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The Behavior Department: The Basics of Shelter Dog Training

Developing a volunteer “head start” program

  • Mychelle Blake is the editor of Chronicle of the Dog, the bimonthly newsletter of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. She also edited The Dog Trainer’s Resource, a compilation of many of the articles from the Chronicle. She is shown here with her dogs, Buzz and Nikita.

I once had a telling experience that revealed the importance of instilling knowledge of basic commands in shelter dogs. A volunteer was working in a shelter parking lot with a very large black dog who, while friendly and sweet, was continuously overlooked by adopters because of his size and color.

An older couple happened to pass by and see the volunteer ask the dog to sit and lie down. He happily complied. I will always remember the expression of shock and amazement on the pair’s faces. It was as if the dog had sat up and started to recite Shakespeare.

As a dog trainer, I would not have given the dog’s act of merely sitting and lying down a second thought unless I’d happened to see its effect on nearby humans. To many members of the public, a dog performing basic tricks seems an incredible feat—something only canine stars might do. I was delighted to find out that, based on what they saw in the parking lot, the amazed older couple decided to meet with the big, black dog, fell in love with him, and took him home.

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