Training Dogs Is Therapy For Youths

Yu Shing Ting
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Friday - July 13, 2011
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HawaiiCAN volunteer trainers and service dogs: (front) Anne Marie Wagner with Zane, (second row) Laura Sue with Zoe, Caroline Viola and Shirley Takara with Mojo, (third row) Tiffany Kawaguchi with Annie, Jamie Mukai with Marley and Alex Sue with Aussie. Photo courtesy HawaiiCAN

The Hawaii Canine Assistance Network (HawaiiCAN) presents The Wizard of Pawz, a fundraiser dinner July 16 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Keehi Lagoon Veteran’s War Memorial John A. Burns Hall.

“Our mission is twofold,” says Tiffany Kawaguchi, program director for HawaiiCAN. “One is to train service dogs for people with physical disabilities living in Hawaii, and the second is to use the process of training service dogs as a means of therapy for the at-risk population.”

Since January, HawaiiCAN has been working with teens (mostly 16and 17-year-olds) at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in Kailua.

They meet Wednesday and Friday evenings to teach the youths to train the service dogs.

“Through the training process the kids are learning problem-solving, frustration tolerance, empathy, teamwork, and then through the process of training the service dogs they really learn about themselves,” says Kawaguchi. “It’s very therapeutic.”


A highlight at The Wizard of Pawz is a presentation by the youths of their dogtraining skills and what they’ve learned with the service dogs. One participant also will give a speech about her experience with the dog program.

“It’s been really a neat experience to see the kids go from not really knowing what they’re getting into as far as training the dogs to seeing the dogs learn the skills that the child is teaching them,” says Jackie Gravener, head teacher at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility. “It’s hands-on and it gets them outside of their normal-day environment. They enjoy being around the dogs and puppies, and they’re learning to be compassionate.

“One of my students, after two sessions in the dog program, came into my office and said, ‘I really love the dog program. It’s teaching me to be patient, and you have to be really patient living with these girls 24/7.’”

The teens train the dogs various skills, such as picking up a spoon or bag, turning on a light switch, taking off socks or unzipping a jacket. The training consists of a lot of verbal “good job” and they use a clicker to reinforce positive behavior. For example, if the dog is told to sit and he sits, it’s followed by a click.

“I’m just thankful that the include Dorothy’s Silent Auction, Toto’s Doggie Pampering Stations, and Munchkin’s Fabulous Dinner & Dessert by chefs Diane Nazarro of KCC Culinary Department, Loretta Monroy of LCC Culinary Department, Kelvin Ro of Diamond Head Market and pastry chef Grant Sato of KCC Culinary Department.

There also will be The Wizard’s Magical Giveaway and The Good Witch of the North’s Doggie Costume Contest.


HawaiiCAN was founded in 2008 by Kawaguchi and friends Janel Yoshimoto and Shirley Takara.

The organization has 14 service dogs in training. In addition to the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, HawaiiCAN volunteers and dogs also work with the veterans at the Center for Aging, with patients at the Hawaii State Hospital and other various community groups.

To purchase tickets or for more information, visit hawaiiCAN.org, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 781-2596.

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