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The Behavior Department: Burning Out on Behavior

While shelter work can provide trainers great personal satisfaction and a sense of purpose, it can also be a huge source of stress

While shelter work can provide trainers great personal satisfaction and a sense of purpose, it can also be a huge source of stress

Teaching pups to sit and stay is only one of the scores of duties that shelter trainers face daily. Many find themselves overtaxed and exhausted by the demanding nature of shelter work.
SEAN WARREN/ISTOCKPHOTO.COM
At a conference this past summer, I joined a lunch table where a small group of dog behavior and training staffers from two shelters was comparing notes. One woman—the final decision-maker on animal intake at her shelter—described the strained relationship her organization had with local rescues. The shelter had a high-bar policy on dog behavior, but a low bar for adopters: Dogs underwent exhaustive behavior evaluations, with a fail rate of nearly 50 percent, and those who failed were bumped from adoptions and euthanized at any hint of a problem. Adopters, on the other hand, only had to pony up the adoption fee. Rescue groups, both breed-specific and general, clashed constantly with shelter staff over intake and placement of dogs.

Earlier that week, a high-profile rescue group had given her terrific grief over her decision to decline three puppies who had not met adoptability criteria. She was frustrated: She felt she had gone to the mat for these dogs, having tested each of them twice on successive days, hoping they might pass the assessment.

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