Pawsitive Connection (PC) is a therapeutic dog training program for Colorado at-risk youth. Our innovative curriculum combines therapeutic group discussions with positive reinforcement based dog training to develop empathy and prosocial skills. Our program serves youth in a variety of settings ranging from youth in traditional schools that have been targeted by the administration for bullying behavior, all the way up to kids in lockdown facilities within the juvenile justice system. We also work with youth who have autism spectrum disorders or developmental disabilities, and occasionally groups of adults who would benefit from our program.
Many of the youth who participate come from the foster care system, have been involved in gang violence, have substance abuse issues, or are seeking help for anger management. Although we do not directly address individual issues, our program incorporates broad topics that are applicable to all the youth involved, and are then personalized through the discussion portion of our group. Some examples of topics include judgments and stereotypes, trust, appearance, distractions, body language, advocacy, and terminating relationships. We relate each topic to that day’s training goals for the dogs. This allows our participants to verbalize issues that may be going on for them personally through the experiences and perspective of the dogs.
Our program uses positive reinforcement training, and our youth are taught appropriate ways to handle the corresponding frustration that is inherent in training a dog. Additionally, our training sessions often require teamwork,
which helps to build stronger bonds between the group members.
We offer 8 and 10 week sessions, during which we generally meet once a week for one hour. We offer groups both at our location and at our partner agencies’. Our participants usually range in age from 8-18, and we provide customized curriculums to meet the needs of different ages and settings. We analyze the success of the program
through quantitative data collected from pre and post-tests, as well as the anecdotal feedback that we receive from staff and students.
The positive feedback we receive from both students and staff has been overwhelming. One young lady states, “Freedom Service Dogs is an amazing program. They have helped me come so far on my communication and patience.” Another participant writes, “This program helped me see that not all situations are the same everywhere…dogs can go through the same things we do, maybe even alongside us.” The staff involved often comment that behaviors have changed during the weeks between groups, as students recognize the importance of staying on task in order to participate each week.
For organizations interested in participating, please contact the Pawsitive Connection program manager, Marie Giezendanner, at firstname.lastname@example.org.