How Data From Match-Up II Can Help you Save Lives

So you’ve just finished evaluating that goofy, brown, mixed breed dog named Charlie who entered your shelter three days ago, after he was picked up by Animal Control.  You’ve completed all sections of the Match-Up II Shelter Rehoming Dog Program, including the online behavior evaluation.

You and your fellow evaluator entered the behaviors observed on each sub-test online, as the evaluation was performed.  Later, after reviewing Charlie’s intake file, you complete the Behavioral History section of the Match-Up II Program by indicating there is no information about his behavior in a home.
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Nellie’s Story

Nellie came to us with a history of fear of people, food aggression (delicious chew toys), fear of loud noises, and separation anxiety. You may have learned about Nellie a little while ago. Our Northeastern Cooperative student, Kelsey, wrote a blog post about her. After Kelsey fostered Nellie, Nellie came back to the shelter and did not do well.  She was VERY anxious and our wonderful shelter staff appropriately expressed concern about her quality of life.

In situations where we have a dog who is highly stressed in the shelter, we re-evaluate our enrichment plan for the dog, and if we are already doing all that we can in the shelter environment (office foster, regular training, quiet time with people, playgroup, enriched kennel environment) and the anxiety is still significant, we consider medication to reduce anxiety.  Nellie was already on medication for her separation anxiety, so that wasn’t an option (although we could have considered changing her medication, or adding to it).  We were in a tough place.
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Update On Sapphire

After almost three months here with us at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, Sapphire was adopted and has been in her forever home for 5 months now.  Her mom and dad are extremely happy with her. There have certainly been a few challenges along the way but that has not swayed Jean and her husband because they immediately fell in love with Sapphire (now named Millie).

Jean and Millie enjoy a daily run together, which gives Millie the exercise required for a dog of her excitement level. Jean also does a lot of training with her because when visitors come over, Millie gets excited and likes to jump and mouth hands and clothing.  This can be embarrassing for Jean and her family, so we have worked together to teach Millie the proper way to greet visitors.  Two very helpful training programs that Jean uses with Millie are the Say Please Program and the Name Game.
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My Time With Nellie

Although I have always thought of myself as someone who can be cool as a cucumber under pressure, the experience of fostering a dog proved to me just how much that can change when another life is under your care.

The dog that brought me to this realization is Nellie, a 1-year-old rat terrier mix.  Nellie has some separation anxiety issues and is also part of  the Center for Shelter Dogs’ fear of people pilot study here at the Animal Rescue League of Boston.  I had her in my home for about a week and it became apparent to me after the first night that everything I’ve learned thus far working at the ARL has impacted me in ways I couldn’t have expected.
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CSD Launches Jumpy/Mouthy Study

The Center for Shelter Dogs recently launched a research study on jumpy/mouthy shelter dogs.  The main goal of this project is to evaluate the effectiveness of the CSD’s behavior modification program for jumpy/mouthy shelter dogs.

Shelter dogs will be assessed using a standardized jumpy/mouthy assessment tool the CSD developed specifically for this project in order to identify dogs with jumpy/mouthy behavior.  Eligible dogs demonstrating jumpy/mouthy behavior will be tested using the assessment before and after the behavior modification program.  A reduction in jumpy/mouthy behavior at the end of the training program will provide evidence that the training program is effective, making these dogs more manageable for the shelter staff and possibly increasing adoption chances for them.
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Chasing Sapphire

Sapphire was a resident with us for 3 months. In the beginning of her time here she was very quiet and laid back. She came down with a mild case of kennel cough, so she spent her time resting, sleeping and taking walks where she was very well behaved.  Once she started to feel better, she really started coming out of her shell. She was friendly and playful with people, but she’d grab their pant legs and clothes. This behavior certainly was not going to help her get adopted, so I knew it was our job to teach her other appropriate behaviors.

I started working with her and found out she was not interested in anything except grabbing pant legs and clothes. She wasn’t interested in toys like tennis balls, tug ropes or even plush squeaky toys.  I was at a loss because I knew she was a high energy dog that needed to burn a lot of energy in order to be able to learn. She didn’t seem all that interested in treats either. So I really had no idea how I was going to help this girl that I knew had the potential for being a fantastic dog.
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Make Time for Quiet Time

I’ve spent some time thinking about the difference in behavior and welfare of the dogs in our shelters versus my dogs at home.

Our dogs here at the Animal Rescue League of Boston receive good enrichment:  a bed, toys, and a comfortable place to rest; they go on walks three times per day; they join doggie playgroup (if they like other dogs) every day; have treat buckets outside their cage so volunteers and visitors can reward good behavior when passing by; and various other enrichment/activities based upon the dogs’ needs.
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Bringing Back The Mixed Breed

When I was a student in veterinary school, it was easy and accepted to call all dogs who were not known purebreds “mixed breeds”.   In fact, I remember admiring mixed breeds as being healthier due to their “hybrid vigor”.   But then, unbeknownst to me, something happened in the dog world and we were asked to pick a breed that the mix looked like.

No longer could we call mixes “mutts” or “heinz varieties”.  We needed to call them so-and-so mixes, based on their appearance. We needed to pick the breed in the mix for rabies certificates and for computerized veterinary records.  Animal shelters needed to pick the purebred in the mix for various shelter software programs. This led to expectations by people that the dog identified as having a certain breed would behave in a certain way. I noticed right away however, that there was little agreement between individuals in the breed chosen. And knowing that there was quite a variety of behaviors among dogs of the same breed, there would be even more variety among mixed breed dogs misidentified by breed.  But it wasn’t until we were able to identify breeds within mixed breeds through DNA testing that we had a chance to confirm or deny the guesses of the breeds in each individual dog.  Dr. Victoria Voith, a professor at Western University of Veterinary Medicine did a study where she asked  dog knowledgeable people to identify the breeds from videos of 20 mixed breed dogs adopted from shelters, all of which she had drawn blood to find out their DNA.
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My Time With Maddie

Before beginning my internship at the Center for Shelter Dogs at The Animal Rescue League of Boston, I had no concept of the benefits that one-on-one training can provide for a dog.  My only experience with “training” previously was teaching my two family dogs (an Australian shepherd mix and German short-haired pointer mix) to Sit, Stay, and Come when called when they were puppies.  I didn’t know what training could entail and for that matter, where to even begin.  Since starting in January, the floodgates of my knowledge have been opened by everyone at the Animal Rescue League of Boston.

I’d never worked with pit bull-like dogs before coming to the ARL and I can honestly admit that I was one of those misinformed people who believed what was said in the media about the breed.  It quickly became clear to me that the misconceptions being put out into the world are leading to just one thing ­- a missed opportunity to get the love and affection of some great canines.  The dogs that fall under the umbrella category of “pit bull dogs” that I have met at the ARL thus far, have been some of the sweetest and gentlest dogs I’ve ever encountered; however, if you had told me that was true of Maddie the first day I met her, I would have been quite disbelieving.   The 1-year-old American Pit Bull Terrier Mix was pretty unruly at first and did not seem like she wanted to be trained.  When Dr. D’Arpino first got her out of the kennel to introduce her to me, I was taken aback by how much energy she had and how determined she was to be in control of her own leash.  Many times during our walk she grabbed it with her mouth and thrashed her head back and forth.  Although it was probably just a game to the young pup, I was intimidated by her power to say the least.  After my initial encounter, I did not start working with Maddie for a few weeks.  When I finally did, I was amazed with how quickly she learned and how smart she was!  I worked with her using tennis balls to get her to learn to Say Please – where she has to give some things up in order to get what she wants.
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Dogs and Their Healing Powers

I recently went through one of the most traumatic experiences of my entire life. I lost my mother to the horrible disease of cancer. I have been back to work now for about a month and it has been such an amazing process of healing. Coming back to any job is difficult after experiencing something so painful but when I came back to work here at the Center for Shelter Dogs at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, it was different.

Seeing the dogs again after being away for two months was helpful because they were just plain happy to see me with their wagging tails and wiggly behinds.  Luckily for the dogs, the population had turned around so there weren’t all that many dogs here that I knew from before I left.  The new ones that were here were very happy to see me.
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