STOP Walking the Dog!
There are some really great enrichment/training programs in shelters around the country—from positive reinforcement training and replacing food bowls with food-dispensing enrichment devices to read-and-relax programs and more. Goodness—Kansas Humane Society and Asheville Humane Society built dedicated enrichment prep spaces in their new facilities…it gives me chills!!
Dog walking is a growing area of enrichment. I am all for shelter dogs getting several potty walks a day—the opportunity to train a dog to urinate and defecate on cue is huge! If we can train the dogs in our shelters to do one thing, I say let’s teach them to pee and poo on cue—no better way to help strengthen the bond than to provide the adopter with a tool to avoid a “surprise” on the carpet.
However, I am not for marathon walks for shelter dogs that are designed to “tire the dog out” or to “help get rid of energy.” Why, you ask? Our goal is to get the dogs adopted—not train them to run marathons. Frankly, we are setting the dog up for failure in many ways:
1. He is getting fitter. And because he’s quickly getting in better shape, he will not be tired out by the walk, but actually better able to go longer and longer (think of how one trains for a marathon);
2. He is learning that long walks are part of the routine—which may or may not be the case in his new home;
3. If the dog is on a long walk, he is not on the adoption floor for adopters to see, and
4. Getting out becomes the most enriching part of the day—meaning the dog is much more likely to jump and get over aroused when someone comes to his kennel door… not the best way for him to market himself to potential adopters.
So, in this Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist’s opinion, we should keep walks to very short tours out to teach the dogs to urinate and defecate on cue. This is a simple Pavlovian response: Assign a word for each action (in this case, urination and defecation); ‘Park’ and ‘Hurry’ are used in the service dog field, but you can use anything you want. When the dog begins to assume the position, calmly say and repeat the word until the act is complete. Quickly the dog will associate the sound with the action (just as running water does for many of us humans).
And let’s keep the majority of the enrichment in the dog’s kennel—read-and-relax programs, stuffed enrichment devices and the like. For out-of-kennel enrichment, time to socialize with other dogs in controlled play groups that occur where potential adopters can watch are fabulous ways to market and enrich at the same time.
What kind of kennel enrichment are you doing?