Good kennel behavior can make all the difference in keeping dogs ready for adoption! Unfortunately some shelter dogs begin to exhibit signs of kennel stress such as barking, jumping, or being highly reactive. In many cases the longer they’re caged, the worse it gets. This can turn off adopters who often assume that’s how the dog will behave outside of the kennel and may not realize it’s usually pent up energy from being at the shelter. All of this can prolong a dog’s stay and thus a vicious cycle is born. But there are ways to improve kennel behavior and hopefully increase adoptions as a result! If you are a shelter staff member, volunteer, rescuer, or dog trainer who can spend some time helping bring out the best in kenneled dogs, it can make all the difference in speeding up the adoption process and getting more pets into happy homes! Try the following steps to help socialize some kenneled canines. If possible, revisit these pooches a few times a week and do this drill so that you can help them practice good behavior regularly.
* Plan out a few dogs you can work, and approach them one at a time. If he or she jumps up on the gate or carries on, don’t move any closer. Ignore the attention seeking behavior, and avoid eye contact. If you need to, turn your back to give the dog a stronger message that the jumping and barking is not what you want. Wait until the dog calms down and has all four feet on the floor before giving any interaction. As soon as the pup settles down, reward with a “Yes!” or “Okay!” cue and give Fido a treat to let him/her know that behavior is what you like! Mark with this cue every time.
* Make sure the pooch is keeping calm as you open the kennel door. Reward with more praise and treats! If jumping up, barking, or any undesirable behaviors begin again, simply turn your back to ignore the behaviors you don’t like. No need to say a word, just wait for this pup to offer a new, calmer behavior and then pair it with your reward mark cue and attention. He or she will soon learn to associate his/her own calmer behavior with your eye contact, praise, and treats, and realize that barking, jumping, etc only results in your avoidance.
* Reinforce all the good stuff! When the dog sits, lies down, or ceases jumping or barking, shower with treats and praise! Too often we pay attention to the behavior we don’t like, and when it comes to dogs, whatever you pay attention to will only grow stronger. So catch these dogs doing the behavior you want them to continue doing. They will then do more of it. Hopefully this will lead to less opportunities for unacceptable behavior and increased adoptions.
* If it’s possible, ask other volunteers or staff members to do the same. Random, continuous, and consistent reinforcement from various people will further curb undesirable behavior and help kenneled canines show better. It can be very effective to give dogs the social interaction they crave as well as yummy rewards, when they practice good manners first. Their nice behavior leads to great things for them! They will begin to associate calmness with getting what they want.
It will require patience and a little time, and some dogs will understand quicker than others. But eventually, even the jumpiest, barkiest canine will get the message! Here’s to many more adoptions, and improving the lives of shelter pets while they wait for their loving homes.
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