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Pet Training & Behavior Topics

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Part One of Four

Welcome to Diana Guerrero's Ark Animals Training & Therapy. This section is dedicated to pets, companion animals, and topics related to their care and training. Pet training, behavior modification, and animal therapy are important steps toward better behavior. This four part pet article discusses how to increase the adoptability of animals in pet rescues, animal shelters, animal control agencies, humane societies, and animal services facilities. You should get professional help for pet problems.

Increasing the Adoptability of Shelter Animals

This is Part One of Four regarding Increasing the Adoptability of Shelter Animals and may be used by sheltering facilities, animal control, and other similar animal housing facilities. We encourage you to implement this programming in exchange for program credit to Diana Guerrero's Ark Animals. Media, publishing, and other such projects will need to note the copyright and contact Ms. Guerrero directly for permissions.

Most animal sheltering staff have their hands full with just keeping up with all the demands in the day to day operations of their job. However, there are ways to assist in increasing the adoptability of sheltering animals using "cracks of time" in your normal routine. These simple steps are not labor intensive, take only a few seconds, but make a significant difference in producing better behavior for those animals in your care.

"Cracks of time"refers to simple steps where you get an acceptable response and reward it. That is the end of the interaction! So, if you enter into a kennel, get a good chance to practice something, reward it, and continue with your work. You can do little bits throughout your day and during your normal work schedule. This does not require a "session" of five minutes or more.

Assessments and gathering the right information is important on each animal. However, everything in the environment influences the behavior of animals in your care. This is why dogs who often enter the shelter without barking problems will often engage in excessive barking behavior within a short period of time. Awareness of the influencing factors are important to know so you can pick methods to address potential problems BEFORE they become problems!

Knowledge of the animal gleaned from the former owners is very important to placement and proper assessment. Don¹t be afraid to ask numerous questions. Allow the person to spout freely since most will want to get things off their chest. Lacking this, assessment of the animals coming in is important to do within a few days of entry. This occurs after the animals is settled into the environment a bit not upon entry.

Many animals will come into the shelter a bit scared, while others will be fine for a day or two and then show signs of depression. Helping the animal to adapt by reinforcing the right behaviors and providing mental occupation and physical exercise is important.

Each animal has their own traits influenced by the breed or breed mix. Just like people, animals will have certain ways they respond or learn the best, these traits are called ³social styles.² The Myers Briggs chart is an example of what I use for helping assess both people and animals. Each type will have shades of the other, but one tends to stand out. In animals I define these as hypersensitive, hyper-responsive, mellow, and headstrong.

The environment the facility provides is an influence on behavior. Sometimes this can be a challenge depending on the layout, visibility, and maintenance design.

The biggest impact on an animal is the sheltering staff. They rely on you for care, health assessment, and daily interactions. Each little thing you do influences their behavior. It is this influence we will outline for the best results to increase adaptability.

Other influences are the public who come into view the animals, and the volunteers or docent staff members you have assisting your facility.

The sheer numbers and behavior of those animals in close proximity to the new animal is a big factor in some behaviors. For dogs, barrier frustration, barking, and other such behaviors are symptoms of this.

It normally takes people thirty days to unlearn inappropriate habits and begin developing new ones. This is why animal training programs are traditionally six to eight weeks long. With practice the application of techniques get easier. The animals respond immediately; it is training staff and volunteers the skills of understanding what behaviors are more appropriate to making an animal more adoptable.

There are several strategies to consider implementing within a sheltering environment. First, due to staff constraints and work scheduling, it must be easily integrated into the routine. Second, it must be able to create some consistency across staff application into that of the volunteer force. Third, if must be feasible to persistently be applicable and adaptable to the facility.

Next, there are several areas to consider enhancing. These are related to environment, both kennel, shelter area, play or socialization areas, and off site locations. Then there are relationships such as with conspecifics (other animals of the same species), humans, and other animal influences. Finally, variations on those themes as to size, age, dress, color, groups, and other factors can be influenced in.

Realistically, application to the immediate environment and some exposure with humans and conspecific animals is the most appropriate. Other more complex situations, such as aggression related concerns, should be dealt with on the professional level due to complexity.

Animals need certain things on a daily basis to maintain good psychological and physical health. Their needs include:

Each day a few seconds or minutes should be spent doing a hands on assessment of the animal. Holding the animal close also gives the animal much needed human contact. Assessment of the body condition, weight loss or gain, eyes, ears, nose, and coat can be done in a more effective manner than just a visual check.

Environmental enrichment is the trendy word. This type of occupation can include toys, problem solving items, things to tear up, scent stimulation, and other chew items.

Although a challenge, each animal should be able to get out for a run or some sort of activity. This includes entering into various types of environments such as rooms in the shelter to visit people, play areas, and other trips to events such as adoption showcases. (At least 20 to 30 minutes daily.)

COMPANIONSHIP (Human or Animal)
In addition to human interactive playtime, neutral territory playtime with another compatible animal is encouraged. Sometimes animals can be housed together for a day or two to encourage interaction and activity. Volunteers or staff that can go into a kennel to brush, hold, or interact with an animal is another option. Bringing and animal into the front office or taking them out for interactive work is still another.

Feeding times can be something used for activity and which can also be split up for more variety and activity. Due to staffing constraints and scheduling or dietary regulation, this may not always be possible. Two or more feedings in a day can be used to avoid stereotypic behavior and to offer a change in the animals routine.

Supplying bedding materials and other such items such as toys, increase the animals comfort level. Often times the animal will destroy such items, much to the dismay of many, however the benefits outweigh the mess and associated labor resulting from it.

Continue to Part Two

The following program was developed to assist domestic dogs held in a sheltering or kennel facility for long periods of time. In 1998 the American Humane Society began including the program in their Shelter Operations School. In 1999 the program was donated to Animal Behavior & Training Associates, Inc. for their use in assisting animals nationally.

If you are experiencing this behavior problem help is just a phone call away! Hire Animal Expert

About the columnist: Since 1978 Diana L. Guerrero has worked professionally with both wild and domestic animals. Guerrero has been affiliated with, and certified by, a variety of animal programs in the USA and Europe. Based in California, she writes, consults, and speaks. Information on her animal career programs, training courses, and her books {What Animals Can Teach Us about Spirituality (SkyLight Paths, 2003), Blessing of the Animals (Sterling, 2007), Help! My Pet is Driving Me Crazy (Guerrero Ink, 2007), Animal Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners & Pet Professionals (Guerrero Ink, 2007)} can be found in this web site and in the shop. Questions for Guerrero should be submitted via the blog comments or membership forum.


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