After a great deal of planning and preparation, August 24, 2011 saw the first class session of the UNCW/paws4people foundation Assistance Dog Training Program. The inaugural class consisted of 24 University of North Carolina Wilmington undergraduate students with majors ranging from Recreation Therapy to Psychology to Accounting. This multifaceted group was just what paws4people had hoped for in order to introduce the world of Assistance Dogs and the people they serve to a group of future professionals in a wide array of disciplines. The ADTP completed its 6th full academic year in May 2017.
This program, the first and only comprehensive one of its kind in the country, empowers students to add a unique and marketable skill set to their education. The most distinctive aspect of the education of Assistance Dogs provided in these courses is that they cover not only the most well-known types of Assistance Dogs, but also a variety of certified Facility Dogs that could enhance their own career paths. Assistance Dogs are those dogs whose training is customized to mitigate the disability of an individual, and is placed to spend their working career assisting this individual, i.e. a person who uses a wheelchair. Facility Dogs are those dogs whose training is customized to assist a clinical or educational professional, and are placed to spend their working careers being utilized by those professionals within their career fields, i.e. Recreation Therapists, Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Special Educators, Counselors, Social Workers, and Psychiatrists. To this end, the students are able to align their coursework in Assistance Dog Education with their field of study and desired career field. Therefore, they are not only learning the ways Assistance Dogs impact others, but rather the ways that they can utilize Facility Dogs to impact their own futures.
The paws4people/UNCW Assistance Dog Training Program has grown and flourished at UNCW. The introductory course has an enrollment of over 75 students, and all subsequent levels are at full registration capacity. In turn, this means that the maximum number of paws4people Assistance Dogs are being trained by UNCW students each semester, allowing paws4people to place even more of these life-saving partners within the community.
Successfully attending and completing the UNCW/p4p ADTP does not signify that this person is a service/assistance dog trainer or qualified to train and/or place service/assistance dogs. Assistance Dogs International has specific standards that an individual must meet in order to be a certified assistance (service and or hearing) dog trainer – and taking part in this program does not meet these requirements.
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