Shelters, rescues, pounds, humane societies… Just like the animals they care for no two are alike. Up here in North Idaho we have a few shelters to pick from, most of which seem to be overflowing with animals they they are doing their best to care for.
With a background in dog training I can’t help but want to so something for shelter dogs, some of which have been living in a kennel for literally years. After working with a few dogs at the Panhandle Animal Shelter I have to admit I got a bit depressed with the lack of progress I was making. It is so hard to connect with these dogs. The parts of training that I enjoy most are feeling the connection with the dog, feeling like we are working together and doing our best for each other. When working with these dogs I felt like I couldn’t get past a barrier of pent up energy and unmet needs. The two most important factors in their training seemed to be giving them exercise before each training session and consistency; consistancy within the training session and consistently meeting the dog more than once a week.
My favorite training experiences with shelter dogs has come from a group called Pawsitive Works. Karen, the dog trainer who spearheaded this program in Bonners Ferry, brought it to Ponderay with the help of Second Chance Animal Adoption employees and volunteers. This group works with at risk youth and gives them the tools and guidance to train shelter dogs. The goal is to help shelter dogs become more adoptable by having the at risk youth learn how to train them. The group gets together twice a week to work with the dogs. Not only do the teens train the dogs but they also read about them and have homework.
As each dog became used to their training sessions you could see them focusing more and showing fewer signs of stress such as panting, licking their lips and shedding. When the program began we had to sweep up dog hair after every session. But, after the fifth session we didn’t have to sweep at all! Its odd how little facts like this could have such an effect on us. I don’t think we realize how much these dogs touch us until things like this happen. It can be so emotionally draining to see creatures just out of it, who can barely keep control over their bodies and cant think straight. It wasn’t until we had our mini-breakthrough of seeing physical evidence that these dogs were relaxing that it hit home of how hard it is for these dogs to deal with their life.
These dogs are lucky to have a great staff and volunteers that stick with them and open themselves up emotionally to help them. Honestly I don’t know if I’d be able to do what they do day in and day out myself. I can volunteer on a weekly basis and help dogs and teens. I can be a good example of how to take care of and train my dog. I can help other dog owners who want help with their dogs. There is always more that we can do, but we have to know our limits at the same time and be content with what we can and are doing.
If you are interested here are some links that will give you more information:
Panhandle Animal Shelter: Ponderay
Second Chance Animal Adoption: Bonners Ferry
Priest River Animal Rescue: Priest River
Inland Northwest Rescue: Hayden