Eight Culver Park High School students graduated Friday from their involvement with K9 Connection, a project of OPCC of Santa Monica that brings the magic of dogs and kids together. At-risk teens ages 14 to 18, train homeless shelter dogs in basic obedience, assisting the dogs to develop the skills to become adoptable and applying the lessons they teach the dogs to their own lives: to develop an awareness of the risks of uncontrolled and impulsive behavior, and to believe in the power of positive reinforcement as an alternative to force and violence.
K9 connection’s three-week classes are limited to eight teens and eight dogs. They meet for two hours Monday through Friday with former K9 student graduates assisting staff as peer leaders.
In classroom activities, always in the company of their dogs, K9 students work on formulating goals and turning them into reality. In addition to their goals for their dogs, students work on their own long-range and short-term personal goals. Mirroring their work with the dogs, students identify positive reinforcement and motivation for themselves and apply them to their own lives. Inspirational guest speakers, field trips, role playing job interviews skills, and developing a personal resume are some of the components of the classroom portion of the program.
The outdoor half of each session puts the classroom ideas into practice as students learn to train their shelter dogs basic obedience skills by utilizing positive reinforcement. With the dogs providing instant and reliable feedback to their trainers, the students develop the ability to empathize, to learn to read nonverbal cues, to learn the cause and effect of behavior, and to practice attention, focus and impulse control.
After graduation, K9 connection staff meets monthly with each graduate class at a K9 connection check-in, where the students’ progress is monitored, successes are shared, encouragement is given, and the K9 connection bond continues.