WDC summer academy introduces children to working dogs

Career-minded, animal-loving teens will once again have a chance to bolster their resumes and gain hands-on puppy experience through the Penn Vet Working Dog Center (WDC) Canine Handler Academy.

The weeklong summer program at the WDC offers middle school-age students a peek into the behavioral science of canines, and a chance to take part in training the Center’s extraordinary working pups.

“Our overall goal is to expose a younger generation to what a working dog is, how detection dogs are trained, and how we specifically train at the Working Dog Center,” says Lauren McTiernan, summer program coordinator for the WDC. “A lot of the students are interested in becoming veterinarians, and [the Academy] is a way for us to expose them to other careers you could have if you want to work with dogs and animals.”

Otto WDC

Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Cynthia Otto, executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, works with Socks, a former student. Socks is now part of the first K9 Unit at Penn’s Division of Public Safety.

Students will have the chance to learn skills such as clicker training, obedience, agility, and fitness. The Academy will also feature conversations with professionals currently working in the dog detection field.

“Our students are able to see first-hand just how we’re able to direct these dogs,” McTiernan says. “They’re exposed to the fields of search-and-rescue, cancer detection, police work, and diabetic alert. That’s incredibly unique.”

The Academy training will culminate with a mock search. Students will be paired off with one of the WDC dogs to conduct their own search using the knowledge and techniques they’ve picked up throughout the week.

“They are technically part of the training for these dogs, who go on to do amazing work,” McTiernan says. “The students get to have a direct impact on these dogs.”

Middle school students can choose from three beginner sessions offered this summer: June 23-June 27, July 7-11, and July 21-25. Twelve participants will be accepted for each session, and applications will be reviewed on a first come-first serve basis.

Though no experience is necessary to sign up for the Academy, students who have already completed a week of Academy training—whether last year or during one of this summer’s beginner sessions—are eligible to sign up for an advanced session that will run July 28-Aug. 1. The cost of the program is $650 per week.

To apply for the Academy, visit the WDC website.

For more information, email caninehandleracademy@gmail.com.

Originally published on February 13, 2014