Downward dog: Homeless outreach center uses 'doga' to help youth

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Downward-facing dog is no longer just for humans. Two homeless youth outreach organizations are using dog yoga to help reduce stress in their community and provide a glimpse to a possible career path.

Toriano Sanzone, who is known as the wolfkeeper in the dog training world, was in Mankato over the weekend to teach some four-legged friends – and their owners – the art of doggie yoga, also known as "doga."

But he wasn't there just to make sure the canines found their inner yogi. He was teaching a group from The Reach in Mankato and Link in Rochester, both homeless youth outreach organizations run by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, how to better handle their dogs so they could help some of their community's neediest members, according to the Mankato Free Press.

Many people who use the center have their own pets and have developed very strong relationships with them, the newspaper says. Rachel Johnston, who works with The Reach, often brings her dog, Jack, to the center and she has noticed the animals help many reduce stress.

That's when Johnston got the idea to have Sanzone come and teach staff at The Reach and Link about connecting better with their animals to benefit the people who use the centers, the Mankato Free Press says.

"You've gotta be so deep in that dog's mind so that you are that dog's Yoda," Sanzone told the newspaper.

Not only does it help owners connect with their dogs, it's also therapeutic for the animal and teaches them to accept being handled by humans, according to Sanzone's website. Training a dog takes time, but Sanzone says if you're willing to put in the work, any pet can be taught perfect demeanor, the newspaper says.

Dalton Nelson, a senior in high school who is currently homeless, attended the session with Sanzone and his two dogs, who he considers his family.

"These guys have always helped me," Nelson told the Mankato Free Press. "They comfort me a lot. They treat me nice and I try to do the same. They don't judge me, and I like that."

Nelson said he loves animals and watching Sanzone work showed him he could do it as a career. Sanzone said people who do similar work as him earn roughly $50,000 a year, the newspaper reports.

Here's a look at dog yoga class in Chicago:

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