START Program Sets Dogs Up for Success

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We all know and love the animals here at the Humane Society of Greater Dayton. They all manage to steal the hearts of our volunteers and staff! Sadly though, many dogs at our shelter get overlooked when people walk through our shelter, which it turns means they stay at our shelter longer. It leaves us asking, “Why is such a good dog still here?”

Sometimes it can be a dog’s health, size, age, or even appearance that hinders its chance of getting adopted. Additionally, visitors take a quick average of 70 seconds to evaluate whether a dog will be a good fit for their family (Wells & Hepper, 2001). Between kennel presence and first impressions on the leash, that doesn’t give the energetic, untrained dog a great chance of letting their personality shine. In the end, these dogs often become “long-term residents” of the shelter, anxiously waiting for their home while trying not to succumb to shelter stress.

So how can you help? While volunteers that are part of the Canine Crew are essential for maintaining any level of training the dog may have, the Humane Society of Greater Dayton is grateful to work closely with the Dayton Dog Training Club to provide a higher-level program in turn making these overlooked dogs more adoptable. The Saved Trained Adopt Remain Together (S.T.A.R.T.) volunteers donate extra blocks of time to work specifically with dogs that are in need of behavior improvement. In addition to Wednesday evening courses, START volunteers practice with their assigned shelter dogs 2 to 3 times per week to continue progress of a training regime. 

When a dog is brought to a START class for the first time, they are met with treats of all types. The dog gets to pick which treat they fancy, and the trainer will use that for future motivation. The dog then gets to experience play time with several different toys and choose his favorite style of play to bond with the trainer. The assistant trainers of the club observe and evaluate the dog for any potential issues to be worked with, including marking, guarding, and potential dog fear/ aggression. During the trainer part of the course, the dog/ trainer pairs work on name recognition, focus, and various commands including “sit," “lie down," “wait," “come," and “leave it.” Darlene, the leader of the START Program creates a training plan for the dog and trainer to work through up until the dog’s adoption.

The trainers and dogs are assigned to each other based on abilities, personalities, and training styles. However, all trainers are taught to use positive reinforcement with the dogs. This style of training eliminates the use of dominance practices and creates a stress-free environment for the dog to learn by redirecting “bad” or “unwanted” behaviors into “good” or “positive” behaviors. 

The result of this training may be a reduction of stress in the dog’s life at the shelter, as well as a shorter stay. The dog learns to sit politely when pet, refrains from being “mouthy” with potential new families, and is able to focus on a visiting family—therefore increasing their chance of a connection. All in all, this means a shorter stay for the dog, and lesser chance of a returned adoption. While all adoptions are cheerful, it’s a special event when a START dog gets adopted.

Plus, to ensure the dog stays well-behaved after finding their forever home, the Dayton Dog Training Club generously offers two free training sessions to all people who adopt a dog from the START program. It's a win-win for the dogs and for the community!