Seven frisky dogs and 14 eager seventh graders at Boys Town Jerusalem have become best friends, thanks to an innovative new extra-curricular activity aimed to teach the young boys to train dogs. For the canines, this interaction can improve their chances of being adopted or becoming a service dog. For the boys, it’s an opportunity to grasp new perspectives on discipline each time they say, “Sit!” or “Roll Over!” and wait for the four-legged response.

The first lesson is sensitivity

From the noisy moment the dogs arrive at the BTJ gym, their leashes are handed over to pairs of students designated to each dog, and the “warm-up” begins. So does the boys’ first lesson in sensitivity. “Above all, the dogs need to be happy and to want to work with us,” explains instructor Liz Hamatian, who conducts the sessions for Boys Town’s junior high students together with her colleague Shai Ratner. “Look closely at the dog, think about his nature, about his health, about his emotional state today. Let him sniff you and get to know and trust you.”

It’s all about communication

“We don’t just teach classic training techniques,” Shai points out. “The boys are taught to discover the dog’s world, the hierarchy of the pack and the primeval bond between men and dogs.” Yet the art of communication is the essential part of the curriculum. “Your dog doesn’t speak Hebrew,” Shai told the young men. “He needs to interpret commands by your voice and your demeanor.”

As the Boys Town students began walking their dogs (or vice versa), it was time to practice their first obedience training skills. The boys were coached in how to express commands consistently and clearly– and to quickly dole out a dog-biscuit reward when it’s merited.

“This is a two-way project,” Liz noted. “The dogs are all from a kennel near Jerusalem, and some have been victims of abuse. The boys are helping us train them, restore their trust in humans and give them very happy moments.”

We see an improvement in the dogs and the boys

Boys Town Junior High principal Rabbi Yehudah Rosencrantz is delighted at the rewards the project offers the students. “The course builds their self-confidence, their sense of responsibility, their respect for animals, and their sensitivity.”

By all accounts, this dogged approach to education has proven to be a popular one for Boys Town Jerusalem students. “We’re quite impressed with the boys here,” said instructor Liz Hamatian. “They’re very bright kids with a keen desire to learn more and more.”


All of our extracurricular programs are made possible by our generous supporters. If you would like to help support our dog training program and extracurricular activities like it, click here. To read more about our dog training program, click here

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