One of our students, Russ Gaylor, recently sent us the most extraordinary story of his volunteer training success at a local pet shelter. He reports on the challenges he faced with each dog, the strategies he used, and each dog’s fate. With his permission, we ask you to read his story below.
Have you had similar success? Please post your story in the comments section below… and feel free to contact your Program Manager if you’d like your story to appear in a future ABC blog post!
Shelter Success Story Form
Student Name: Russ Gaylor
Shelter Name: Heartland
Shelter City / State: Corvallis, Oregon
Working at the Heartland Shelter is a very fulfilling experience. The staff is friendly, helpful, and willing to give advice, guidance, and information on how the shelter operated. My goal was to make each of the dogs I worked with more adoptable.
I worked with a variety of dogs, each with a unique personality and challenges — excitable dogs, shy dogs, small, medium, and large dogs. I even had a chance to work with a blind dog and a deaf dog. Each allowed me to be creative in my approach to their physical challenges. In addition, I developed a good relationship with the shelter staff. We had a high rate of success in placing the dogs I had a chance to work with. Below are the shelter dogs I had a chance to work with and had a positive impact on.
Yeager – Pit Bull Terrier Mix (Shy, Lovable, Submissive) the kennel environment was very stressful to Yeager who was very happy to get out of his kennel and work outside. Yeager was focused on moving forward and away from his kennel so we focused most of our work on loose leash walking. We also practiced sit, watch me, and touch, which Yeager either already knew or picked up very quickly. Yeager was adopted.
Frankenweenie – Dachshund (Excitable, Jumper, with Laser-like focus). He was a big jumper, like a pogo stick. Our first work was on keeping all four feet on the floor which he learned quickly. Sitting was a challenge and here I used the corner technique while sitting on the floor to keep him from backing up. I have used this technique before and it has worked out well with small dogs that trust me. I rewarded for approximating the sit behavior (shaping) I was eventually able to get him to successfully sit. Frankenweenie was adopted.
Jason — Pit Bull Terrer (Quiet, Powerful, Sweet). Jason is powerful and one of the quietest dogs I have ever met. He doesn’t bark, growl, whine, or whimper. He just looks at you with very soft eyes. To make Jason easier to handle we focused most of his training on loose leash walking. He is strong and was a good puller. I stopped every time he pulled and ensured he turned his head back to focus on me and then came back to a heel position. I was soon able to get Jason to loose leash walk. However, Jason got more stimulated with distractions and we had to revisit the “stop when pulling” and “reward the turn and come back.” Jason now easily walks on leash. I continue to work with his two major issues: jumping and mouthing. We have made good progress but he has yet to generalize his behaviors and impulse control to others. As a pit bull this is important because of the stigma associated with the breed.
Acorn – Chihuahua & Pug Mix (Friendly, High Energy, Smart) Acorn is a happy and excitable dog. He likes people and is always willing to interact with them. He has a strong play drive and I used that along with food as a positive reinforcer. Teaching Acorn was easy since he knew his name and would naturally sit or move into a down position whenever he wasn’t sure what to do. It was a simple matter of marking and reinforcing the desired behavior at the right time. I worked with Acorn on keeping 4 feet on the floor, duration of sit-stay, down-stays and loose leash walking. Acorn was adopted.
Max – Australian Shepard Mix (Outgoing, High Energy, and Very Smart) Before we started training together I spent time burning off some of Max’s energy with a game of fetch. After that he was able to focus more on training and we worked on basic impulse control. More work was needed on loose leash walking as Max likes to shoot out in front of you but we were making progress. Max was adopted.
Scruffy – Wire Haired Terrier Mix (Friendly, Smart, Jumper) Scruffy was a great dog to work with because he liked to engage people, was very smart and learned quickly. Only after a couple of short sessions I eliminated his jumping, taught him basic commands like focus, touch, leave it, come, and others. The biggest challenge was the sit command. Smaller, longer dogs tend to back up rather than sit when using a food lure. After developing a trust with Scruffy, I successfully used a corner to eliminate the backing up and rewarded the sit using a food lure. Scruffy was adopted.
Mouse – Terrier Mix (Very Shy, Nervous, Smart) Mouse was the shiest and sweetest dog I worked with. When I approached her kennel, she would shy away from the gate and not approach. Her kennel notation said she was a shy dog and to take it very slow. Like Scruffy, I started working with her by sitting on the floor. She spent almost the whole first half of our first session shaking nervously. I focused on building her trust and confidence. In between teaching her basic commands I would give her a gentle massage. At the end of our first session she came up to me and licked my nose. It was great. I have worked with her 4 more times and now when you approach her kennel she will come to the gate, make strong eye contact with you and wag her tail. Mouse was adopted
Lilo – Pit Bull Terrier Mix (Young, High Energy, Easily Distracted, Sweet) Lilo is a puppy and acted like one. She is friendly, energetic, unfocused, and excitable — just a normal dog. Since she is such a young dog I had to keep the sessions with her short to keep her interest. We always ended our sessions with one of her successes. First for Lilo was to teach her to keep her feet on the floor. Then we focused on watch me, touch, sit, down, come and loose lease walking. She is good at fetch and will bring a toy back to trade for a treat. Lilo is smart but easily distracted so reinforcing calm behaviors in everyday situations was very helpful to her. Lilo was adopted
Shadow – Pit Bull Terrier Mix who was also Deaf (Sweet, Calm, Friendly and a little shy) This was the first deaf dog I worked with and I decided to use American Sign Language as my non-verbal cues for good, no and OK. The goal was to use hand signals that could be easily researched, used, and remembered by a potential new owner instead of guessing what hand signals I used for the conditioned reinforcer. Shadow picked up on this quickly. We then focused on the basic cues such as sit, down, stay, and focus. I continue to work with Shadow and expect her to be adopted soon.
Caboose – Rottweiler Mix – (Friendly, Strong) I just started working with Caboose. Since he is so large and powerful, I focused on impulse control, especially during loose leash walking and waiting to go through doors. He already understands sit and come. Good manners training is the key to making Caboose a great dog for his new owner.
The shelter experience allowed me to see many types of dogs, their personalities and how each reacted in a stressful kennel situation. I was able to work with shy, excitable, smart, distracted, nervous, pleasing and totally lovable dogs. I gained lots of experience in understanding their body language, practicing dog training techniques, and adapting my approach with each dog based on their specific needs.
Each of these dogs taught me something that improved my training techniques. Out of the 18 dogs I worked with, 14 have been adopted. Every dog I worked with taught me something and reinforced things I learned from ABC. I have offered free consultation to the new owners of the shelter dogs I worked with and can provide any interested owners with information about what I worked on with their dog and insight on how they may build on the foundation I created with their dogs.