For most dogs, being relinquished to an animal shelter is a drastic change and a stressful experience. Even though the shelter may make every effort possible to make the dog’s temporary home feel welcoming, it is still a place where dogs will be confined, separated from their previous families and routines, and live in close proximity to unfamiliar dogs. These environmental changes and abundance of sensory stimuli are very stressful for most dogs.
When in homes, most dogs are able to enjoy cuddling, playing, sniffing, eating treats, going for walks, visiting with people and dogs, and learning new things. Providing dogs with physical and mental stimulation in the shelter environment is a critical factor for maintaining their behavioral health. Enrichment activities will keep dogs busy, so they are less likely to do things we DON’T want them to do.
Most shelter dogs spend many hours by themselves in their kennel. Due to anxiety, lack of exercise, and boredom, the dogs may become destructive and develop unruly or repetitive behaviors. Keeping the dogs busy can help to relieve their stress and prevent problem behaviors.
Using daily interactions to help shape a shelter dog’s behavior potentially increases their adoptability by making them more desirable to adopters. In order for shaping to be effective, consistency is key.
By learning to judge the behavior, NOT the dog, we can help a dog to change the behavior that’s keeping her from finding her forever home. It’s amazing the behavior we can change when we use a patient, understanding, guiding approach.
Of course, we may have our personal favorites among the kennel residents, however, it’s very important to be mindful of being an advocate for all of the dogs by asking three key questions about each dog:
- What behavior is this dog exhibiting? (Barking, Panting, Lunging, Jumping, Cowering, etc).
- What are the possible reasons for this behavior? (Stress, Fear, Excitement, Boredom, Lack of Training, etc).
- What can I do to help this dog change its behavior in order to be safely and successfully placed in an adoptive home? (Going more slowly for a fearful dog, asking a jumping dog to sit instead, providing enrichment for a stressed dog, etc)
Carrying treats and a clicker can help you to redirect unwanted behavior to more appropriate behavior. Asking for a sit, a look, or a wait and clicking and treating when the dog complies clearly communicates the desired behavior to the dog and shapes that behavior as one that will be offered by the dog more often. It will also allow you to get your job done more easily. Every interaction is a chance to help move the dog one step closer to their new home.