Animal welfare is finally getting to a place where animal shelters are recognizing the need to provide enrichment and training. Educating owners and providing dogs with life skills is becoming an essential part of best practices for shelters and rescues.
Why do we choose reward based training for shelter dogs?
Shelter dogs are under huge stress. It goes against animal welfare to knowingly add additional stressors to their life.
There are two ways to change a behavior:
- Make the unwanted behavior less rewarding- adds stress
- Make an alternative behavior more rewarding- decreases stress
It really is that simple, but why do we choose reward based training? Reward based training is more forgiving of handler mistakes. If an owner, volunteer or foster’s timing is off or if you miss use a tool with reward based training the dog simply gets an extra treats.
Since reward based training is more forgiving it makes it easier for volunteers who aren’t professional dog trainers to be effective. Reward trained behaviors also transition easier to the new home. An older person or younger child can withhold a reward, but they may not be capable of implementing effective body blocking techniques. It works even if you are a smaller person handling a larger stronger dog.
It also builds confidence in the dog. A large number of shelter dogs lack confidence. Confidence is needed for a adopter to have a smooth first trip to the vet and a confident dog will transition more easily to new environments.
Why is it important for shelters to offer training to their residents?
It provides mental stimulation known as enrichment, increases how quickly animals get adopted, prevents bad habits from developing and helps keep the dog in their new home.
When you think about why dogs come to the shelter in the first place the demographics of a surrendered dog are worth mentioning. Most dogs surrendered to an animal shelter are adolescent dogs in their teenage years. Why? Well my guess is it’s because they have puppy brains and adult bodies. They are coming into their teenage years and owners often mistake their lack of self control and focus as “Rebellion”. Common puppy problems go from cute to annoying pretty quickly.
Training in the shelter starts with clear communication. If one volunteer is teach off means no jumping and another is using down and one is saying here while the other says “come” that can be confusing.
What about fosters?
Foster parents play a HUGE role in adoptability of their foster dogs. They can also play a even bigger role in if an adoption sticks or not.
Foster parents of puppies are responsible for insuring that puppies grow up to become confident, stable dogs that developed bite inhibition during puppy hood. Puppy fosters should be guided in finding safe ways to socialize their puppies and should be provided with resources to help guide them in puppy development. Two of my favorite resources for puppy fosters are:
Adult dogs also need their foster parents to help prepare them for their new life. While shelter dogs aren’t broken many could benefit from learning skills like coming when called, not jumping up, and learning core skills like leave it. Here is my favorite resource for adult dog fosters.
Hope this helps inspire you to bring training to your local shelter or rescue.”The shelter environment can be stressful for dogs, but shelter staff and volunteers can help ease that stress by providing enrichment opportunities and activities. Many of these enrichment activities also help dogs become more adoptable. Every dog needs our assistance to become more adoptable or to stay adoptable until he/she finds a wonderful home. You can make a big difference in shelter dogs’ quality of life by adding enrichment with your time, attention and love.”