Working with shelter dogs, my primary concern is to help make them adoptable. This means addressing three areas of concern: First, to reduce the stress and anxiety they feel just by being in the shelter environment. Second, to address any behavioral issues they have that are obstacles to a successful adoption. And, third, to teach them the skills they need to live in our urban or suburban world. This post is about that third aspect.
Although it is vitally important for dogs to know, and respond to, their individual names; In my limited view there is no point in teaching shelter dogs their names. We have the dog for limited periods of time and many adoptive owners decide to give their dogs a different name than the one they were assigned in the shelter. When working with the pups, I concentrate on using positive interactions and responses, to reinforce positive interactions with shelter staff and volunteers. This is a two-way street: The more the dog enjoys being with shelter personnel, the more they’ll enjoy being with him, and more readily he will accept potential adopters.
When getting a dog ready for adoption, I concentrate on four life skills that dogs will need: Come when called, Stay, Drop it and Leave it. These are the things that can save the dog’s life.
Come when called: This is the basic tool that owners need to get their dogs out of dangerous situations. If a dog is investigating an animal that is in the backyard, getting too close to a lawnmower are power tools, getting too close to a pot on a hot stovetop or simply annoying the neighbors, a solid “come” command will get him out of that situation and back to the owner’s side. It doesn’t need to be pretty or polished like we see in an obedience contest, but the owner must reliably be able to make the dog return to his personal control.
Stay: This tool will help the owner to keep the dog from chasing animals or darting into a busy street. Dogs need to know when to put on the brakes and freeze, and to remain in that same spot until they’re told to move.
Drop it: Owners need to be able to tell their dogs to drop dangerous objects, and let go of inappropriate toys and other animals. This will keep them from harming themselves, poisoning themselves, or harming other creatures.
Leave it: Dog owners need to be able to tell their dogs to not grab, eat or pick up any particular item. This will prevent them from injuring themselves or other animals they encounter.
In following posts, I’ll discuss techniques for teaching these skills.