Strategies for helping young dogs learn adopter-friendly behaviors
Ah, those adolescent canines! You know, the ones who greet adopters a little too enthusiastically? They've got energy to burn—and manners to learn. In honor of Adopt-A-Shelter Dog Month in October, we asked you to share your secrets for turning those rowdy RUFF-ians into well-behaved (read: more likely to be adopted) young adults. Here's some inspiration from your colleagues in the field.
Four on the Floor
So what's a dog gotta do to get a treat around Hinsdale Humane Society. Simply wait at front of the kennel while keeping all four paws on the floor. That's not always easy for the average shelter dog, but it's getting to be a piece of cake (err…make that a piece of kibble) for the pooches at this Illinois facility.
"Adoptions are so often based on first impressions of a dog," says Kristin Tvrdik, an animal caretaker and adoption counselor at the humane society. "A dog jumping at the bars of the kennel door is likely to place doubt in the minds of potential adopters." With some consistent training protocols conducted by volunteers, Hinsdale's dogs are calmer, know some basic manners and, most importantly, are more adoptable.
"One of the first things the dog walkers learn is how to reinforce appropriate kennel behavior. It's not only part of their training, it's part of their 'job description.' We feel our dog walkers are really dog trainers," explains Tvrdik. "Volunteers who are walking dogs must wait for our canine buddies to sit before entering a kennel."
And for the past 6 months, Hinsdale has been implementing "be calm for a treat" training. Says Tvrdik, "Before each dog walker takes out a dog, he or she first goes through the shelter and reinforce any dogs who have four paws on the floor, are quiet and at the front of their kennel. If a dog is not exhibiting the behavior, the walker simply waits until the dog places all paws on the floor—and then they get a treat. It's amazing how quickly the dogs learn, and it's also a great, easy job for volunteers just passing through the kennel or without enough time to take another dog on a full walk."
Is it working? Oh, yeah! Reports Tvrdik, "The '4 on the floor' training causes the dog's first instinct to be, 'Someone is walking past my kennel. I'm supposed to SIT and wait patiently for my reward!' Potential adopters have commented on how calm so many of our dogs are, because they are up in the front of their cages—and their beds are used for lying on, not for jumping!"
Boy Meets Dog
Karen Schumacher describes her visit to a Washington prison to watch youth inmates training homeless dogs in one word—"AMAZING!" The experience motivated the dog trainer to begin Pawsitive Works, an Idaho-based program that links youths in juvenile probation programs with adolescent shelter dogs. "We match up teens with teens," explains Schumacher. "Nothing like guided activities that allow both to burn energy and practice focusing. We instruct the youths to recognize behavioral issues in dogs and use behavior modification and positive reinforcement tools to modify not only the dog's behavior, but the child's."
The program, currently implemented at Second Chance Animal Adoption in Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint's Panhandle Animal Shelter, consists of 12 training classes with reading and journal assignments. What's in it for the dogs? Says Schumacher, "There's clicker training for mental stimulation, hide-and-go seek toys/treats for a bit of play, and then some running around!" A canine/handler test measures the teams' accomplishments, and achievements are celebrated in a community graduation ceremony.
"Shelters see this as a win-win situation," says Schumacher. "The expanded community awareness is a real boost, and the dogs are more adoptable. The canines we work with are not allowed to have any degree of human aggressiveness, but they often display behaviors that really interfere with possible adoptions. We are proud to see the dogs improve significantly. In the words of one of our youth, 'The dog taught me to be patient, and that's something I can use with people, too.'"