The SPCA and Peacock Acres have established a wonderful relationship with each other over the past few months. 10 of our youth have participated in the Take The Lead program, and the relationships that they have made with their dogs and their trainers have led them to positive change and much needed success. Many of our boys struggled to make relationships with their dogs at first, but as the class progressed, so too did their ability to train their dogs effectively. In the end of the first session, two of the dogs that were trained by the Peacock Acres kids were adopted after our boys wrote adoption letters that were placed in the dogs’ windows for all to see!
In 2008, The SPCA began a collaboration with Washington Middle School in Salinas, pairing at-risk kids with untrained shelter dogs with the goal of improving both their lives. Since then, the program has expanded to work with kids in the foster program and incarcerated youth at the Monterey County Probation Department Youth Center.
Each session, five students are selected to act as trainers for five shelter dogs who have great temperaments but lack training and manners. For five weeks, the children are tasked with teaching their dogs basic skills such as sit, stay, and come, and providing one-on-one interaction.
“The benefit to the dogs is clear,” says Gary Tiscornia, Executive Director with The SPCA. “The dogs are learning skills that will help them stay in their new homes. But Take the Lead is equally essential for the children. They learn important life, leadership, and communication skills as they work to teach unsocialized dogs how to be great canine citizens through positive reinforcement.”
While the dogs learn new skills that will motivate adopters, the kids develop a sense of pride when they teach their dogs something new. The children also form deep bonds with their dogs, learning empathy, compassion, and patience as they spent quality time with their assigned trainee and see their efforts rewarded in a well mannered, affectionate dog.
“It’s inspiring to see how working with the dogs transfers into all aspects of the kids’ lives,” says Amanda Mouisset, SPCA Pet Behavior Specialist. “The kids are learning that they don’t always have to be tough. You can definitely see the difference these dogs are making in their lives.”
“It has been an inspiration to see these students’ sparkle with enthusiasm when they work with their dogs,” says Judith Peterson, Washington Middle School Principal. “These students need to have this positive force in school–not all kids are engaged in learning the same way.”
“The dogs offer love and unconditional acceptance, something a lot of them have never had in their lives,” says Alex Carillo, Event Coordinator for the Monterey County Probation Department Youth Center. “I’ve seen their demeanor change. You don’t see the hard face as much. It’s okay to be sensitive sometimes.”