Canine Behavior and Enrichment
Coming into the shelter environment can be a highly stressful experience for any animal. Each dog is different, so we look at each animal’s unique history and known circumstances during the evaluation process. Initially, our animals receive a behavior evaluation that includes several types of observation tests to help provide an overall picture of the dog in the shelter environment:
- Kennel Test – Observes the dog’s behavior when pulling and returning the dog to the kennel, including putting on and removing the leash. Staff looks at things such as reactivity to approaching the kennel, ease of leashing, and temperament when placing back inside the kennel, etc.
- Leash Test – Observes the dog’s behavior and "walkability" while on the leash. Staff looks at things such as how well the dog walks on a leash, any pulling or stop-and-go behaviors, jumping, leash chewing, etc.
- Handling Test – Observes how the dog reacts to touch when being handled or people sensitivity. Staff looks for things such as soliciting attention, flinching or wariness, body posture, etc.
- Dog-to-Dog Test – Observes the dog’s reactions to another dog (for dogs over 30 pounds). Staff looks at displayed behaviors such as sociability, selectivity, fearfulness, confidence, tolerance, etc.
A rating of easy (level 1), moderate (level 2), difficult (level 3), or in some cases "staff only" (level 4) is assigned for each of the above tests based on the observed behaviors of the animal. In addition to the assessment tests, staff include other pertinent observations along with any known behaviors reported from internal and external sources such as: resource guarding, high prey drive, jumping, excessive barking, growling, unreported minor bites, interactions with other animals and people, etc.
How We Determine Canine Availability
Below are the guidelines for determining the availability of each dog that enters our shelter. For animals that are suffering and/or have immediate medical needs, those urgent treatment decisions are handled by our qualified licensed veterinarians. Our goal is, and always has been, to get as many animals out of the shelter as quickly and responsibly as possible.
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Our ultimate goal is to responsibly move animals out of the shelter as quickly as we can, however the pathway and timeline for each animal may differ depending on their needs and circumstances. By evaluating the individual animal as a whole, including any known history, reported bite history, behavior observations and assessments, and any medical concerns, we are better able to determine the availability of the animal for adoption.
Behavior Observations and Assessments
Behavior is dynamic, meaning that it changes over time and can often differ in varying circumstances and situations. Some behaviors observed in the shelter may not occur once an animal settles in a home, and some behaviors reported in a home environment may not be displayed while the animal is in the shelter. We recognize that some animals react differently to stressful situations and may need more time to acclimate to unfamiliar people and environments.
Recent research indicates that gathering information from a variety of sources offers a more accurate picture of the individual dog, so we try to do just that. Behavior observations start when the animal enters our doors and continue while in our care. Examples of different types of observations include intake assessment, evaluation, general observations, walk observations, enrichment observations, day foster observations, and foster observations.
Enriching the Animals in Our Care
The goal of shelter enrichment is to improve an animal’s quality of life by increasing physical activity, stimulating natural behaviors, and preventing or reducing “stereotypical behaviors” that often develop in shelter environments. It reduces stress, anxiety, and boredom as well as promotes the human-animal bond with staff and volunteers. Enrichment is provided on a daily basis to enhance the quality of our animals’ lives to help them remain physically and emotionally healthy during the duration of their shelter stay. One key point to remember about enrichment is that it is not enriching for the animal if it’s the same type of activity or stimulation every day.
Enrichment falls into several categories: mental, physical, taste, sound, smell, and visual. By presenting different activities that fall into the above categories, staff and volunteers provide opportunities for mental and physical stimulation. Basic out-of-kennel enrichment opportunities include walks, yard time, and play group sessions with other dogs. To expand opportunities for physical activity, other out-of-kennel enrichment opportunities include the doggy treadmill, day fosters, and scent work/training. In-kennel enrichment can come in many varieties and forms including olfactory scents, music, edibles (filled kongs, bully sticks, and slow feeders to name a few), toys, bubbles, etc. Enrichment can include many different items and activities with staff and volunteers continually brainstorming new ways to help keep our animals healthy.