Dogs On Duty: Therapy Dog Training Program Helps At-Risk Teens Learn Skills And EmpathyBy Gel Galang


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A young woman training a chocolate lab puppy to shake hands at a park.A young woman training a chocolate lab puppy to shake hands at a park.

(Picture Credit: tderden/Getty Images)

Therapy dogs help their owners in many ways. One unique program allows therapy dogs to train for their calling while helping another group of people in need.

At Rising Ground’s Summer Youth Employment, at-risk teens learn all about training therapy dogs as part of their own program. The Administration Children’s Services (ACS) and Rising Ground partnered to create the summer initiative, which arms at-risk teens with different life and career skills.


It’s a unique approach to juvenile justice, held right in New York City. Here’s what you should know about this amazing program!

Helping Dogs Help Teens In Life

The reform initiative Close to Home partners ACS with teens who are juvenile delinquent and helps them through paid vocational programs.

These programs benefit the teens in two ways. The first is through promotion and learning of career skills, the newest offer of which involves training under a certified dog trainer. The second is that the teens get to stay close to their families, schools, and communities instead of relocating to a reform site farther away.

“The kids were basically learning how to become dog trainers,” says Lisa Crook, Vice President of Justice for Youth and Families for Rising Ground in an interview with Queens Daily Eagle.

The new program teaches teens behavioral dog training. They also learn other dog-care related skills like grooming and the basics of dog competition. This equips them with knowledge that may help them pursue careers later on.

Learning And Experiencing Empathy

Pairing troubled teens with therapy dogs is not a new concept. Existing research on the initiative attributes its success to the idea of empathy.

Animal-assisted therapy benefits at-risk teens because of the connection they have through vulnerability. Animals are prone to abuse of many kinds, something that at-risk teens may be able to sense and empathize with.

As with other shelter dog training for teens at-risk, Close to Home also emphasizes the importance of teaching the youth skills and confidence. In a similar, earlier program, the experience of caring for animals and seeing their skills develop opened new doors and possibilities.

“That opened up some job opportunities. The kids were brainstorming jobs they didn’t know were available,” says Keri Caporale, an animal education specialist and founder of Project Click, an animal training program for troubled teens.

What do you think about these therapy dog training programs for at-risk teens? Do you think they troubled youths learn empathy and career skills? Then let us know in the comments below!

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