Service dog lying down


The UNCW/paws4people Service Dogs Training Program (SDTP) is and continues to be a first-of-its-kind, university-based, certificate program consisting of a four-course progression. It provides academic credit, and focusing on the integration of Service Dogs into clinical and educational practice in mitigating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and behavior disorders primarily in children and veterans, as well as individuals with physical disabilities.

The SDTP was implemented as a pilot program hosted by the School in August 2011, with an inaugural class of 24 UNCW undergraduate students having majors ranging from Recreation Therapy to Psychology to Accounting. The SDTP completed its 6th full academic year in May 2017.

More than 1,100 students have participated in the program coursework, and 145 students have completed the full program, earning their Certificate as a certified paws4people Service Dogs Public Access Trainer. Over 68,000 documented volunteer hours have been completed by these students within the Wilmington community as part of the program.

The paws4people/UNCW SDTP has grown and flourished at UNCW. The introductory course has an enrollment of over 75 students, and all subsequent levels are at full registration capacity. In turn, this means that the maximum number of paws4people Service Dogs are being trained by UNCW students each semester, allowing paws4people to place even more of these life-saving partners within the community.

Successfully attending and completing the UNCW/p4p SDTP does not signify that a person is a service-dog trainer or qualified to train and/or place service dogs. Assistance Dogs International has specific standards that an individual must meet in order to be a certified service (service and or hearing) dog trainer – and taking part in this program does not meet these requirements. However, with continued learning and internship opportunities, many students remain active as volunteers providing help with training, educational awareness, attending and hosting events, and administrative support.