The ARL’s Dot Baisly on working with shelter dogs
Ever wonder what goes on in a shelter dog’s mind? You know, aside from the usual, “When is it time to eat? When can I go outside to play? When is it time to eat….?”
Dot Baisly, the ARL’s new shelter enrichment and behavior manager, may not know exactly what shelter dogs are thinking at all times, but what she does know are the best methods to help them adapt to their new environment and get them ready to find a new home.
The ARL Blog sat down with Dot to learn more about how the ARL approaches shelter dog enrichment and giving potential adopters a profile of a dog’s behavior.
ARL Blog: What are some common behavioral issues that you come across related to shelter dogs and how do you work with them?
DB: The most frequent issue in shelter dogs is over-arousal and “jumpy mouthy” behavior. This issue is common for many reasons, such as lack of stimulation, the animal’s adolescent age, and a lack of proper training.
I like to treat the animal holistically by working to enrich their daily experience while teaching impulse control, and by finding ways to help the dog relax and find a quiet space at least three times a week.
Dot Baisly faces every day at the ARL with a positive attitude–and with her party hat (a.k.a. ARL adoptable rooster Leonidas – come meet him at our Dedham shelter!)
ARL Blog: When the ARL does a “behavioral screening” for animals, what exactly does that mean?
DB: Our behavior evaluation process takes in all the information available to us for each animal. When possible, we start with a profile when an owner relinquishes a pet to us. If the animal comes in as a stray, we do everything that we can to gather as much information about an animal’s behavior.
We process all dogs through a systematic behavior evaluation in which the animal is screened for friendliness to humans, excitement levels, fear, aggression, and how well they know cues.
Finally, we gather and report all behavior observed in the shelter and compile this information to best match each individual dog with a new home.
ARL Blog: What is a typical enrichment plan that you give to a shelter dog?
DB: A typical enrichment plan should address the individual needs of each dog. For heavy chewers, for example, we feed them from a toy daily so that food acquisition is a mentally stimulating part of their day.
Basic obedience training is a part of every enrichment plan and quiet time outside of the kennel should happen regularly.
In many cases, we encourage play to learn impulse control and other aspects of interacting with humans. This can be done with fetch, tug, and other games for the young adolescent dogs in need of physical exercise. When possible, I also include agility, appropriate social interactions with other dogs, and handling/massaging from humans.
MORE ABOUT DOT – Dot first came to the ARL as an under-grad looking for a part-time job. She found she loved the work so much, she joined us full-time for several years before going back to school for her master’s degree. She operated her own dog training business, through which she continued to work with shelters.
Most recently, Dot worked at the SPCA of Westchester, New York, designing and implementing a volunteer-based dog walking and training program and fulfilling all behavior needs of that shelter.
So you’ve adopted a new dog and he’s coming home with you this afternoon. What next? We have some advice from Donna Iovanni , CPDT Behavior Counselor at the Animal Rescue League of Boston about how to welcome your new adopted dog into your home.
Before You Bring Your Dog Home:
- Gather Needed Supplies - Leash, Collar, ID Tag, Crate or Gates(if needed), Bed, Bowls, Food, Treats, Toys, Grooming Supplies, Waste Bags, Enzymatic Cleaner.
- Dog-Proof your house by looking for and removing hazardous items and valuable items that the dog could chew.
- Setup your house for the dog’s arrival. Determine where the dog’s crate, bed, and bowls will be placed. Decide where food, treats, and supplies will be stored. Determine the house rules for the dog and make sure all family members know what they are.
- Decide what the dog’s schedule will be for walks, play, training, feeding, and potty time and who will be responsible.
The First Day:
- Determine ahead of time where the dog will ride on the way home. It’s best to have two people if possible; one to drive and the other to pay attention to the dog. Bring towels just in case the dog gets car sick.
- Bring the dog straight home – try not to run errands on the way.
- No welcome-home parties. Limit/discourage visitors for the first few days so that your new dog isn’t overwhelmed.
- When you arrive home let the dog sniff around the yard or outdoor area near your home on a leash. Bring your dog to your designated potty spot and reward the dog with a treat for going there.
- Introduce your dog to your family members outside, one at a time. Keep it calm and low-key. Let the dog be the one to approach, sniff and drive the interaction. Offering a treat can help the dog to associate family members with good things(food!). No hugging, kissing, picking up, staring at, or patting on the top of the head during the initial introduction – these things can be scary for some dogs.
- Stay close to home initially. No major excursions. You need to learn your new dog’s behavior before you can predict how it will respond to different stimulus. Establish a walk routine in an area you are familiar with. Structured play in the yard is also a good form of exercise, bonding, and training.
- Bring your dog into the house on a leash and give it a tour of the house. Try keeping the mood calm and relaxed and redirect any chewing or grabbing of objects with a “leave-it” and offering an appropriate toy.
- Bring your new dog outside often. Dogs don’t generalize as well as we do, so even though your dog may have been house trained in its previous home, your dog needs to learn your house rules, which includes a house training refresher.
- Make sure your new dog gets ample “quiet time” so that your dog can acclimate to the new surroundings. Be observant of the dog’s responses and go at the dog’s pace.
- If you have a resident dog(s), have the initial meeting outside (one dog at a time if you have several). Don’t rush it. Keep the leashes loose with no tension. Make sure they meet in a food-free, toy-free zone. Don’t leave them alone together until you are absolutely sure it is safe to do so. Watch and manage all interactions between the dogs initially. When walking the dogs a different person should walk each dog.
- If you have a resident cat(s), keep the cat secure until you know how the dog will react to it. Use doors, gates, and leashes to prevent contact initially. Don’t give the dog the opportunity to chase the cat. Make sure the cat has escape options. Keep initial encounters brief. Manage all interactions.
Establish Daily Routines:
- Sleeping-Initially the crate or bed should be in the room you would like the dog to sleep in eventually. The area should be safe, dog-proofed, easily cleaned, cozy and quiet, with familiar scents. Don’t put your new dog in an uninhabited area like the garage or basement.
- Feeding-Check with your vet about what the recommended food and amounts should be for your dog based on breed, size, age, activity level, and health. If possible, feed two smaller meals per day rather than one large meal. You may need to reduce the meal size to allow for treats during training. Make sure the dogs food dish is in a safe, out of the way area.
- Walks – Keep the walks short at first (5-10 minutes) until you get to know your new dog’s behavior and how it responds to different stimuli. Keep to relatively quiet places at first. Avoid interaction with other dogs and unfamiliar people until you and your dog are comfortable.
- Chew Toys/Interactive Toys – Use of the crate and appropriate toys are great ways to keep your new dog out of trouble. Management of your dog and the environment prevents problem behaviors. Chew toys are a great way to direct your dog’s attention to appropriate toys, and away from objects that you don’t want your dog to destroy. Interactive toys help your dog to use its mind and tire them out, mentally. With a new dog, avoid rough and tumble, slapping, wrestling, and chase games when playing with your dog.
- Prevent separation anxiety – Use the crate and a toy in combination with leaving for short periods and coming back several times a day, starting with your first day with your new dog. Don’t make a big fuss of coming or going.
Patience- have patience with your new dog’s behavior, level of training, and the time it takes to establish a bond with you. Give your new dog time and space to adjust. Commit time the first few days to get to know your dog’s habits and personality. Establish a routine for the dog and balance interaction and down-time. This is a period of trust-building, so don’t scare or yell at the dog or try to force close contact. Watch your dog’s postures and expressions. Learn to read him. It may take even up to several months for you to get to know your dog’s true nature. And don’t forget, your new dog is trying to do the same with you!
Training- physical and mental stimulation are necessary parts of your dog’s well-being. Training helps your dog settle into a new home, teaches your dog how to fit in to a new family, and strengthens the relationship between you and the dog. Once your dog has settled in and you are familiar with your dog’s responses, take a positive reinforcement style training class(avoid dominance-based methods!). You can sign up for humane dog training classes at the Animal Rescue League’s Boston or Dedham’s Branches.
Last: Remember to manage your dog’s environment so that you set him up to succeed. Be proactive, not reactive. In other words, prevent inappropriate behavior from happening, and then you won’t have to correct it.
Nose Model: Bridget (available for adoption)
Photo: Maria L. Uribe
We continue National Train Your Dog Month with some fun training tips from one of our expert dog trainers, Cheryl Oelschlagel, CPDT-KA, who teaches a dog training class called “Sniffing For Fun.”
There are so many fun things you can train your dog to do and using her nose is one of them. A nose game session once or twice a week where a dog is using her brain and senses to their utmost limit, tires your dog far more than a hour of strenuous exercise.
Not only are they fun, they’ll help exercise your dogs brain and encourage her to pay attention to you. One caution: Food-based scent games may be inappropriate for dogs that guard food or toys. Get help to resolve such issues before you play.
Game #1: Find It – First, show your dog how the game works. Show her a treat and toss it on the ground a few feet away. Give her the okay to find the treat, saying “Find It.” Not only can she smell it, she saw where you tossed it. But after you do a few reps so she’s clear on how this game works, you can make the puzzle harder. Put her in a stay, and hide the treat under something (towel) or behind something (chair). Go to several spots and pretend to hide a treat in each one, but actually hide only one treat. Keep her in sight at all times, of course. Return to her and release her from the stay, tell her “Find It.” Watch her search for the treat.
Model: Stella (currently available for adoption)
Photo:Maria L. Uribe
Game #2: Lay a Scent Trail at Home; Play this game in your yard or indoors. If you’re indoors, you may want to choose a room with a tile or linoleum floor. Have your dog out of the room, or inside if you’re playing outdoors, and in her absence lay a scent trail to a hiding place where you leave the treat. To lay the trail outside, drop tiny pieces of the treat every few inches along your route, with a big treat bonus at the end. Indoors, you can rub the treat along the floor to leave a trail. The first few times you play, make the trail short to help your dog learn how the game works. Now bring your dog and show her the starting point of the trail. I think the next step is an obvious one, and so will your dog. As your dog gets better at the game, make the trail longer. Indoors, stop leaving a continuous rubbed line of scent instead, rub the floor for an inch or two and then leave a patch of clean floor before the next scent rub along your trail. This way you form a dotted line of scent, and she has to work harder to follow it.
Model: Lizzy (available for adoption)
Photo: Maria L. Uribe
Game #3: Hide Food-Dispensing Toys around the house. Even a well-exercised home-alone dog can get bored. I often recommend that any food not being used as training rewards be delivered to your dog in food-dispensing puzzle toys. But you can go one better by dividing some food among three or four such toys and hiding them around the house. The first few times you play, let your dog see you hiding the toys. She might happen to sniff them out anyway, but it helps to clue her in that you’re giving her a new game. Use the same number of toys every time; dogs have a rudimentary sense of number, so that way she’ll know how many she has to find. As your dog gets better at the game, make the toys harder to find by placing them on different levels of your house and behind and under furniture. Use dry food / treats rather than canned food. A word of advice: Don’t hide toys under the sofa cushions, okay?!
If you’re interested in exploring nose games with your dog, check out “Sniffing for Fun” on our dog training page.
Here are 5 Benefits of Training your Dog from Kim Melanson CPDT-KA
Behavior Counselor at the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
Kim Melanson training Nala, one of our shelter dogs. Photo Credit: Maria Uribe
Freedom: A well behaved dog can have an enriching life by spending more time with his family. He can hang out with visitors, go places with you and join in on family activities. If your dog has learned some basic house and outdoor manners, he will not jump all over guests or bother them too much. He can ride in a car safely, go to a relative’s house and settle, go to the park or the beach for an outing and come back when called.
Bonding: With just a few minutes a day of active training and adding some training into every day activities, you and your dog can learn more about each other and have fun. The benefits of Positive Reinforcement Humane training are abundant. Both human and dog enjoy the training, they teach each other and learn from each other, creating trust and an enriching and lasting relationship.
It lets your “dog be a dog”: Dogs like to do natural things that sometimes do not fit well in the human home such as; chewing, jumping, chasing, and digging. Training them in an appropriate way to have their fun lets them to do ‘doggie’ things and lets you join in too all while making sure they do not disturb the household in a negative way. Train your dog to chew on dog chews and toys instead of shoes and pillows, sit for greetings and attention instead of jumping, playing ‘find it’ with treats and stuff Kongs instead of digging, and retrieving balls with a drop for chasing. Not only will your dog be happier but you will have fun too!
Burns mental energy and relieves boredom: Positive training promotes thinking in dogs and humans and a thinking brain can relieve excess energy. A few minutes a day can really help your dog rest well and not seek out other ways of burning energy that may be destructive. Teaching tricks is a great one to do on a rainy day, kids and friends love seeing your dog do tricks.
Keeps dogs in their ‘Forever’ Home: Many dogs are surrendered to shelters for behavior problems and just being too much to handle for the owner. A well trained dog stays in her forever home because she has become part of the family and is a joy to live with. She can also become an ‘ambassador’ for dogs everywhere. There are public places, apartment buildings and areas that are banning dogs and some people are frightened of dogs. If our dogs are well behaved in public, people see that we can keep dogs as an integral part of our society and families.
Training obedience cues of sit, down, stay, drop, come and more are great for dogs to learn, but training also means teaching your dog to live in a human household and beyond. House training, learning to settle, go to a mat or crate, to chew appropriate chews, to play appropriate games, to walk on leash and polite greetings for people and dogs are the cornerstones of a well mannered and well liked family dog.
The Animal Rescue League of Boston offers many dog training classes that review basic and advanced cues, along with house and outdoor manners. We also offer some dog sports and fun agility classes. We are offering a 50% discount for ARL alums and 10% off for BVC clients. For more information about our Boston classes check out our schedule.
So you’ve made a New Year’s Resolution for yourself, but have you thought about making a resolution specific to your pet? Here are 7 resolutions for pet lovers for 2013, because our four-legged companions always deserve a little more love! Take a minute to read through these and tell us which one you’re choosing for your New Year’s Resolution.
- Spend more time with your pet. Your cat or dog wants to be with you! After you’ve been at work all day, they can’t wait to see you! Pledge to spend an extra ten minutes with your pet every day. Get up ten minutes early and play with your cat or extend your dog’s walk by 10 more minutes or just take a few extra minutes to snuggle with your pup and scratch him behind the ear when you get home from work.
- Microchip your pet. We strongly recommend micro-chipping your pet. A microchip is an electronic device placed under the skin of an animal. The chips are about the size of a grain of rice and emit a low-frequency radio wave when detected by a special scanner. Pet microchips aren’t a tracking or GPS device but simply a way of storing a pet owner’s address and phone number if the pet is lost. For more information about pet microchips contact your vet, local animal shelter or Animal Control Officer. HomeAgain, a microchip and pet recovery service, is responsible for reuniting more than 1,000,000 lost pets with their owners.
- Bring your pet to the vet. The League‘s very own Dr. Martha Smith-Blackmore, DVM says “a checkup with your veterinarian can help you determine how healthy your dog is…. even healthy looking dogs can have hidden problems.” Take your pet to the vet at least once a year to keep vaccinations current, get heart-worm prevention renewed and make sure your pet is healthy.
- Take better care of your pet’s teeth. Dental Disease affects dogs and cats, just as it does humans. There are several ways to prevent dental disease in your pets. Give them treats that clean teeth. Brush their teeth on a regular basis, if you can’t use a toothbrush, use your finger and apply special toothpaste as suggested by your vet. If tartar buildup occurs, your pet’s teeth should be professionally cleaned by your veterinarian.
- Give your pet the proper nutrition. Poor nutrition can lead to poor health. There are many great dog food brands out there. Tell your vet what type of food you’re looking for, holistic, organic, all-natural, dental, weight control, etc… and ask your vet what brands s/he would recommend. An unbalanced diet can result in poor skin, hair coat, muscle tone, and obesity.
- Put an end to your pet’s behavioral problems. If your dog is misbehaving or if you want to teach him basic commands, enroll him in a dog training class. Dog training classes start at our Boston Headquarters on January 5. We offer a 10% discount to BVC clients and a 50% discount to ARL Alums!
- Allow your pet more opportunities to exercise. Most animals like to play, so find an activity that you both enjoy and go for it. Exercise is good for your pet and you! If your dog likes to run, try jogging a few times a week. If your dog likes to play fetch take him to the park and throw a ball around. For cats, try finding a toy that they like to chase.
As some of you may know, the League is closed on Mondays, but have you ever wondered why? Today’s Feline Focus is going to give you a sneak peak into Mondays at the our Boston Adoption Center.
Mondays go to the cats!
The playgroup starts at 1pm and goes until 3pm. The group is organized by several volunteers and the cats the idea behind it is to allow cats some out-of-the-cage time. Cats are permitted to explore our adoption center reception area at their leisure.
One of our devoted cat volunteers, Liz, shared that a cat is qualified to participate in feline playgroup when:
- “They’ve been fully health-checked by the vet and have no signs of an upper respiratory infection (URI) or other disease.
- There are no signs of stress-related behavior (for instance, cats that have not been eating consistently).
- They are comfortable in their cages. Super shy cats aren’t going to benefit from being thrown into a new environment. Even cats that have been improving in behavior in their cages are sometimes not allowed out so that they don’t regress.
- They haven’t had a recent surgery. Neutered cats have to wait 2 days and spayed cats have to wait 7 days before being able to join or re-join playgroup.
- Any cat that is adopted or on hold for someone is not allowed unless the new owner has specifically requested they be tried in playgroup (for liability reasons).
- Cats that we know for a fact hate other cats. If that information is unavailable, we use playgroup to test and find out.”
This was a relatively new concept when we first implemented almost two years ago and its popularity has not waned, feline playgroup is loved by both humans and cats alike. The size of the playgroup can range from 2 to 10 cats. Once the cats start to become acclimated to the the freedom of the playgroup their true colors start to come out! Many cats take this opportunity to play and mingle with other cats, others observe from a distance and others relish in the attention that they receive from their human friends. You might see a cat sitting next to an Adoption Agent’s computer watching the mouse on the screen, hiding in a tunnel and surprising another cat, leaping for a toy or sitting on the windowsill and looking out to the world beyond.
This playgroup is an excellent opportunity for us to get to know each cat’s individual personality, which helps us find a better fit when adopting out the cat.
To read the full story about our feline play group please visit our original post from 2011.
Training isn’t just for the dogs! When you teach your cat a “trick,” you are teaching her/him good manners and self-control, as well as providing ever-important mental stimulation. There is no end to what a cat can learn, but for now we’ll start with the basics. And don’t worry—teaching a cat to sit on command is easier than you’d think!
Step 1: Pick a Location
You want your cat to be focused on you, so make sure you’re in a room where there are no distractions. If you have more than one cat, separate them and work with one cat at a time. It’s often helpful to place the cat on a table where he/she is at a more accessible level.
Step 2: Pick a Treat
Make sure you’re using a food reward that your cat enjoys. Pick the one thing she can’t resist, such as commercial treats or small pieces of cooked, unseasoned meat. If your cat is extremely food motivated, you may be able to simply use pieces of dry food. Be sure to adjust your cat’s mealtime proportions if you are feeding lots of treats during training.
Step 3: The Training
Once you have your location and your food reward set, get your cat’s attention by showing him (but not giving him!) the treat. Then raise the treat just above and behind his nose, so that he must sit in order to reach it. If you’re having trouble, make sure your cat’s focus is on the treat, and then slowly arch your hand over his head until it’s about 90 degrees to the ground. As soon as he is in a full sit position, say “sit” and present him with the treat.
Tips & Tricks
- If your cat succeeds, repeat this about 4–6 times until your cat has the hang of it. Stop before your cat gets bored, in order to keep the training fun and something she wants to keep doing!
- If your cat isn’t getting it, don’t worry! Some cats take longer to train than others. Be patient and keep your training sessions to no more than 10 minutes, and your cat should eventually pick it up.
- If you have multiple cats, train each one separately. Then, when each cat is proficient, try both together. Ask them to “sit,” and once both are fully seated, reward both with a treat.
Now it’s time to impress your friends and guests! Have your feline show off her skills, and encourage others to try the “sit” command with your cat.
You can also have your cat sit for his breakfast and/or dinner, sit before being given a toy, or whenever you need his focus!
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