Humane Societies, Shelters & Animal Rescue’s
Ideas for change: It’s clear that there is a need for improvement. For lap dogs with very mellow temperaments, there is not a problem either in adopting them or having them show well. What is needed is an efficient Foster program; everything should be efficient, simple, and done with the best interest of future pets and pet adopters in mind.
For the adopter and foster parent:
No matter how nice the shelter or kennel is, the noise level smells of cleaning chemicals, constant dog waist, stresses of living in a small cubicle your entire life, the lack of environmental enrichment, training and social skills, all make it critical to institute programs to combat these developmental problems and psychological stressors.
The ability to pick up the dog from either the foster home or the shelter is very important for multiple reasons. You want to reduce the stress, fear, and anxiety as much as possible in these pets. Car rides and return trips to the shelter, even for small amounts of time, brings about anxiety, distrust, and confusion. This is not a good association or activity to do after making so much training and behavior progress. It doesn’t engender trust or security. In addition, if the adoptee lives closer to or it is more convenient for them to pick up the dog from the foster parent’s home that would be in the best interest of the dog and all parties involved.
It is also critical that the foster parent (who probably knows the pet best after spending days, weeks or months getting to know one another) has the ability and the knowledge to “tutor” or council the new adopter family or parent about their new baby. It is simply unacceptable to give a new family the dog and say good luck, losing the valuable knowledge gained by the foster parent. This would be a valuable resource completely wasted. In my example, I spend many hours with the Adopter, going to their home, sometimes driving them to the shelter, taking the time to offer as much information as possible about Pixie and canines to her new family. Other foster parents should be willing to do the same. You create a tremendous amount of value this way and can make the rescue organization stand out amongst all the others. Your organization should strive to be a leading example that other shelters around the country follow and I see no reason not to implement these. With all the care and first-class attention and education given to the new families, it will make future adopters more likely to adopt from the Shelters that provide this type of service. Read Nathan Winograd’s (Founder of No Kill Nation) book “Redemption” for more information on how to achieve a no-kill shelter and efficient programs.
For the dogs:
There are numerous suggestions and improvements that could be made. All of which require manpower and volunteers but nonetheless worth implementing.
One could institute a running program, perhaps get local track teams at schools, bike clubs or rollerblading clubs involved…etc to exercise the highest energy dogs/groups/breeds and to show them off more, socialize them and to form bonds between them and the runners, bikers..etc Encourage volunteers to bring roller blades, bikes, running gear to the shelter for their exercise to drain some of the excess pent up energy in the high energy dogs.
Make the walks structured, not where the dog is in charge calling the shots, pulling in all directions, smelling, pooping and peeing wherever they want at will…etc. incorporate basic obedience, behavior and dog classes for each new group of volunteers to make sure they know the proper time to put on a leash or provide affection and when and how to be an effective dog walker. Dog walking skills are critical in order to reinforce good behavior and prevent unwanted behavior such as jumping, biting, barking, excitability. One slip up and you end up reinforcing a bad behavior via variable-rate reinforcement and the behavior becomes even stronger than before! This method is used in positive reinforcement to reward and strengthen a behavior, not to extinct a behavior.
Focus on making the kennel a bark-free environment and promote the knowledge on how to do that for future volunteers. What a joy that would be for a potential adopter to walk into a peaceful quiet environment with no jumping or excessive barking. Through clicker training and positive reinforcement along with differential reinforcement, this could be accomplished.
There is also music that is composed just for the dog’s ears. It has been proven scientifically to calm down animals that also works in notes and tones that humans cannot hear. It calms and settles the otherwise chaotic, stressful environment of a shelter.
The walk/ exercise could/should become more intimate. Perhaps make each walker or team responsible for a certain “section” or area of the shelter so that the dogs get to know the walkers and so that the proper behavior is reinforced. …etc.
Perhaps for any dogs still residing in the shelter after 3 months devise a program so that they get extra time and attention from the dog trainers and walkers. Diagnose their specific needs more intimately, or by provide these longer-term residents specific and more knowledgeable handlers or trainers.
Make the concept of foster programs all about longer-term dog and cat residents who aren’t as adoptable. It’s not as necessary to take a dog that has been there for 2 weeks for training and rigorous exercise as it is for a dog that has been there for 2 months or 2 years… optimal adoptability time is running out for those dogs.
There are endless innovative ideas and avenues one can go. The key is to somehow institute behavior modification, obedience training and exercise the dogs both mentally and physically to make the “least desirable” dogs desirable and so that each volunteer can speak intelligently and intimately about the nuances, temperaments, personality quirks and wonderful attributes about each dog they handle and take care of. This would make each dog much more attractive and desirable and would add a lot of value to the rescue organization and to the volunteers.