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Furry friends teach student trainers

By jim Published: April 25, 2009

WEST MONROE, La. (AP) — Six months ago, the six puppies adopted by a class at the Ouachita Parish Alternative Center were rowdy, unruly, energetic little balls of fur on their way to the pound.

The pups named Piper, Ace, Dixie, Jet, Bear and Rebel walked calmly beside their trainers April 20, on their way to agility training — a sort of canine graduation ceremony and the final step most of the dogs were to take with the class.

Teacher Chad Beach started the program in August as a way to interest students, keep them in school and give them a viable way to earn an income after school.

Without the class, the puppies would have had to take their chances at the animal shelter. Now, the well-trained pups are headed for homes as far away as Florida.

Beach said the students learned enough to start their own canine training classes, doggie day cares or grooming businesses. They included some students with past discipline problems and some who were behind academically when they enrolled at the center, principal Janet Dollar said.

Members of the Continental Kennel Club of Walker visited the class to learn more about the program, its students — both pups and teens — and to feature them in the club's quarterly magazine.

The club's president and trainer, Michael Roy, talked with the students before working with them on agility basics.

"You always want the dog to succeed," Roy told the class. "Use positive reinforcement, then the dog is not afraid to offer a behavior."

The class listened to the advice and questioned Roy about their own dogs.

"Is it possible to have a stupid dog?" Leslie Benton asked. "Do dogs learn from other dogs?" Chris Rice asked.

The students agree that the dogs have taught them plenty.

"You've got to be very patient," Jessica Romano said. "You've got to have a lot of patience and look at their body language."

Romano already volunteers at a local animal shelter and hopes to continue to work with dogs when she becomes a crime scene investigator or FBI agent.

In addition to training the puppies, the class traveled to elementary schools making presentations to younger students on dog-bite awareness and prevention.

Beach says he could not be happier about the success of the program and looks forward to expanding the Canine Care and Training class next year. The school will again offer a basic level class, but he will offer an advanced class as well. Beach will work with both classes and will again use shelter animals as the subjects.

"It's one of the best things I've ever done," he said. "I couldn't have more fun even if I didn't work at all."

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