What is a shelter or a foster program to do? How can they succeed and get all types of breeds, energy and training levels, exercised, trained and make each loving animal adoptable? It is critical to bring out the best in each dog to make them shine although in most shelters and facilities the opposite conditions are present.
Her name was Pixie and at 2 years old, she was currently the longest term resident in the humane society (her entire life).
When I arrived at the Humane Society of Greater Miami (substitute any shelter or animal rescue here) I was greeted with intense barking and jumping that would have scared off the most seasoned pet owner, it was like a chorus of wild animals, many who had not been let out yet that day and certainly not trained or exercised properly. Pixie was one of those girls. She was a gorgeous 2 year old black mix breed with a wonderful personality to boot. Her problem, she showed poorly, was highly under exercised, untrained and did not have any manners, rules or structure!
No one is to blame here; the shelter and the wonderful volunteers and employees have dedicated their lives to altruistically helping and making a difference in both animals and humans lives. They should be commended and recognized for their civic duty and greatness, but there could and should be many improvements.
Pixie was a high energy working dog. She needed exercise, structure, obedience and behavior training in order to be fulfilled and to fit in with a family. She had been in the shelter her entire life exhibiting behaviors such as jumping all over people, pulling on the leash to the point that she couldn’t breathe and a host of bad manners which became all she knew.
When I first asked the foster care coordinator, to introduce me to the longest term, “least adoptable” resident, I met Pixie. She was jumping so high, was so misbehaved and so energetic she didn’t know what to do with herself or how to act. It was not her fault, she was never taught. I took her out for our first run together at the shelter where we bonded. I was out of breath after a 20 minute fast paced jog and she was barley warmed up. It was evident that she needed more, much more.
I decided to take her home, make her my right hand girl and incorporate her into my every day workouts, bring her to my dog training sessions and rollerblade her alongside my other clients dogs. She integrated like she had been a family pet her entire life. We went for 5 mile roller blades together, watching the sun rise and set and went for long bike rides around town. We strutted around town proudly wearing her “adopt me” vest while I encouraged people to say hello and give her a smooch. She was soon the hit of the town and almost everyone in 3 local dog parks new her name.
Her dog training-sessions began the first minute when I put her in my car. There would be no puling, jumping, or growling tolerated and instead utilizing operant conditioning and positive reinforcement, she would learn to want to behave and was soon eager to perform. We began clicker training combined with positive reinforcement as soon as we arrived home. She quickly began to recognize the click with treats and was soon looking to me for direction and what I wanted her to do next.
We then practiced sitting and waiting patiently at every open door. No exceptions, so before you knew it, she was sitting waiting, door agape, not bolting or even interested in going anywhere before I gave her the signal that it was ok to go through the door/s or on our walk. We then started adding in sits with duration, distance and distraction. She was a quick learner. She soon learned that waiting calmly, patiently and sitting would yield her a reward (attention, petting, environmental, ball play, treats…etc)
The uncontrollable wild Pixie I first met was long gone and the new Pixie yearning to break out was starting to shine through. Every day we continued a vigorous mental and physical exercise, positive reward routine and she now started to “show” incredibly well! She was sitting, smiling, loved the attention and was on her way to getting adopted.