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College's dog training program gives students far more than class credit – USA TODAY College

As the spring semester gets underway, some students at The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) are getting a not-so-average class experience.

As part of a community partnership the university has with non-profit organization, paws4people — whose mission is to “enhance the lives” of current and former service members, inmates, children and students — Assistance training/" title="View more posts about Dog Training here">Dog Training courses will be offered.

Courtesy of paws4people

Courtesy of paws4people

Established in the fall of 2011, the program (ADTP) is a four-course progressive Certificate Program — and now a comprehensive program offered at the university for course credit. The first two courses introduce students to “aspects, roles and functions of assistance dogs in society” while students continue on to “learn stage one training for assistance dogs through hands-on demonstration and practice.”

Students who progress to the upper level courses will take the dogs on everyday errands to incorporate training sessions. All canines part of the program wear a teal vest with UNCW’s logo to differentiate them from other animals in the community.

Courtesy of paws4people

Courtesy of paws4people

“They’re [dogs] part of the academic program on campus and they are being trained to serve someone with a disability and have a bigger purpose,” says Kyria L. Henry, founder and CEO of paws4people.

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Once the public access training is complete, each student and assistant dog undergoes a transition period during their last semester in which students help teach the recipient what the dog has been taught.

“Every client is different in terms of how much practice and oversight they need,” Henry says.

Although the program is under Recreation Therapy, majors from biology to psychology are using this experience to explore their career and participate in a community-service oriented opportunity. Each semester, the classes become more diverse in terms of majors.

Kelsey Pastore, a junior psychology major, has finished the program but continues to volunteer for paws4people. She describes the ADPT as a “turning point” in deciding what she wanted in a career.

“I learned that helping people was what I wanted to do,” she says.

Courtesy of paws4people

Courtesy of paws4people

Pastore hopes to become a school psychologist to help children through the use of an assistance dog after graduation.

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Both students and paws4people staff stress the time commitment and responsibility required for training. Henry describes it as a “lifestyle commitment.”

Pastore ensured that the service dog training was her priority, while also learning how to manage her time for her other classes.

“I learned how to balance everything really quickly and loved every second of training,” Pastore says.

Since starting the program, Henry most enjoys seeing college-aged students undergoing a selfless experience.

“They love the dog and they’re so invested in it, but they have to give it away to someone who needs it more than them so it’s a very bittersweet, heart wrenching experience,” she says.

Henry has received positive feedback that the course has helped students validate a career move or has made them more attractive in the job market.

Danielle McPhail, executive assistant at paws4people, was in the first class and used the experience to transition her psychology major into a job.

“I tend to work more with our paws4vets clients and it’s more applicable to what I’ve learned with adults with post-traumatic stress and other disorders [in class],” she says.

Other students appreciate the community service aspect the most.

Courtesy of paws4people

Courtesy of paws4people

Ciera Ames, senior biology major, relates the program to the health care aspect of the biology field, but more so enjoys being a part of the organization. Since her program completion she has completed an internship at the paws4people training center.

This semester, the introductory class is full at its 75-person capacity. About half of those students will move forward to the second level course.

“The students are always part of something bigger and to do that during your undergrad is not something that most people get to do,” Henry says.

Kaitlyn Russell is a student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and is a spring 2015 Collegiate Correspondent.

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