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Hand2Paw expands to PSPCA

Yesterday, Hand2Paw doubled in size by expanding to our second site, PSPCA in North Philadelphia.

The session was lead by Hand2Paw’s trainer, Carol Siegrist, who is now a private dog trainer but actually used to be the behaviorist at PSPCA! Needless to say, she is an expert on the facility and on the best practices for the animals.

Photo: Amy DiDomineco

The youths enjoyed a safety instruction orientation done by Carol while chowing down on pizza. Hand2Paw always tries to provide snacks as we have found that the youths are typically quite hungry that late in the afternoon, and we want them to be able to focus on the tasks at hand!

After the safety orientation and a brief overview of what PSPCA does, the youths were instructed on the practice of “barrier training,” which is a technique that is used to encourage shelter dogs to present well in their kennels to potential adopters.

Five of the six youths at this session were returners – one has even come nearly 15 times, so they are all very aware of how important it is that these dogs behave and present properly, so that they are most adoptable. The youths are some of these dogs’ biggest fans – always asking if so-and-so got adopted yet – so their hearts were definitely in this exercise.

During barrier training, dogs are rewarded with a “click” and “treat” when they stand calmly and confidently by the opening of their kennel. The youths walked down the rows of the Greenhouse working with each and every dog.

Next, the youths worked on leash walking with several dogs upstairs in the auditorium. Dogs that pull on the leash or jump are less adoptable than those who walk calmly by your side, so the youths once again used clickers to reward dogs for proper leash walking behavior. Hand2Paw endorses only positive reinforcement training. Dogs that participate in our program are never scolded for bad behavior, only rewarded for good behavior. Our program aims to teach this positive method of training and interacting with animals to the youths, encouraging them to go back to their communities and teach their friends and peers these techniques!

Finally, the youths got a full tour of PSPCA, which included a trip back to the horse stables and a chat with the Humane Law Enforcement Officer, who told the youths about his training and what it would take for them to pursue a similar career!

It was all smiles at the end of the day – check out our proud future dog trainers!

The inspiration behind Hand2Paw

Hand2Paw is just one program among many that has produced synergistic solutions by empowering disadvantaged individuals to take control of their futures. Here, we highlight two of our favorites, and encourage you to send us tips about others you find throughout the country and around the world! Programs like these are spreading like wildfire not only because they are mutually beneficial but also, in some cases, because they are vital to the wellbeing of their participants.

The original inspiration for Hand2Paw , along with Back on My Feet (see below), was Puppies Behind Bars, a program that places Labrador puppies with inmates. This program empowers inmates to train these dogs to become service dogs for the disabled.

This program is incredible and benefits both parties. The inmates have all the time in the world to spend with the puppies, which provides them with the vital socialization and comprehensive training that they need. The inmates benefit by learning responsibility, patience, real skills, how to give and receive unconditional love, and how to work as a team.

Back on My Feet         

Founded in 2007 in Philadelphia by a truly amazing woman named Anne Mahlum, this program promotes the self-sufficiency of the homeless population by encouraging them to run as a means to build confidence and achieve their goals. They have developed a comprehensive program that includes job connections, employment, and housing.

They now have chapters in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Chicago. Look how far they have come in only four years! Back on My Feet, you inspire us. Keep up the good work.