A program led by a local nonprofit German shepherd rescue will give children and teenagers the opportunity to learn about dog behavior while developing critical life skills.

“Operation K9 Truth For Youth” is being offered by Rettungs-Haus Shepherds, 5812 Sixth Ave. Participants will eventually be able to volunteer at Safe Harbor Humane Society.

The goal is to teach young people about dog behavior, working dogs like German shepherds, shelter life and rescue efforts.

“Children will mentor with me, observe classes, learn about body language, how to make a proper introduction, how to see things from a dog’s perspective,” said Rettungs-Haus founder Antoinette Rodriguez. “Then, they will have the opportunity to go to Safe Harbor and help out there.”

Children will be able to participate in a variety of age-appropriate activities at Safe Harbor and Rettungs-Haus, from drawing pictures for shelter and rescue dogs, to filling treat “kongs,” to helping with training classes, learning about search and rescue, walking dogs, and doing kennel training. Participants will have to maintain good grades and conduct themselves respectfully in the community.

Safe Harbor Assistant Director Amanda Cutler said that having volunteers be trained in dog behavior before they walk in the door will improve outcomes for people and pets.

“It’ll be great to have experienced volunteers with handling skills, because a lot of the dogs we get in are untrained and could use some help with their manners,” she said.

As an example, Safe Harbor volunteers with animal behavior training can do “treat training” with dogs to teach them to sit quietly in their kennels as potential adoptive families walk by.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, ‘I’ve picked this dog because he wasn’t barking,’” Cutler said. “Teaching them to sit makes them 10 times more adoptable.”

Rodriguez hopes to instill volunteers with lifelong lessons about responsibility.

“I want to get them back to old-school thinking: that all lives have value, that you can do great things, but it takes dedication and commitment,” Rodriguez said. “This is true with dogs and children. I want them to look at dogs and shelters differently. I want them to get involved in the community.”

An informational meeting about Operation K9 Truth for Youth will be held this Friday, March 1, at 6 p.m. at Rettungs- Haus Shepherds, Inc., 5812 6th Ave. Those interested in attending can RSVP to rettungshaus@yahoo.com.

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