Pets camp brings kids and pound pups together

The Pawsitively Pets camp turns the Toronto Humane Society into a place where children can learn about dog behaviour, and teach foster animals a few new tricks

With a plastic cone around her neck, Sophie the Beagle-mix is led on a weaving path through some pylons by her trainers — three children, all under 14.

Welcome to the Pawsitively Pets camp at the Toronto Humane Society, a day camp that teaches children how to be responsible for dogs and other pets, and gives several shelter dogs the chance to soak up some love while learning a few new tricks.

"Success is happy dogs and happy kids," said camp founder Jennifer Ego, who also runs versions of the animal-themed day camps in several other Toronto and Ottawa locations.

Zuma puts on the ‘adopt me’ face at the Pawsitively Pets camp at the Toronto Humane Society. ((John Rieti/CBC))

The campers are tasked with training a variety of dogs to walk with a leash and perform simple tricks like sitting and "shaking paws." The dogs are both big and small, though all are deemed by the Humane Society staff to be safe for kids. 

Margaret Pender, a Toronto dog trainer who has been working with the program, leads the children through the exercises.

She says a lot of the tips the class imparts will stay with children for a long time; for example, how to approach a dog you don’t know. Pender advises first moving your hand under the dogs snout, rather than patting it on the top of the head.

But Pender says compassion towards animals, especially pound pups, is the most important thing the campers will learn.

The dogs, meanwhile, get a lot of treats and a better chance at adoption. Ego says every dog that has been part of the program has found what the humane society calls a "forever home."

Every Pawsitively Pets dog gets a special label to show they’ve done basic obedience lessons and that they’re good with children, two desirable traits for those looking for a dog, says Barbara Steinhoff, the Toronto Humane Society’s communications manager.

"People are drawn to it," Steinhoff said.

But while more socialized, children-friendly dogs are in demand, Steinhoff says most adoptions are still "love at first sight."

"You fall in love with who you fall in love with."

The camp doesn’t encourage the children involved to adopt pets right away. In fact, Ego says, it gives the campers a sense of the commitment required to take care of a dog. But several of the campers are hoping for a furry best friend in the future.