like I know you can.”
This youth finished high school and found a job. He stayed out of trouble. Because of a dog? We like to think that human-animal bond played a significant role. Empathy, trust, patience and pride – powerful gifts from our four footed friend.

Pawsitive Works is a 501c3 non-profit organization providing a canine assisted learning program for organizations wanting to help youth at risk. Helping dogs, helping youth…. Pawsitive Works –Shaping Both Ends of the Leash!

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