Shelter Enrichment - Not Just For Dogs

Animal Shelter Team Gathered for a Meeting About Postivie Dog Training


Yesterday was a great day, a day when I felt like I had gotten in the game and put action behind my convictions. I’m passionate about keeping dogs in living rooms and out of shelters. I’m passionate about teaching people that behavioral issues can be solved humanely and positively. I’m passionate about spreading the word of positive training techniques far and wide. But passion is pointless when kept to yourself, and I honestly believe that actions speak louder than words.

When asked to put on a workshop about dog training for staff and volunteers at a local no-kill shelter, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I even felt a little bit intimidated. Vowing not to let that get in the way, I put together my talking points, some handouts and an ample supply of Dog Star Daily postcards! When the time came, the room filled up with all kinds of different people who had a variety of jobs to do at the shelter. Understanding that meeting the dogs’ basic needs—including a clean, safe place to stay, food, water and exercise—was probably the primary thing on their minds, I wasn’t sure how talking about “dog training” would go over. Additionally, people have all sorts of theories, philosophies and preferences when it comes to “dog training,” so (keeping that in the back of my mind) I proceeded to flood them with mine.

Karen Overall’s famous quote from 1996, “The single biggest killer of pets is not infectious disease, it is behavioral problems,” and some shelter stats unified us as diverse players with a common goal—to get pets adopted and make the time spent at the shelter the best it can be for everyone, both pets and people. After an overview of how dogs learn, the emotional results of different training techniques (sorry Dr. Dunbar but I whipped out “the quadrant”) and my obligatory clicker training pitch, I could see the wheels turning! With questions and answers, jokes and stories and Sue Sternberg’s “Train to Adopt” program outline, the hour was up before I knew it. Several people stayed after to ask questions, and it made me really happy when one young man asked where he could get some clickers and another one requested a workshop specifically on clicker training. Sometimes it’s just a matter of making it seem new and cool compared to outdated training techniques from 1950. Good-bye force and compulsion, hello positive reinforcement.  Making it universal won't happen overnight, but it's very enriching even to sow just a few seeds.


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