Shelter Behavior Programs

Why Develop a Shelter Behavior Program?

French_Fry_0011A comprehensive behavior program, along with quality animal care standards, can increase adoptions and have a profound impact on the well-being of the dogs at your shelter, as well as the humans caring for them. Effective in-shelter programming encompasses daily animal care standards, routines and protocols, regular quality enrichment, strategic use of housing, and a multi-level trained handler program that provides opportunities for volunteers of all skill-levels and supports all dogs from those in need of only preventative support to those in need of behavioral modification.

With the right program, the shelter becomes a safer, happier, and more welcoming place; dogs learn skills that help them become more adoptable and enrich their lives; and staff and volunteers are able to see their hard work pay off in the form of happier, easier to handle dogs who get adopted more quickly and go on to thrive in their adoptive homes.

Stress Reduction

Even the best in-shelter behavior programs cannot be fully successful without first handling the issue of the enormous stress the shelter environment causes dogs (and cats). Between the harsh odors of cleaning products, the deafening sounds of barking dogs and the necessary cleaning routine, and the lack of control or freedom a dog has over fulfilling its basic needs like potty breaks, participating in appropriate social rituals, and lack of exercises/stimulation/enrichment, volunteers and staff have an uphill battle the moment the dog enters the shelter.

We can’t talk about Stress Reduction for Shelter Dogs anymore eloquently than Kelly Bollen, MS, CABC of Maddie’s Institute in this wonderful presentation. In it, you will find information on the causes and effects of stress as well as how to alleviate those stresses. Mitigating the effects of stress and tending to the emotional lives of shelter dogs is not only vital to their well-being, it the only humane thing to do.

Learn More:

In-Shelter Training Resources

All handouts, workshops, and downloads are protected under a Creative Commons license. Your shelter, rescue, or organization is free to use and adapt them but must credit Dogs Out Loud and any other original sources listed below or in the documents themselves. Thank you!

Shelter Behavior Manual

The Shelter Behavior Manual is a good place to start training staff and volunteers on the basics of dog/human communication, kennel routine protocol, leash skills, enrichment and training, behavior modification, and adoption/matchmaking.

All presentations linked below require the latest version of either Google Chrome or Firefox to work properly (presentations do not work in Internet Explorer). To use the presentation, locate the arrows in the bottom right corner. Tap or click the right arrow to move from section to section. If the down arrow lights up, tap or click it to explore slides within that section.

Or if you want to break your training into two different levels for beginning and advanced volunteers (presentation links coming soon):

  1. Shelter Behavior Manual – Level 2
    • Shelter Behavior Workshop – Level 2 presentation – This presentation accompanies the Shelter Behavior Workshop – Level 2 Manual and takes about one and a half hours to complete. We suggest an additional half hour to ask volunteers to practice using equipment and practicing kennel routine with a level-2 type dog.

Basic Behavior Plan for Shelter Dogs

The Basic Behavior Plan for Shelter Dogs includes basic skills all dogs should know for purposes of having foundation skills, mental enrichment, and increased adoptability.

Advanced Behavior Plan for Shelter Dogs

The Advanced Behavior Plan for Shelter Dogs includes important skills for dogs who lack impulse control, confidence, focus, ability to settle, or appropriate social skills.

I Love My Kennel Protocol

Shelter dogs live in kennels. The kennel is their home, the place they space 3/4 or more of their day, the place they eat and sleep, the place people pass by them all day every day. It is important to teach the dog to love where he lives, and the only way to accomplish this is to spend quality time in the kennel with the dog. I Love My Kennel Protocol gives volunteers and staff ideas for activities to do in kennels with their favorite shelter buddies. This (along with Gate Games) is also a great way for volunteers who cannot walk dogs to make a huge impact. Follow this plan for at least 10 minutes at the end of your session with your shelter buddy to help him feel better about the space he lives in.

Behavior-specific Plans

Each of these plans is meant to be worked by an experienced volunteer or staff member. Remember, consistency is key! If you are starting to see mouthing creep up in your interactions with your shelter buddy, or if you’re starting to make progress with a shy dog, or if a previously calm, confident dog starts reacting visibly to other dogs, then it is all the more important to bring kind consistency and structure to your interactions. Follow these plans in conjunction with your shelter’s behavior coordinator/manager to help dogs navigate their shelter stress.

Enrichment Projects

Treat for Calm Project

How do you create a peaceful, quiet environment in your shelter? How do you train a dog quickly, and get others (staff, volunteers, and adopters) on board with helping you train shelter dogs to be calm and quiet in their kennels. The “Treat for Calm” project demonstrates a simple method to reward dogs for quiet calm behavior that any visitor to the shelter can follow.

The Thinking Walk

The Thinking Walk project, brought to Austin Animal Center by Dogs Out Loud through a generous grant from Animal Farm Foundation, provides simple activities volunteers and staff can do with a shelter dog during their daily walks. Turn a walk into a thinking walk for enrichment, relationship building, and structured fun with your shelter buddy. Learn more about the projects.

Workshop presentations

Shelter Environment

Foster & Adopter Resources

All handouts, workshops, and downloads are protected under a Creative Commons license. Your shelter, rescue, or organization is free to use and adapt them but must credit Dogs Out Loud and any other original sources listed below or in the documents themselves. Thank you!

Questions? Contact

Not sure that our resources are the right fit for your organization? We also recommend the Open Paw program.