Teaching People and Their Pets
Fewer than 20 percent of pet owners obtain their animals from shelters, and fewer than 5 percent approach shelters for information and advice. Yet each year, millions of people turn to humane societies, SPCAs, and animal care and control agencies as a last resort, believing they have run out of options for solving behavior and other pet-related problems. In the second of two articles on behavior training programs, Animal Sheltering profiles shelters that have found ways to help these pet owners—before it's too late.
A soft light is settling over the Animal Humane Society, as the Minneapolis shelter shifts gears into early evening. Inside the school-like building, cats are lounging in their cages and dogs are sprawled comfortably across the floors of their kennels. A room full of rabbits seized during a recent hoarding case is a den of peace, with bunnies lying Zen-like in large Plexiglas cages. Though the shelter is open until 9 p.m. on this Monday night, all the four-legged creatures seem to be curling up for a long respite, well-fed and sleepy.
In the building's gym-sized training room, however, the scene is less like nap time and more like kindergarten recess. One by one, new pet owners breeze in through different entrances. Some are harried, with young black Labs bouncing at their sides and little border collies twirling around their feet. Others are expectant but calm, cradling small puppies in their arms or restraining standard poodle duos on leashes. One woman sails in with an air of confidence, only to look down and discover that her canine charge has decided to pee upon entering the gym.
It's the weekly gathering of the Goodpuppy Social Club, a program that aims to reach new puppy owners early—before they begin experiencing the kinds of problems that help fill the shelter's stray and adoption areas with homeless animals. Nervously eyeing one another's pets to see how their own dogs measure up, these people are clearly looking for a little support and a lot of reassurance. At first embarrassed by their puppies' behaviors, they soon discover they are not alone.
"Anyone here have a puppy who nips and bites?" asks Julie Jackson, a shelter employee who coordinates the Goodpuppy Social Club.
"Oh, yes," answers a soft-spoken woman with a yellow Lab named Daisy. Daisy, it turns out, is also fearful of other dogs—a personality trait that's contributing to her family's anxieties. During "puppy playtime," which is designed to accustom young dogs to socializing with canine companions, Daisy cowers and retreats toward her humans.
But this behavior is only natural, a Goodpuppy volunteer explains to Daisy's distressed family. With time and nurturing, shy puppies can evolve into healthy adult dogs, the volunteer reassures them.
Her words are just another version of the same message these owners will hear over and over again during the five-week course: Through positive reinforcement of appropriate behavior, pet owners can help their animals grow out of less endearing habits and into lifelong companions.
Designed to train people as much as animals, the Goodpuppy Social Club focuses on preventing puppy problems from growing into dog problems. Part "puppy support group," part obedience training, and part basic-care education, the classes are a crash course in pet-parenting.
"At this moment, [in some areas] the demand for puppies is greater than the supply," says R.K. Anderson, DVM, co-inventor of the Gentle Leader head collar and Jackson's partner in creating an "Early Learning for Puppies" program guide for other shelters. "On the other hand, the greatest percentage of animals returning to the shelter are from four to five months up to two years old. That is due to many reasons, but behavior is the primary one."
Striving to counteract this devastating trend, the Animal Humane Society has put into place a number of behavior programs, including a telephone helpline, a volunteer-based training program for shelter animals, and of course, the puppy classes. Since 1994, more than 1,000 puppies and their families have graduated from the Goodpuppy Social Club. Of all the puppies adopted from the shelter and put through the paces of the Goodpuppy curriculum, only those with extreme behavior issues such as aggression are brought back—at a rate that amounts to less than half the shelter's overall return numbers.
Creating a Curriculum for Life
Whether they target young puppies, adult dogs, or everyone in between, humane training classes at shelters such as the Animal Humane Society all start from the same premise: To teach the animals, you have to teach their people first. To stem the tide of behavior-related relinquishments, you have to empower pet owners with the knowledge that their animals are trainable—in short, that no dog is born with a handbook from Miss Manners and no cat is born knowing how to tell the difference between a $5,000 sofa and a $10 scratching post.
Considering some of the stories heard over and over again at the front counter, it's understandable that many shelter employees remain skeptical of the idea that the decision to surrender a pet is often difficult for relinquishers. The reasons offered by pet owners begin to sound like a broken record, skipping over and over again on the same phrases—"got too big," "chews up the house," "scratches everything," and "pees everywhere." But in fact, recent studies have shown that for many pet owners, the choice to relinquish an animal is agonizing, and the final decision is often based on the assumption that all options have been exhausted ("Surrendering Pets to Shelters: The Relinquisher's Perspective," Anthrozoös, Natalie DiGiacomo et al., Vol. 11, No. 1, 1998).
A focus group convened for The HSUS last fall only served to confirm this: When marketing and research consulting firm Jacobs Jenner & Kent probed for answers from pet owners who had relinquished their animals within the previous year, many of those interviewed said they had gone to considerable lengths to try to solve behavior problems.
In assessing what they would have done differently, however, many pet owners in the focus group expressed a desire for more behavior resources—and even pointed to "the humane society" as the organization most likely to provide them. "I would have liked to have known more about the behavior of animals, how they [react] to certain things, and how to deal with that kind of behavior," said a man whose mild-mannered kitten had evolved into an attack cat. "[Behavior issues] led to our final reason for getting rid of the pet."
Reaching these pet owners—the ones who do care but don't know how they can play an active role in prevention and intervention strategies—is the goal behind many new shelter programs that seek to address behavior issues. It's the reason so many shelters are buying into the idea that even if their current resource level allows them to focus only on adopters, the efforts cannot end there. To truly make a dent in the staggering number of animals relinquished every year because of behavior problems, shelters are looking ahead toward a future in which the entire pet-owning community knows exactly where to go—not as a last resort, but as a first lifeline.
Shifting the Learning Curve
Since launching a free behavior course for dog adopters less than a year ago, the Champaign County Humane Society in Urbana, Illinois, has already witnessed the differences a little knowledge can make—and hopes to eventually open its program to all pet owners. If training assistance can work for the frazzled woman in her twenties who came to the shelter with a young, high-energy collie mix, then it can work for many more pets and their people, says Executive Director Steve Notaro.
"The woman came to the first class and said, 'This dog is driving me nuts. I don't know what I'm going to do,'" says Notaro. "Three weeks later, of course, the dog was still 'nuts,' but once she knew that the dog was acting as dogs do, and she knew how to respond to the chewing and jumping, her bond [with her pet] had increased greatly. . . . I just knew that was a dog who would have come back to the shelter, or that the woman would have given him away."
For this young pet owner, training was the first step toward lifetime commitment and toward an understanding of the natural behavior of animals. If pet ownership is truly a long-term commitment, however, the challenges associated with caring for pets don't stop after the training classes have been completed or the written adoption materials have been filed away. That's one of the founding principles behind the burgeoning behavior movement in shelters nationally—that shelters need to be a resource for pet owners not only at the beginning and end of their relationships with their animals but also during the critical stages in between.
The stories relayed by participants in the HSUS-sponsored focus group were a testament to this. Some of the pet owners had considered their cats and dogs family members for nearly a decade, only to later surrender the animals because of a human pregnancy or a fear of danger to toddlers. Misinformation and lack of training—not lack of caring—had led them to believe they had no other choices.
Clearly, if shelters want to take the lead in dispelling myths about animal behavior and providing real solutions for pet owners, they have a bit of marketing work to do. While 70 percent of respondents to a national survey said they had a positive view of shelters, 60 percent were unaware that some shelters provide resources such as obedience classes and help with behavior issues (HSUS survey, Peter Hart Research Associates, 1998). Likewise, figures from a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association reveal that the number of people who rely on animal shelters for information about their pets is still negligible. Pet owners turn to almost any other source—including veterinarians, pet store personnel, magazines, breeders, friends, and relatives—before they knock on the doors of their local humane societies or municipal agencies.
Through outreach and advertising, many organizations are determined to change these statistics. In Idaho Falls, Idaho, the Humane Society of the Upper Valley is devoting grant money from The HSUS to public-service announcements that let pet owners know about available training resources. "[People say], 'We'll get a new dog because it will be a better dog.' It's amazing how many people actually believe that good dogs are born," says Deb Coleman, companion animal coordinator for the education and fostering organization. "What we're trying to do is get people to come to us for help before they are so frustrated that they just don't want to deal with it anymore."
Similarly, the Nebraska Humane Society is searching for ways to reach pet owners who have become frustrated to the point of relegating their animals to the backyard. Working with the local prosecutor's office, shelter leaders are trying to devise a "diversion program" in which pet owners receive behavior assistance instead of fines and penalties for violations of animal control laws. For example, the owners of a barking, disruptive dog would be required to take a session at the shelter on how to humanely reduce noise levels, says Judy Varner, executive director of the Nebraska Humane Society. "It all goes back to needing to do more to . . . stop the flow of animals into the building," says Varner. "We're still leaving out a huge segment of society that we somehow need to begin reaching."
Committing to Change
In the past, a focus on training and behavior services may have seemed almost extracurricular or extraneous to the mission of a sheltering organization. Now, however, researchers repeatedly point to behavior programs as literal lifesavers that will help shelters make deep inroads into the massive problem of animal homelessness. Trends in animal relinquishment differ by region and even by municipality, but in study after study, the numbers add up to the overwhelming conclusion that adult or "teenage" animals with behavior problems make up a large portion of shelter populations.
According to a recent study printed in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS), the humane movement still clings to "a nearly universal focus on sterilization as a solution" ("Pet Overpopulation: Data and Measurement Issues in Shelters," John Wenstrup and Alexis Dowidchuk, Vol. 2, No. 4, 1999). While the impact of sterilization on pet overpopulation cannot be overstated, it nevertheless is not a panacea for the myriad of other problems that contribute to animal relinquishments. Even one of the participants in the HSUS focus group indicated that she and many other pet owners have long heard the spay/neuter message loud and clear—at the expense of hearing other important information about how to care for pets.
"If most of the animals who enter a particular shelter are no longer puppies and kittens, sterilization may do little to decrease shelter populations of the future," wrote the authors of the JAAWS study. "Nonetheless, when asked to determine how they would spend an incremental $1 million in income, shelters reported they would allocate 44 percent to subsidizing sterilization efforts. This single-mindedness in proposed solutions should trigger pause in light of changing shelter animal demographics."
Some organizations have already heeded the conclusions of such studies and have begun to reshape their programs accordingly. Using a pair of studies from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) as justification of the importance of behavior services, the Michigan Humane Society developed a grant proposal to establish an animal behavior division. (For copies of the studies, "Risk factors for relinquishment of dogs to an animal shelter" and "Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter," see JAVMA, Vol. 209, No. 3, Gary Patronek, VMD, PhD, et al., August 1, 1996.) A local foundation provided the seed money for the first year, with the goal of making the "Pet Education Center" self-funding within three to five years, says Lori Kane, director of animal behavior and training.
"When I opened the Pet Education Center, I was the director, the office manager, the receptionist, and the instructor," says Kane. From those modest beginnings, Kane has begun to add staff and enlist the help of about 30 volunteers. Now devoting more time to marketing the center, Kane even received a significant donation from an adopter and business owner who was so pleased with her experience at the shelter that she volunteered to make a video for the organization. What started out to be a 15-minute production turned into an essential tool for adopters; the hour-long video provides tips and demonstrations on everything from housetraining to introducing a new pet to the household. The cost of producing "Manners for Life" probably amounted to tens of thousands of dollars, but the shelter received the services for free, Kane says. (For information about how to purchase the video for your shelter, see the resource list.)
In addition to using donations, Kane plans to make the Pet Education Center self-supporting by charging fees for some services. While other shelters offer free or discounted behavior training with the idea that pet owners might be unwilling to foot the bill, Kane has found that pet owners in her area will pay competitive prices for dog-training classes and one-on-one behavior consultations. "We seem to have a good market for it," Kane says. "We are filling our classes five days a week here [at the Pet Education Center] and two days a week at our satellite location. We are booking probably about four to six consultations a week, which is what we can handle right now with our staff."
For many shelters, grants and other start-up money may be hard to come by, making it necessary to re-examine and possibly shift priorities that will redefine current spending. As the authors of the JAAWS study point out, shelters sometimes allocate funding to programs that are not addressing the most pressing problems in their community or in the animal protection community at large. Focusing on the most critical needs requires not only an examination of community trends and shelter data, but also a shift in organizational mind-sets. After all, as the problem we call "pet overpopulation" continues to evolve, so too should humane organizations' approaches to solving it.
Turning Phone Lines into Lifelines
Decisions to cut less critical programs can be painful in the short term—not to mention difficult to explain to volunteers, employees, donors, and the community. But it was a risk the Denver Dumb Friends League was willing to take when it eliminated its animal-assisted therapy program in favor of a greater emphasis on behavior issues. In the final analysis, shelters that take a close look at their current services—as Denver did—may find that what's best for animals and pet owners is not always what's being reflected in current shelter offerings.
But rechanneling energies into behavior assistance for people and pets has already had a significant, tangible impact in Denver, where a focus on internal and external behavior programs has dramatically reduced the number of returns and has decreased the stress levels of shelter animals. Through dog-training classes, stress-reduction programs, shelter animal training, and a behavior "helpline," the organization has carved out a niche for itself as a resource center for pet owners.
By calling the shelter's helpline, pet owners can even access assistance from the comfort of their own homes. Within a day or two of leaving detailed questions on the dog helpline or cat helpline, callers receive packets of information in the mail pertaining to their specific problems. Soon afterward, an animal behavior counselor follows up by phone, offering free advice, reassurance, and a sympathetic ear.
Rich Kennehan is one such counselor, and he spends his days dialing pet owners at home and at work, asking questions with the thoroughness of an investigator. He inquires about family members, basic care methods, and current training techniques. After establishing a case history, Kennehan advises pet owners on such common challenges as how to housetrain, how to keep dogs from jumping up on children, and how to introduce new pets to longtime residents of the canine or feline persuasion. Subtly imbuing his advice with perspectives from the animals' points of view, he also seeks to gain insight into the pet owners' psyches. He doesn't scold but gently guides, helping people see the "how" and the "why" behind their pets' actions.
Above the desks in the helpline office are stickie notes that remind staff and volunteers how to speak with respect and diplomacy. One lists several possible substitutes for the phrases "You should do" and "You shouldn't do": "Here's how we can help you to work with that"; "Here's what we recommend"; and "How is that technique working?"
Kennehan seems to have honed this kind of tactfulness to an art form. Trained first as a volunteer, he was hired on staff when the Denver Dumb Friends League formed a partnership with The HSUS to launch the Pets for Life National Training Center (see the sidebar Beyond the Adoption Counter). Soon, under the guidance of the League's Animal Behavior Manager Kit Jenkins, Kennehan and his colleagues will assist shelter workers from around the country in setting up behavior programs in their own areas.
Getting the Facts Straight
As much time as Kennehan spends dispensing suggestions for behavior treatment plans, he also devotes significant efforts to divesting pet owners of their strong beliefs in popular but ineffective training techniques. One caller seeking help for a fear-biting cat had been advised by a breeder to snap the cat's nose after each offense. Surprised that this method had only exacerbated the problem, the pet owner expressed considerable frustration at the proliferation of bad advice she had received from supposedly knowledgeable sources.
Such scenarios are common among dog and cat owners, according to statistics compiled by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP). In a study of relinquishment data from 12 shelters, the NCPPSP found that more than half of all relinquishers to those shelters believed that animals misbehave out of spite. A significant number of pet owners adhered to long-standing but ineffective training methods; for instance, about one third of all cat and dog owners said that rubbing noses in messes was a good way to housetrain.
Participants in the HSUS focus group displayed a similar lack of understanding of natural animal behavior. Some who said they were experienced pet owners—even referring to themselves as "pet lovers"—assigned human qualities to the animals they had given up on. A cat who couldn't get along with other cats was said to be "selfish"; a dog who didn't get enough time with his owner was "nuts." One woman who introduced a cat into a household already filled with animals was surprised to find that the newcomer could not adjust, calling the cat "vindictive" and "spiteful." A man whose family had grown very attached to a pet kitten was taken by surprise when the animal turned into a biting cat; after spending several months exploring options with veterinarians, the man finally gave up, fearing for the safety of his wife and children.
"Although some owners just don't make the necessary commitment to their pets, most are earnestly looking for effective help," writes certified applied animal behaviorist Suzanne Hetts, PhD, in her book, Pet Behavior Protocols: What to Do, What to Say, When to Refer. "These owners may say, 'We are at the end of our rope,' 'We are at our wit's end,' or 'We've tried everything.'"
"Often, though, they haven't tried the right thing because no one they've turned to has properly diagnosed the problem and devised a relevant, humane, and effective behavior modification plan," Hetts writes. "Owners who are told to try this and try that become increasingly frustrated when things don't improve, and ultimately, they may give up on their pets."
That's why organizations such as the Denver Dumb Friends League train staff and volunteers not only in animal behavior but also in proper assessment of problems. Providing behavior advice to the public is not a task the League takes lightly. If shelters are going to meet their missions to help animals, they must avoid perpetuating myths or dispensing casual suggestions that may not fit the situation of the pet owner in need, says Bob Rohde, president of the Denver Dumb Friends League. "When it comes to people having questions about certain pet behaviors or expectations of pets—even if it's an organization that's placing a hundred animals a year—we have to ensure as shelters that we're giving out the correct information," says Rohde. "We can't help the animals if we don't help the people."
And when shelters provide effective solutions that stand the test of time, the public is more likely to listen to other messages about basic animal care, says Stephanie Smith, who directs the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, a municipal agency in Dayton, Ohio. Smith attributes an increase in spay/neuter compliance to intensive training that has helped volunteers speak knowledgeably with the public on the subject of animal behavior and training. "When you actually sit with people and talk with them—and you have a foundation for what you're talking about—then anything you say becomes more credible," says Smith. "People say, 'Well, if they know all of this, then they must know what they're talking about when it comes to spaying and neutering.'"
Making sure everyone in the shelter has some basic behavior knowledge is the first step toward becoming a community resource. At the Humane Society of Chittenden County in South Burlington, Vermont, weekly staff meetings include discussions of animal behavior issues. Everyone from the receptionist to the executive director mulls over training techniques, new kinds of collars, and other topics relevant to working with pet owners and shelter animals. Involving the entire staff is crucial, as those on the front lines are those most likely to be the first point of contact for pet owners about to give up on their animals, says Executive Director Susan Lafayette.
"You have to just make the time to teach the staff, and it can mean bringing in speakers to volunteer their time to teach a technique, or it can mean getting a book and learning the technique, or getting on the Internet," she says. "It's the challenge that's meeting all animal welfare organizations—are we going to be always putting out fires, or are we going to be proactive?"
Helping Staff Help People
For many shelters, being proactive means answering the questions that pet owners haven't yet thought to ask. In Milwaukee, employees at the Wisconsin Humane Society call adopters as a matter of course, contacting new pet owners three days, three weeks, and three months after the date of adoption. Through this follow-up program, the counselors offer advice only on common behavior problems, referring more serious issues such as aggression to animal trainers, behaviorists, and the shelter's education department.
In addition to reassuring adopters, especially those who are first-time pet owners, the follow-ups help staff define where they need to create new programs or services, says Victoria Wellens, the shelter's executive director. Based on information gathered during the phone calls, the humane society develops evening workshops for adoptive families who may be experiencing certain problems. "We call them up and tell them, 'This is what we're doing. Are you interested?' And we usually get an armful [of people]. . . ."
Providing such services may take some legwork, but it doesn't have to bankrupt your shelter. The starting base could be as simple as logging on to the Web and checking out sites such as that of the Denver Dumb Friends League (www.ddfl.org), which receives about 11,500 hits every month on its behavior pages alone. Offering tips on how to prevent and solve everything from chewing problems to litter box issues, the site is invaluable for both shelter workers and pet owners.
"Several of the big humane societies have wonderful stuff on their websites," says Coleman. "Anybody can access it. People just don't realize they can go onto those sites, so we direct them to those. In order to educate people, we refer them to books and good training materials also."
As the resource list demonstrates, there's no lack of good behavior information available—much of it for a minimal charge. Many shelters that have implemented their own behavior programs are eager to share their trials, tribulations, and successes. The "Early Learning for Puppies" program guide created by Jackson and Anderson, for example, is designed specifically for shelters and veterinary clinics. Outlining everything from weekly course descriptions to liability issues, the packet includes reproducible advertisements, grooming tips for puppies, form letters for distribution to veterinarians, and articles about humane puppy training.
Likewise, nationally known dog trainer, speaker, and shelter operator Sue Sternberg makes her training materials available to other shelters at little cost, with the aim of spreading her message to the widest audience possible. And the Pets for Life National Training Center will provide an abundance of behavior materials and two weeks of intensive training to help shelter professionals from around the country implement behavior programs—at a cost subsidized by the Denver Dumb Friends League and The HSUS (see sidebar Beyond the Adoption Counter).
With access to such resources, staff and volunteers can become knowledgeable enough to help pet owners address common behavior problems, says Lafayette, who hopes to turn her shelter into a "pet resource center." But, as both Lafayette and Hetts point out, part of helping pet owners—and maintaining credibility with the public—is knowing when a problem is beyond the realm of the shelter's expertise.
Rather than giving out erroneous and potentially dangerous information that could backfire on both pet owners and the shelter, the Humane Society of Chittenden County offers only basic behavior tips and keeps a referral list of trainers and behaviorists who can handle more sophisticated questions and problems. "We know that there is a need in our community for resources, just to have one place to call and get help . . . to be a sort of road map that people need for their animal questions," says Lafayette. "We might not have the answers, but we can tell them who does."
Trainers and behavior specialists may not have all the answers either, but they can serve as excellent resources for shelters. Many are willing to donate free or discounted services to humane organizations, leading training sessions for adopters or helping staff learn the basic tenets of animal behavior.
Every week, when trainers lead classes for the public on-site at the Humane Society of Chittenden County, they allow staff to bring shelter dogs to those classes for free, says Lafayette. Besides learning how to enhance the behavior of shelter animals, employees can add to their repertoire of behavior knowledge that proves helpful when speaking with pet owners.
Through an internship program with the University of Vermont, the shelter also hosts animal sciences majors who have taken at least one course in positive reinforcement training. The students spend a semester working with dogs on behavior problems and basic training, even talking with adopters about their new pets. The program not only provides the shelter with extra help in training; it also serves as a great resource for new personnel. "We have had several staff people who've come from the internship program," says Lafayette. "We've gotten some great employees that way."
In Idaho, a partnership between a private boarding kennel and the Humane Society of the Upper Valley has resulted in free Saturday sessions for pet owners. Ameripet Kennels donates the space, and professional trainers donate most of their services. Pet owners can bring their dogs for training, and adopters can work with trainers before going home with new companions. "We work with them while we are placing dogs," says Coleman. "Trainers show them specifically how to do 'heel,' how to do 'sit,' how to [prevent dogs from] jumping up."
Three part-time trainers lead classes for adopters of animals from the Champaign County Humane Society, which received a grant from The HSUS to kick off the program. Shelters also rely heavily on trained volunteers to help deliver classes; the Animal Humane Society's Goodpuppy Social Club is coordinated by Jackson but supplemented with help from 11 dedicated volunteers, each of whom worked at the shelter for at least six months before joining the Goodpuppy Social Club.
When choosing trainers, volunteers, and behavior experts who can assist employees or act as referral sources for pet owners, shelters should evaluate them carefully to ensure that their philosophies mesh with organizational credos, says Kathleen Engel, director of animal placement for the Nebraska Humane Society. "People who are willing to volunteer their time and learn are generally good, but you still have to be careful. . . . because training techniques have changed tons over the years," she says. "I've been a trainer for 24 years, and I don't do much like I used to, so it's really important who you get into your shelter. You don't want people in here jerking these dogs around because A) they'll probably get bit, and B) that's not how we do things."
While many dog trainers are humane and well-intentioned, some trainers and training books still recommend methods that are simply barbaric, says Hetts, who has been working with the American Humane Association, The HSUS, and other national organizations to develop guidelines for humane dog training. No examination or certification is required for dog training; virtually anyone with a leash can call himself a "trainer."
To avoid partnering with the wrong people, shelter employees can evaluate local trainers by visiting their classes, possibly even bringing along their own pets, says Hetts. If the trainer conducts private consultations, someone from the shelter can ask to sit in on a session or can invite the trainer to work one-on-one with a staffer's dog, she says.
"If I were a dog trainer in my community and a shelter director came to me and said, 'I'd like to be able to take my dog to your classes because we're considering making you our primary referral source for all of our adopters,' I'd say, 'Welcome. Please come. I'll give you a session for free,'" Hetts says. "If a trainer won't let you do that or isn't open to that . . . that would be a red flag."
Organizations such as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, which has also contributed to the development of the humane dog training guidelines, may be able to steer your shelter toward trainers in your area.
All the trainers and all the advice in the world won't help pet owners if they aren't aware of your programs. Effective public outreach requires relationships with animal professionals who can take your message to the pet owners you may not be reaching with your own newsletters or public-relations efforts. With that in mind, organizations such as the Animal Humane Society have taken their services into the veterinary community. Because so many people visit veterinarians during the first weeks of puppy parenthood, the Animal Humane Society developed a program to show employees in clinics how to set up puppy classes for clients.
From a veterinarian's perspective, holding training classes helps bond animals and their owners to the clinic. If a puppy becomes accustomed to the sights and sounds associated with going to the doctor, she will look forward to her visit, making her owners even more likely to bring her back throughout her lifetime. From the shelter's perspective, the veterinarians can help reach many more pet owners, often acting as the first point of contact for families with new puppies.
As the creators of the Goodpuppy Social Club program planning guide, which provides ideas for partnering with veterinarians, Anderson and Jackson envision the day when shelters and veterinary clinics around the country implement these kinds of training programs. "We want to teach people how to manage behavior based on the natural behaviors and the natural instincts of these species," Anderson says, "rather than just teaching them to train a dog to do certain things. That's more of a recipe, rather than an understanding of how to handle any behavior at any time, anywhere."
The Animal Humane Society's behavior outreach appears to be working. Back in the Monday evening Goodpuppy class, one participant is a breeder, attending the sessions with people who have purchased animals from her. In fact, many of those in attendance, including Daisy's family, are there on referral from breeders and veterinarians. These pet owners consider $55—the fee for the five-week course—a small price to pay. "I would never have known about this if the vet hadn't told me," says Daisy's dad, Dennis Kosnopfal, as his wife works to teach Daisy to come to her. "I never knew such a deal even existed."
Kosnopfal and his family are looking considerably more relaxed by the end of the night, even venturing smiles at Daisy's antics. In less than two hours, the dog has learned to sit at the sight of a treat and to come when called. She has been fitted with a Gentle Leader head collar that will humanely restrain her on walks. And she is sitting patiently while her family continues to receive personal attention from a volunteer, who ensures Daisy's caregivers that the shelter is always just a phone call away.
The class appears to be working for Daisy's humans as it has for so many other families before them. Repeatedly, pet owners use evaluation forms to sing the praises of the Goodpuppy Social Club. Their words resonate with the importance of programs that seek to provide guidance and hope to pet owners, proving that a little reassurance and positive reinforcement may be just what people need to survive the most trying stages of pet parenthood:
"I can't imagine life with puppy without these classes!" wrote one adopter. "We have all bonded and grown together as one happy family (pack) . . . and everyone (including puppy) knows who's in charge! Thank you!"
Another woman wrote of her dog, "There were many times I would be sure he was hopeless, then we'd come to class and he'd behave so well."
And perhaps the woman who had been referred to the Goodpuppy Social Club by her neighbor said it best of all: "This class saved my sanity, and helped me through some frustrating times," she wrote. "We are looking forward to many happy times with our dog."
Here are just a few of the behavior resources available to shelters. In future issues, Animal Sheltering will continue to publish information about materials that can help your organization or agency implement stress-reduction and training programs.
Early Learning for Puppies to Socialize and Promote Good Behavior, a guide that explains how to set up programs like the Animal Humane Society's Goodpuppy Social Club, is available for $24.95 from Animal Behavior Consulting. Proceeds will pay for production costs and will also be donated to humane societies and other organizations that are improving the lives of puppies and their families by promoting appropriate animal behavior and the human-animal bond. To order, contact Animal Behavior Consulting, 1666 Coffmann St., Ste. 128, Falcon Heights, MN 55108; 651-644-7400 or 612-920-3292; 651-644-4262 (fax).
The Denver Dumb Friends League receives about 11,500 hits monthly on the behavior pages of its website, www.ddfl.org. You can download information from the site for free and refer fellow staff members and adopters to the site. For more information about the Denver Dumb Friends League's behavior department, see the Beyond the Adoption Counter sidebar, or contact the Denver Dumb Friends League, 2080 S. Quebec St., Denver, CO 80231; 303-696-4941.
Sue Sternberg presents workshops and seminars in shelters and at local and national conferences, where she distributes some materials for free and sells others at cost. Her publications include fliers, pamphlets, and booklets on topics such as reducing stress, testing dog temperaments, training dogs within the shelter environment, creating a real-life room for dogs, and preventing possessiveness in shelter dogs. For more information, contact Rondout Valley Kennels, 4628 Rt. 209, Accord, NY; 914-687-7619. Milk-Bone and the ASPCA are also offering two free booklets by Sternberg. Shelters can obtain up to 25 copies each of "Care & Caring: A Resource Guide for Shelter Professionals,"which provides guidelines for behavioral and emotional care of shelter dogs. Shelters can also obtain up to 100 copies each of "Tricks for Treats," which is designed for pet owners who are interested in teaching their new dogs a few basic commands and tricks. To order, call 1-888-DOGTREATS.
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) provides a "trainer search"option on its website, www.apdt.com. The listings do not reflect endorsements from APDT but are merely intended to help the public find trainers in their area. The site also provides tips on how to screen and evaluate trainers. APDT can be reached at P.O. Box 385, Davis, CA 95617; 1-800-PET-DOGS.
The Michigan Humane Society (MHS) includes in its adoption packets a one-hour video, "Manners for Life: A Guide to Training Your Dog."The retail price of the video is $14.95, but MHS is selling "Manners for Life"to shelters at a wholesale price. For more information, call the Michigan Humane Society's Pet Education Center at 248-650-1059. MHS also has behavior-related tip sheets and Q & A writeups on its website, www.mihumane.org.
The American Animal Hospital Association has information on its website, www.healthypet.com, that covers everything from separation anxiety in dogs to destructive behavior in cats. Shelters can also purchase behavior pamphlets in bulk. For pricing information, contact AAHA, Dept. 945, Denver, CO 80291-0945; 800-883-6301; 303-986-1700 (fax).
In Pet Behavior Protocols: What to Say, What to Do, When to Refer, certified applied animal behaviorist Suzanne Hetts offers advice on how to provide pet owners with more than just "quick-fix"tips. At $63 for AAHA members and $76 for non-members (plus $7 for shipping and handling), the book is expensive, but the advice is worth every penny. To order, contact the American Animal Hospital Association, Dept. 945, Denver, CO 80291-0945; 800-883-6301; 303-986-1700 (fax).