Shelter Work: It Takes a Village
One of the services I offer is “Shelter Consultant.” Here’s what it really means: I develop and implement behavior programs, evaluate dogs, train staff and volunteers, and meet with potential adopters. I have worked with the ASPCA years ago at the beginning of my career, spent two years working with the Mount Vernon Animal Shelter, and have been with the New Rochelle Humane Society for the past eight years. I continue to consult for the ASPCA today, working with their Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team. I learned a lot about what it takes to create a training and enrichment program while at the ASPCA.
The dedicated staff and passionate volunteers have been key to the success of these programs. My goal is to bring a training and behavior program into every shelter in Westchester County. And beyond that…who knows what’s possible. I don’t know how that will happen, and clearly I can’t be in twenty places at once, but that’s why it is important to have a community of people supporting this work. Through education and awareness, more and more shelters are seeing the need for such programs. An incredible example of a superb training and enrichment program is the one at Animal Farm Foundation. They host regular workshops to train other shelters how to implement such programs.
Working at a shelter is one of the most personally challenging things I do. While I know that my shelter work makes a difference everyday in a variety of ways, I return home to my dogs while shelter dogs remain in their kennels. Some of the dogs are surrendered by owners who cannot care for them any longer…some have been found as a stray…some have been seized by humane law enforcement for neglect or abuse. And unfortunately, some of the dogs are not safe to be adopted because of a serious aggression issue. There is only so much you can address behaviorally in a shelter environment. I am lucky to work with two organizations with great resources and very committed people.
So what can one single trainer do? I choose to do everything I possibly can for the dogs I cross paths with everyday. I invest in the volunteers, training them to do some of the things that can help a dog demonstrate better manners when being considered for adoption. I work with the staff and more experienced volunteers in creating and implementing training and enrichment programs. I personally work with dogs that have more challenging behavioral issues. I partner with other trainers to spread awareness and educate the public. At the end of the day, we all love the dogs and that is clear to me.
One of the things I do with shelter dogs is look for ways to enrich their experiences. Behavioral enrichment is an important part of dog training and care today. A dog’s mental well-being is just as important as their physical health. Providing enrichment for a dog can support him in becoming a well-balanced canine good citizen as well as provide an outlet to decrease any stress or anxiety a dog may be experiencing. Enrichment activities are part of my training toolbox, whether I am offering opportunities for mental stimulation for a shelter dog or I am meeting with a client whose dog is reactive.
You may want to consider the ways you can use these techniques with your own pets or dogs you work with if you volunteer in a shelter. Toys, food puzzles, exercise, sniffing things, play dates with other dogs, and performance dog sports are great for all dogs, not just shelter dogs!
Clarity & Harmony…better way of living with your dog.
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Articles from Victoria Stilwell
- Why I’m Not a Purely Positive Dog Trainer
- Becoming a Dog Trainer
- Social Bullying
- Does Your Dog Respect You?
- Differences Between Male and Female Dogs