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Open Paw® Training

Consistency in our approach at the Bow Valley SPCA is key to ensure our resident dogs gain confidence, develop good habits and learn skills that will increase their adoptability. Open Paw® Training is a valuable tool that provides insights into the proper ways to manage, train and work with dogs in a shelter environment.


What is Open Paw® Training?

Open Paw® Training is a program developed by Dr. Ian Dunbar specifically for shelter dogs and cats. It teaches volunteers how to consistently and safely handle dogs and cats, while providing the animals with opportunities to become better behaved and thus more adoptable. It also provides mental stimulation and physical exercise for the dogs (and volunteers). Even for people who have had dogs as pets for years, it's a great resource!

If you're interested in learning more, the Open Paw® Manual is attached at the bottom of this page.

Open Paw® Training at the BVSPCA

Our dog trainers hold Open Paw® Training a few times throughout the year.

For BVSPCA volunteers interested in working with, or walking our resident dogs, satisfactory completion of both sessions of the Open Paw® Training (Level 3), plus three additional evaluation walks supervised by senior members of our dog team, are required. This program is a prerequisite and requirement to interact with BVSPCA dogs.

What Can I Do with Open Paw® Training?

Satisfactory completion of Open Paw® Training (Level 3) means that a volunteer can walk BVSPCA dogs that have no significant behavioural issues. Initially, these walks are restricted to the hours that the Centre is open to the public (Wednesday through Saturday, 12:00pm to 4:00pm).

Walks are limited to specific routes at first and new dog walkers are restricted to the level of dog that our trainers feel best suits their abilities and are not allowed to take dogs on hikes (without written approval on a case-by-case basis) or to the off-leash parks.

Volunteers who have completed the Level 3 training and wish to be involved with dog training, as well as walking dogs classified as Level 4 or 5, will be required to complete additional training under the supervision of the Team Lead for each dog.

How Do I Register?

To attend Open Paw® Training, you must be an active BVSPCA volunteer, have completed our online Volunteer Orientation Program and have a satisfactory Criminal Record Check on file with us.

Our no-kill philosophy means that many of the dogs that come into our care need significant behavioural work, patience, and love, and so comfortability with large breed, high-energy dogs is recommended.

Training sessions are held a few times throughout the year, and typically run from 6:00pm to 7:30pm on scheduled dates. There is a registration fee of $25.00 CAD, and each session is limited to 6 participants.

If you are interested in registering for Open Paw® Training, or have questions, please contact us at