Here at the Center for Shelter Dogs at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, we have a group of volunteers with advanced training we call “The Mod Squad”. Most of these volunteers are not dog trainers by trade, but they have gone through basic dog volunteer training and more importantly have shown a strong commitment to regularly helping at the shelter and a dedication to helping our shelter dogs.
After joining the Mod Squad, these volunteers receive more advanced training, which enables them to help with training the dogs with basic manners, crate training, toy training, and to do implement behavior plans for those dogs who might need a little more attention to become ready for adoption.
The Mod Squad members also participate in:
- Public events
- Taking photos and videos to help advertise the dogs better
- Fostering a dog for few nights
- Training other volunteers
- Assisting with training classes and playgroups
- Agility for fun with the dogs
- Giving the harder-to-handle dogs some quiet and cuddle time
With a little bit of training and some motivated volunteers, your shelter or rescue could train an advanced “Mod Squad” too. Training for the program begins at the regular volunteer level. In our program, volunteers go through two tiers of training: Level 1 and Level 2. Level 1 consists of two hours of initial teaching sessions, with one focusing on easier dogs to handle, and the next one on moderate-to-harder dogs to handle. Once they have completed Level 1 training, they must volunteer for at least three months, complete at least 30 hours working with the dogs, and perform practical exercises (e.g., putting on a head halter), supervised by a behavior counselor/dog trainer, to move up to Level 2. Following the tiered training, a select few dedicated volunteers are invited to train for the Mod Squad after they have spent six months to a year in Level 2. Once a volunteer accepts the offer, we hold four 2-hour trainings with instruction on behavior, dog communication and body signals, advanced training and behavior plans, and safety. After completing the four training sessions, Mod Squad candidates take a written test and a practical exam and, when they pass, become our advanced volunteers.
The benefits of having the Mod Squad is evident in the way that they bridge the gap between their regular volunteer peers and licensed dog trainers. Once they are trained, the shelter manager, our behavior department, and volunteer manager all work closely with them on ideas, training plans, enrichment and outings to help market our dogs and get them ready for adoption. The behavior department sends Mod Squad volunteers a list of the dogs who may need some extra training and behavior work for a given week, and when the Mod Squad comes in, they work with those dogs and report back. They also help with public events, adoptions, and trainings of their choice – as much as their availability allows. Not only does the Mod Squad help our dogs, but they also help our shelter staff by relieving some of the work for those dogs. They ca even help our volunteers by being point people whom the volunteers can go to for questions and help with dogs. In the longer term, they also help each other by becoming friends, colleagues and support in this world of sheltering, training and loving dogs.
In any shelter, volunteers who are ready and willing to go the extra mile are a precious resource. Given the right training and know-how, a dedicated group of advanced volunteers can provide a cost-effective and invaluable boost to the overall potential of a shelter to help both animals and the greater community. For us at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, the Mod Squad has become an important contributor to our success as a shelter.