Dogs learn, teach new skills with students

Posted 12/31/12

Both shelter dogs and students are giving a second chance through Pawsitive Connection. Pawsitive Connection is a program hosted by Freedom Service …

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Dogs learn, teach new skills with students


Both shelter dogs and students are giving a second chance through Pawsitive Connection.

Pawsitive Connection is a program hosted by Freedom Service Dogs of America, a nonprofit organization that rescues shelter dogs and trains them to be service dogs for soldiers, veterans and children with disabilities, physical and mental.

As part of the program and the dogs’ training, the dogs work with various groups for at-risk children and teens, including Connections Learning Center, an alternative, specialty school in Jefferson County Public School for students in seventh through ninth grade students who were expelled or at risk of failing.

“I saw so much personal growth and change,” said CLC facility manager Donette Kagarise. “They treat each other with great respect. They’ve learned a lot.”

For the last semester, Freedom Service Dogs interns Maureen Huang and Kris Landen, both students working on their master’s degrees in social work at the University of Denver, brought service dogs in training to their classroom and taught them how to train the dogs.

“Our goals are to help the students develop social skills,” said Huang. “It’s an important confidence builder because dogs can connect with kids in a way adults can’t.”

The students were taught how to teach the dogs basic skills, like sit and stay, as well as other “tricks” that are necessary for some of their future owners, such as fetch and pull, to open a refrigerator, for example.

Though they were being taught how to train dogs, they learned a much bigger virtue that any dog owner knows is a necessity — patience.

On the last day of class, each student said what he or she learned over the eight weeks, and for many it was patience, which many realized should be transferred to their fellow humans too.

Lise Morgan, the serve and learn coordinator for CLC, said the students learn a lot from their furry companions.

“They engage, come out of their shell and actively learn trust, empathy and giving,” Morgan said. “The teachers and staff are amazed and see glimpses of the student’s true self.”

And the dogs learn a lot, too.

Once the dogs have completed their training through Freedom Service Dogs, they will be paired up with a child, solider or veteran who faces challenges such as autism, a traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“It’s a great opportunity to train the dogs for veterans with PTSD,” said Destiny, a student at CLC. “It’s cool to get to learn how to do that. I learned how to train dogs and how to read body language, which helps understand people better.”

Destiny’s last name is not being published for privacy reasons.

Other students said they learned not to judge people without getting to know them first, how to better read emotions and how to cooperate in a group setting.

Pawsitive Connection is one of several community-oriented programs CLC offers its students. The students are required to take one of the courses and are placed in the course that best suits them.

“It’s all about building empathy,” said special education teacher Lynn Larsen at CLC. “We try to put programs in place that help them understand how other people think.”

Other programs include a chance to become an entrepreneur, work with senior citizens, visit patients at Children’s Hospital and other community opportunities.

pawsitive connection, lise morgan, freedom service dogs of america


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