So what to do, for example, with that intact 9 month old who has zero impulse control, has no idea how to harness his energy, which is off the charts, and whom adopters pass by time and time again? We all know that the guy has lots to offer, but even volunteer dog walkers take a strengthening breath as they approach his kennel to get him out.
Bottom line is that manners, an essential component of environmental enrichment, impacts adoptability. And how many adopters can then go home with their new dog, and proudly say, “we got him from the shelter, and look what he can do!” Or doesn’t do, such as jumping up on everyone that he comes across. Better adoptions, more adoptions, less returns, good pr.
So you’re walking down the run, headed towards Sparkplug’s kennel, and he is barking and leaping about excitedly. You have your equipment with you, a fitted collar, a fitted front clip harness, and your leash. You stop in front of Sparkplug’s kennel, equipment organized in your hand, and wait for that millisecond when he settles. When he does, move your hand quickly towards the lock on the kennel. The millisecond is over as soon as he sees your hand move. You stop. Wait for another millisecond. Repeat, repeat, repeat. You both have the same end goal, you’re both totally focused on each other, but since he’s never been taught any impulse control, it’s going to take some time for him to learn the criteria that you have set for each dog to leave their kennel and get out.
Basically what we require for dogs to leave their kennels is to settle. That means that the dog waits for you to enter his kennel, put on his equipment, and waits for you to leave the kennel first. The likelihood of the process being picture perfect is highly unlikely! We don’t ask him to sit, or to be perfectly motionless, he can lick you in anticipation, he can wiggle some, but there’s no jumping up, no bouncing around the kennel, no shoving past you to get through the door, no frantic barking. Not acceptable behavior, but that is precisely what you’re working on. Your job is to have the equipment ready to put on, using a soothing/low cheerful voice to help settle Sparkplug, and treats aren’t a bad deal either, if you need them. If you sense that Sparkplug is approaching threshold, you have the option to stop and/or leave his kennel until he settles himself. Give him a couple/few moments, then try again. He will learn what behaviors will get him out of his kennel, although learning them all at one time would be like winning the lottery. (You should always have your body next to the door of the kennel; the dog should never be blocking your exit from the kennel.) Sparkplug will get it, maybe in small increments, for which he should be praised softly, but he will get it, and his reward is leaving the kennel. Each dog is different, and after learning the basics, you will able to adapt your methods to each individual as you better learn to read your dogs’ body language.
OK, you’re both out and you’ve shortened the leash so you have more control over him -- success! Now, as you walk down the run, your body is by the wall, not by the other kennels as you leave the run. Why? If anyone is planning a fence fight as you leave with Sparkplug, your body is not in the line of action if Sparkplug reacts to another dog’s arousal.
Our terminal goal is to get to our shelter park. We’ve gotten over the first hurdle, now we have a couple more impulse control exercises as we manouver our way there. We require a wait at each threshold prior to the dog getting through the door. We also go first. This does not stem from any misplaced sense of “dominance theory”; it has to do with safety. We want to know what or who is on the other side of the door before we let Sparkplug through. And the other factor involved in Sparkplug getting through that door is a nice settle – no jumping, no pawing, doesn’t have to sit, just has to show a modicum of impulse control.
I’ve found that asking for a “watch” is quite effective for that settle and quite often, the dog offers a sit along with the watch.
They also do get better at waiting. Consistency is key – if you break and let Sparkplug through without maintaining your criteria, well, the next few times will be much more challenging for you. Dogs do, after all, teach us patience.
And then, of course, pulling. The front clip harness helps a lot, but what we’d really like is for Sparkplug to LEARN not to pull. There are many methods for teaching dogs to walk on a loose leash. Again, it’s up to you and what works best for the dog. Red light, green light is one way, with verbal cues to help your dog along. And he’s so eager, and you want him to get there to have some fun, and you have a gazillion more dogs to get out, but in the long run, all of these impulse control exercises are going to benefit every dog that you ever work with.
And with any luck, you’ll be the one who does the introduction to potential adopters or rescue organizations, and you can show them how you’ve worked with Sparkplug, as well as facilitate transferring his manners-in-progress to the people who are going to love him as much as you do.