Tom Coleman (he, him, his), American Kennel Club approved Canine Good Citizen evaluator (#88541), serves as the Executive Director of Pawsitivity Service Dogs.
Julie Coleman (she, her, hers), CPDT-KA, (Certified Professional Pet Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed #3164407), works as Pawsitivity's Head Trainer and Managing Director. Julie's CPDT-KA title is one that less than 2,000 trainers have worldwide--to even apply to take the test requires a minimum of 300 hours of experience in dog training within the last three years. Julie joined as a professional member of the APDT (Association of Professional Dog Trainers #85974) and has taken dog-training seminars in person from Ian Dunbar, Sue Sternberg, and Connie Cleveland, as well as presentations at ClickerExpo. Julie holds a BA in Psychology from Carleton College and has a certificate in Understanding Autism from the University of Kent.
Both Tom and Julie trained at CATCH Dog Training Academy at the Saint Hubert Animal Welfare Center in Madison, NJ in positive-reinforcement force-free training methods, using the techniques of Jean Donaldson. Both have also studied the Volhardt Four-Drive dog-assessment theory at Mahogany Ridge in Culpepper, VA. While Tom and Julie are both certified dog trainers, Julie is the introverted one who does most of the service dog training. Meanwhile, Tom is the more extroverted member of the team, and Tom works one-on-one with the families receiving service dogs. Both Tom and Julie have unrelated Masters Degrees--Tom in Theatre Directing from Northern Illinois University and Julie in Art History from the Chicago Institute of Art. Julie has been compared to a Border Collie because of her precise, organized working style, while Tom's personality is more of Golden Retriever who is positive, warm, a great listener. For better or worse, Julie works on her shyness while Tom always has to work to rein in his enthusiasm.
The Pawsitivity staff is committed to positive-reinforcement training methods (especially when it comes to training service dogs). Pawsitivity has individually trained over 20 service dog/handler teams since 2012, written an award-winning book (featured below), and lectured across the country on service dog training and nonprofit management. Our training style for both dogs and families is very personalized. Pawsitivity's goal is to find the best solution for each particular dog and family so we only work one-on-one with clients, rather than teaching classrooms full of people and dogs. We find that this warm, friendly, personalized style both works best with our personalities and also is the most effective method to find successful solutions for the complicated lives of people with disabilities.
Pawsitivity is proud to be a leader in service dog training.
- The textbook we wrote, Service Dogs: The Rescue and Training of Heroes, won the Midwest Book Award for 2016.
- Pawsitivity has collaborated with the University of Wisconsin—River Falls Animal Science Department on an original research project on the effects of music on dog rescue transport, and our Theory of Change and Logic Model have been published on Research Gate, which is available to all academics and nonprofits.
Dr. Jen Seidl DVM of the Grand Avenue Veterinary Center volunteers her medical services. Dr. and Professor of Psychology Kim Halvorson donates her professional expertise and guidance. Dr. Beth Rausch, DVM, of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls has partnered with Pawsitivity for a research study, as well as served as medical advisor.
Pawsitivity adheres to the highest standards of training, ethics, and transparency. Pawsitivity is a Partner Member of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, achieved Candidate status with Assistance Dogs International, and joined as a proud member of Animal Assisted Intervention International and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.
The story of Pawsitivity Service Dogs starts with a boy and his dog. In 2012 the two of us, Tom and Julie Coleman, had a conversation with a good friend, a single mother with a child with autism. She told us the story of how her boy was so greatly helped by his dog that it changed the course of his life. To help provide trained service dogs for families (and rescue dogs at the same time), we founded the nonprofit Pawsitivity Service Dogs to rescue dogs and train them as service dogs, focusing on children with autism. When a dog isn't appropriate for a child, we train the dog for an adult with a disability.
Admittedly, the thought of breaking new ground to found Pawsitivity scared us, and the more we worked, the more we found new challenges. Rescuing and training service dogs and getting them into the hands of the people who need them so badly takes not just dogs, not just trainers, but also a whole coordinated system of organization. How to fight the Goliath of regulations, fundraising, insurance, licensing, board creation, the costs of training and a decade of support, as well as finding the emotional strength to manage the years of tears and heartache that comes with working with both rescue dogs and people with disabilities?
We quickly found that we couldn't do it alone.
We found the key to Pawsitivity's sustainable success by leveraging the power of the community. In addition to Pawsitivity's strong board of directors (which includes three doctorates), we discovered help in many ways: Grand Avenue Veterinary Center vowed to manage the spaying and neutering, Garrison Keillor donated autographed items to be auctioned off, John D. Docken VP and Corporate Counsel of First Intl. Bank & Trust of ND, MN, and AZ advised on compliance, plus the Minnesota Wild awarded Pawsitivity "Charity of the Month." Together, we discovered that unwanted dogs can be rescued and rehabilitated, the dogs and families can be trained to work as effective dog-handler teams, and experts can be used in every step of the way. And Pawsitivity discovered that you, too, can be part of the solution.
Since Pawsiitivity's founding in 2012, the organization has earned the Platinum Standard from Guidestar and achieved the highest rating by the Charities Review Council--unheard-of feats for a new nonprofit. Additionally, Julie earned the title of CPDT-KA, and together, we wrote a groundbreaking 500-page textbook on Service Dog training which won the Midwest Book Award. Pawsitivity has consistently led the way with scientifically-based positive training, a focus on underserved populations such as people with autism and epilepsy, and a commitment to staying small and only training two to three dogs per year so we can give individualized attention and keep standards high.
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