We have the luxury of being able to offer our shelter staff and volunteers shelter dog obedience classes. They were originated by Dr. Amy Marder and have been a part of the Animal Rescue League of Boston for years now. They’re a huge hit with staff, volunteers and our dogs. We learn so much about the dogs that we can’t learn within the usual shelter environment.
Shelter Dog Obedience Classes are twice weekly structured classes designed specifically for our shelter dogs. Both volunteers and staff are welcome and encouraged to attend bringing their ‘favorite Fido’ along with them. Being in a room together having to focus and learn while there are so many distractions challenges the dogs and their handlers, for the hour. Kim Melanson, the Center for Shelter Dogs Behavior Counselor, leads these classes each week and continues to have a huge following with both new and veteran volunteers attending.
Kim is great about switching up the curriculum to make it fun for everyone. She typically starts with having the handlers get to know their dogs – are they eating treats? If not should we try something higher in value? Are they able to focus enough to sit, down, or give paw? Are they barking? Are they fearful? Then, as a group, once everyone is in their designated spot, she’ll begin class by having the handlers teach their dogs to sit, give paw, look, come when called, walk on a loose leash and so on.
If we have a dog that seems to be the same week after week (doesn’t happen too often) then Kim usually knows them well enough to challenge them further with more difficult cues such as go to mat, touch, and some tricks that are fun for both the handler and the dog alike.
For the last 30 minutes Kim pulls out the agility equipment which really gets the class riled up, so while she’s setting up, the handlers will sit with their dogs and give them a nice massage.
Then, once everything is set up, it’s time to start working again. The dogs love this part. A small group will share the jumps and practice going over them a few times. Another group will share the weave poles, the chute and tire, and then help the dogs get through the tunnel. Some dogs that are not very participatory during the obedience part of class, perk up and love to see the equipment come out and they jump and bark in excitement. Other dogs that are already excited about the whole class get even more excited during the agility time.
Somehow Kim is able to manage it all and has had classes with up to ten dogs with all volunteer handlers. She does it with such enthusiasm and professionalism that people rave about it and keep coming back week after week!
It’s a lot of work but by the end of that hour you can just see the exhaustion in the dogs’ faces. Some of them even pull to go back in their kennels to rest. It’s a great way to end their day.
Incorporating a group shelter dog obedience class in your shelter is something fun and different to incorporate into your routine. If you have either indoor or outdoor space it can be done. An experienced volunteer with the help of a staff member could even run the classes for you if need be. It really is a great way to integrate the volunteers into something they can be proud of and is very different than the usual daily walks!
– Laney Nee, Behavior Programs Supervisor at the Center for Shelter Dogs