This is the story of a very lucky little dog named Kendall, as told by her mom, and how our unique training style changed the relationship between this very shy creature and her human who wanted so much to help her. When we think back to the first time we met Kendall, and then the first time we met the lady who would become her mom, we’re blown away by how dramatic Kendall’s transformation has been. Kendall had a history of generalized fear, and no “regular” obedience class was going to work for her. That was pretty clear from her first appearance at our weekly group classes. Kendall was so nervous she couldn’t eat treats and it was all she could do to sit (or stand, more likely) and try to get comfortable in the space, with the people and dogs around her, and with the routine of coming to class. It was months before she greeted us happily when she arrived at class or showed comfort with the people who she’d known for so long, knowing we wouldn’t let anything bad happen and that she might even have some fun. At our classes, she’s made many new human friends, shyly approaching and accepting treats and pets from the women, and teaching the men how to meet her by patiently walking all over campus with her, calling her name, and tossing treats (which she now eats greedily). She’s gone from doing very few of our regular activities to slowly working her way through almost a third of the CGC test items. It’s been wonderful to see Kendall be proud of herself, and to see her mom giving her all these opportunities to grow and discover life is fun and safe and that people love her. She’s done such a brilliant job with Kendall, and we’ve been so pleased to help facilitate the journey. Kendall is doing things that weren’t possible a year ago, and now, working within the confines of the patterns her mom and we have established for her, we can tweak and change the games slightly so she feels safe but can continue to grow. We believe the two of them are going to earn that CGC because she has accomplished so much already. It’s a much shorter leap than the ones she’s already taken. With that, here is Kendall’s story.
When I met Kendall, this is what I knew about her: she was surrendered by a family who had had her for five years but could no longer keep her due to financial reasons. That family had found her as a puppy, trapped in a tiny crate in an abandoned apartment, and the family’s intake notes remarked how scared of a dog she had always been. She had bitten one of their family members once, when she had been startled out of a nap. After Kendall was surrendered to the animal shelter, she went through two foster homes. Each foster family reported how much they loved her and had bonded with her, but she remained scared to the point of trying to bite strangers who tried to approach her. She had started to refuse to eat food, as well.
It was at this point that I met Kendall, through a Dogs Out Loud volunteer I knew, who at some point along the way had recognized Kendall’s potential to be a happy, confident dog and had become her champion. This volunteer advocating for Kendall was the first of what would come to be many times Dogs Out Loud significantly changed Kendall’s life for the better.
Kendall warmed up to me immediately – it may have been the hot dogs I was tossing to her while sitting on the ground outside her kennel at the shelter. I was fully aware of her history and eager to help this little lady out. I was optimistic that I could love her fear away.
Within a week or two of bringing her home, I felt like I was in over my head. Kendall and I had bonded, but strangers were still a huge challenge for us. Every time she saw a stranger while we were out walking, she would lunge and snarl and growl, and every time it would terrify me to see her like that. I became very stressed out and anxious, and I seriously considered whether or not I could continue to foster Kendall. I showed up to our second or third weekly Dogs Out Loud class in tears because I was so stressed out about it all. I couldn’t imagine continuing to live with this much stress, but I also couldn’t bear to think what might happen to Kendall, given her history, if I “returned” her.
This was the second time Dogs Out Loud saved Kendall. That day, they comforted me and reassured me that they would help me find a way to make it work, if that’s what I wanted to do. And then they followed through. Over the next few weeks, they equipped me with management techniques (i.e. in-the-moment strategies to help Kendall calm back down when she was scared by a stranger), as well as growth techniques (i.e. strategies to slowly build up her confidence around strangers). They connected me with a private behaviorist to work with us at home. They taught me games to work on with Kendall, to continue to build her confidence and give us things to focus on when something scares her. Because of this critical support in those first few weeks post-meltdown, my stress ultimately dissolved and I regained the confidence I needed to continue to help Kendall build her own confidence. This time, my confidence wasn’t simply an optimism borne out of a desire to help Kendall. It was because Dogs Out Loud had given me the skills I needed to help Kendall.
Over the next few months, Dogs Out Loud never wavered in their support. We continued to attend their group classes where we worked on Kendall’s confidence, and it was paying off – her true personality was starting to shine through, and her fear was slowly decreasing. Dogs Out Loud worked with me to develop a strategy for introducing Kendall to my friends – and then they met us countless times outside of “normal class hours” to help facilitate those introductions, friend by friend. They connected me with an experienced, trusted dog sitter to stay with Kendall when I had to go out of town for a few days, and they even helped me raise some funds to cover the cost of that sitter. Meanwhile, Kendall and I grew closer and closer.
About six months into fostering Kendall, I had to go out of town for a week. I missed her so much during this time, and the feeling I got when I returned home to her afterwards cemented the growing suspicion I had that adopting her was the right choice, because we made each other so happy. The day after I got back, I filled out the paperwork and celebrated with Kendall. This never would have been possible without the support and training Dogs Out Loud had given along my journey fostering Kendall.
After adoption, it was time to treat her for heartworm. Heartworm treatment is scary in and of itself, and on top of that, I was nervous about bringing Kendall to the vet, where we would have to be in an enclosed room with strangers who would need to touch her. Dogs Out Loud guided me through muzzle training, patiently listened to my many worries about this complicated situation, and when the appointments came, they even showed up at the vet with us to help us through and provide a sense of calm while I was a bundle of nerves. This was the third time Dogs Out Loud saved Kendall, by giving me the confidence and support I needed to get through the treatment that Kendall’s life depended on.
Kendall and I recently celebrated our one-year anniversary. We are best friends, happy together and very much in love with each other. In the last two months, she seems to have turned yet another corner – she is noticeably more confident and playful and happy than ever. In fact, she seems to get happier by the day, even though her puppy stage is long behind her. She is a different dog than she was when I first met her: back then, she was timid and stoic unless she saw a stranger, in which case she went immediately to snarling and lunging. Her tail was almost always tucked, never wagging. Now, she’s playful and goofy. She wags her tail when we’re out on walks. Perhaps most remarkable to me, she gets so happily excited when she sees one of the many human friends she’s gained in the last year. Before, she was scared of everyone, and now she is getting positive value out of the relationships she’s developed. And when we do come across new strangers, she doesn’t immediately go over threshold. She’ll often look to me, and I can retain her focus while the stranger passes; in situations that are still a little too close for her comfort, she’ll let out a growl and a stare, but rarely a full lunge and snarl. She’s learned to communicate. These accomplishments are all due to Dogs Out Loud. We still attend weekly Dogs Out Loud classes to continue to improve, and we’re even working up to the Canine Good Citizen test.
From my perspective (and Kendall’s), Dogs Out Loud is an incredible organization. They were never scared of Kendall or her history. Instead, Kendall was exactly the type of dog they want to help. They understood from the start that Kendall’s “scary” behaviors came from a place of fear. Their goal was never for me to “manage” or “control” her, but for Kendall to have a happier life, with her own coping skills to use when she is scared. They knew this would take a long time to achieve, and they were in it for the long haul, even when her first two foster homes didn’t work out. Kendall isn’t the only lucky dog to have received such support – over the past year, I’ve seen them give the same dedication and commitment to several dogs who may otherwise have been given up on, dogs who need certain types of homes to thrive. With each dog having different needs, such homes are hard to find and rarely come “fully equipped”. But when you see how happy the dogs and their adopters are after they’ve worked with Dogs Out Loud, it’s clear the effort was so worth it.
Our weekly group class is an important way we give shelter dogs and the humans who love them the skills they need to change behavior for the better and form strong, lasting relationships. For shelter volunteers, these classes provide valuable opportunities to learn how to handle some of our livelier dogs and the nuances of our games and methods we use to train them. For adopters, we use the time to hand off the training we’ve already done with their new dog: skills their dog knows, things the dog still needs to learn, and how to troubleshoot any new issues that have arisen in their homes. We also use the time to get every dog in our program out of their kennels, make sure they have appropriate equipment (harness, collar, or head halter), provide a little mental and physical exercise, and when it’s time to go back to their kennels, they go with enrichment in the forms of long-lasting chews sticks and treats and toys.
That we can give every class dog a harness, treat, and toy is possible because of the donations we receive. We typically spend approximately $200 per dog on necessary training and enrichment items while they live at the shelter, and more if the dog is in a foster home (where we provide beds, food, treats, toys, and sometimes even cover some medical expenses). If you would like to help us help shelter dogs, please consider donating to our Amplify Austin campaign and help us meet our goal of $15,000 so we can help medium-large breed dogs at Austin Animal Center get the training and enrichment they need to transition to loving forever homes.