Mana Services

Canine Companions

Healing Paws Program

Award winning, trauma informed therapy

Canine Companions is a dog therapy course for youth with troubled backgrounds or neuro diversity or disability. This program presents a unique opportunity to leverage the therapeutic benefits of human-animal interactions. It is designed to promote emotional healing, develop social skills, and enhance psychological resilience. 

Matt Hay

Program Leader

Matt was a 23-year veteran of the NZ Police. After joining Police in 2000, he spent 6 years on the frontline including community policing. He joined the Armed Offenders’ Squad and spent 12 years as a Police dog handler qualifying 4 Police dogs. Matt subsequently joined Youth Aid in 2018 gaining valuable knowledge working with young people, partner agencies and also gaining extensive experience working in the Youth Court.

While serving as a Youth Aid officer in 2021, Matt partnered with Oranga Tamariki to propose a “circuit breaker” programme for at-risk youth in the Youth Justice process and those in care or protection services. He works alongside rangatahi in their own environments, using Lachie and Chip (the dogs) to break down barriers and build confidence with the youth. It’s all about replacing negative behaviours with positive experiences.

Matt’s program was awarded the Evidence Based Policing award. He qualified his work in the dog program with in-depth reporting and an extensive program evaluation.


Target Group: Youth aged 10-18

Duration: 8-12 weeks, with sessions held 1-2 times per week.

This program is designed to support the therapeutic needs of the participants and is supported by qualified professionals. These include dog handlers, therapists, and educators. Additionally, we involve caregivers and families in certain aspects of the program to ensure participants feel supported while completing the course.

Program Outcomes

Improved emotional wellbeing

  • Participants will demonstrate increased levels of happiness and decreased levels of anxiety and depression through regular interaction with therapy dogs.
  • Develop an understanding of empathy by recognizing and responding to the dogs’ emotions.

Enhanced Social Skills

  • Improve communication skills through verbal and non-verbal interaction with dogs and peers within the program.
  • Increase in cooperative behaviours and teamwork during group activities with the dogs.
  • Develop a sense of responsibility and care through dog handling and caregiving tasks.

Increased Self-Esteem and Confidence

  • Participants will show improved self-esteem and confidence by mastering new skills related to dog care and training.
  • Foster a sense of empowerment through directing dogs in tasks and activities.

Development of Coping Skills

  • Learn and practice stress-relief techniques by interacting with dogs.
  • Application of mindfulness and presence through activities like walking and grooming the dogs.

Understanding of boundaries and respect

  • Recognition and respect for the boundaries of the trainers and dogs.
  • Development of trust through consistent positive interactions with therapy dogs.


Trailblazing with Paws

Taking the dogs out on nature walks to encourage an appreciation for exercise and the outdoors.

We welcome donations from the public to help us provide more activites to our disadvantaged youth.

Program Structure

Introduction to Dog Therapy:

  • Overview of the program, our goals, and introducing the participants to the therapy dogs.
  • Initial bonding sessions with dogs to establish comfort and familiarity.

Dog Handling Skills

  • Basic dog care (feeding, grooming, health checks).
  • Safe handling and understanding dog body language.

Emotional Connection Activities

  • Guided interactions focused on building empathy and emotional understanding (e.g., reading to dogs, sharing stories with dogs).

Social and Cooperative Activities

  • Group tasks requiring teamwork between participants, such as obstacle courses or group walks.
  • Role-playing exercises to enhance communication and interpersonal skills.

Confidence Building Exercises

  • Individual and group tasks that challenge participants to lead and make decisions, such as training dogs in simple commands

Mindfulness and Relaxation

  • Activities such as guided meditation with dogs, focused on breathing and being present.
  • Stress management techniques using the calming presence of the dogs.

Reflection and Growth

  • Regular group discussions to reflect on experiences, growth, and learning.
  • Personal journals for participants to record thoughts, feelings, and progress.

Celebration and Certification

  • A closing ceremony to celebrate the achievements of participants and their canine companions.
  • Certificates of completion and a photo with their therapy dog to commemorate their journey.

Contact us

Learn more information about our program

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