Gold Paw Dog Training Program


The Gold Paw Program was developed by the Humane Society of Washington County, Maryland, (HSWC) to help identify and work with dogs who have the potential to be someone’s beloved companion, but need some help getting there. Gold Paw volunteers undergo extensive training in canine behavior so they are prepared to provide these dogs with the help they need.

The following no-cost training is required for all Gold Paw volunteers:

Complete the basic shelter volunteer orientation.

Complete a one-day training on canine body language presented by shelter staff.

Attend and complete a second full-day training on dog behavior, offered by certified trainer Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA. At the end of this training, volunteers are assessed to determine their home environment and dog handling and behavior modification skills, and a designation is made as to which types of behavior problem dogs may be assigned to them.

When a Gold Paw candidate is identified, program staff contacts volunteers who are designated for that type of behavior. When a potential Gold Paw volunteer is selected, the volunteer meets with Pat Miller and the dog; if it’s a good match, the volunteer then receives individual training specific to that dog.

The volunteer works with the program protocol provided by Pat Miller, provides weekly check-in reports via Internet, and does in-person check-ins as needed, depending on the individual dog. For some dogs this may be a commitment of several months.

Gold Paw foster care volunteers must love dogs and want to help them have a better chance of finding their forever homes. Their home environment and schedule must lend themselves to working with dogs who have special behavioral needs. Those needs will vary from dog to dog, and are instrumental in determining which dog is assigned to which volunteer.

HSWC is committed to using dog-friendly handling, training, and behavior modification methods. Studies have determined gentle, non-coercive training/ behavior modification to be the most effective and least likely to give rise to collateral damage. Unwanted side effects of force-based training include fear, anxiety, and aggression.

Volunteers must be willing to use gentle, dog-friendly tools and handling methods with Gold Paw dogs. The program does not use or tolerate the use of choke chains, prong collars, shock collars, or any other form of physical punishment.

Finally, volunteers need to understand that we cannot save them all, as much as we would like to. While we expect a high success rate with this program, there may be occasions when we reach a sad conclusion that a dog is too damaged to proceed with the program. The truly compassionate heart accepts when it’s time to let go, as painful as that can be. We promise that we make a full commitment to every dog in our Gold Paw program, and will do everything within our power to help them succeed.