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Socialization Innovation

10 Ways to Reduce Stress in the Shelter Environment
Written by Kelly Arbogast

Kelly ArbogastHigh stress and arousal levels in shelters can cause some pretty serious behavior problems that are harmful to the animals and sabotage adoption efforts. Over the years, I have developed several programs at the NH Humane Society that have significantly reduced stress in our shelter and helped dogs become more adoptable. The best part is that many of these programs are easy to implement. Here are my favorites:

1. Play, train or puzzle. Daily play sessions are on the top of our list. We play with dogs individually or coordinate well-matched doggy playgroups. We also rotate in other fun enrichment activities like nose work, short training sessions and puzzle toys.

2. Kennel identification & assignment. Each kennel is assigned according the level of stress (Low, Medium, or High). Stresses = visibility, high traffic areas, noise, sunlight, doors, smells, etc. A dog is then assigned to a kennel according to their individual needs, personality and ability to handle stress.

3. Relief for the fearful dog. We provide fearful or under socialized dogs with a crate inside of their kennel so they have a place to go if they feel overwhelmed. We also give these dogs breaks by draping a blanket over the top half of their kennel door. This way, if anyone wants to look at the dog they must bend down and get on their level.

4. What you read is what you get. Each dog has an ID card on their kennel that indicates what kind of family they are looking for, how much daily stimulation they are going to need and any behavioral issues they may be trying to overcome. This ensures that adopters are not making decisions solely based on a dog’s “cuteness” by shifting the focus to whether or not the dog fits well in their lifestyle.

5. Involve visitors in training. When appropriate, we place little treat buckets outside of a dog’s kennel with instructions that read "Please reward me for not barking” or “Please reward me for coming to the front of my kennel to greet you." This helps decrease the noise level and reinforces the dogs for behaviors that will make them more adoptable. 

6. Sound therapy. Noise levels alone can cause stress - kennel noises can reach over 100 decibels!  Daily exposure to noise levels at or near 100 decibels can cause increased stress, loss of appetite and an inability to socialize. We provide bioacoustic therapy to combat this by playing the “Through a Dog's Ear” CD throughout all of the kennels rooms. Playing this CD is easy to do and makes a real difference.

7. Aromatherapy. We also use aromatherapy by spraying the kennel rooms with Dog Appeasing Phermone (D.A.P.®) or Lavender. Both have been proven to lower stress levels.

8. Working for meals. Instead of giving each meal in a bowl, dogs receive some meals in puzzle toys to provide them with a positive, focused outlet for their energy. Our favorites are: Tug-a-Jugs, Kong Wobblers, Kibble Nibbles and Buster Cubes.

9. Frozen snacks. Before the end of the day employees hand out frozen Kongs full of peanut butter and/or ice toys.*

10. The Bmod Squad. One of the volunteer programs we have created is called the Behavior Modification Squad, or "Bmod Squad.” Each volunteer in the program is assigned to a dog with special needs. Homework assignments may include things such as working on loose leash walking, polite greetings, sitting, staying, bonding exercises, etc. This not only helps the dogs become more adoptable but it also provides them with much needed stimulation. Volunteers seem to love it too!

Each adopter goes home with handouts explaining how to handle their new dog’s transition. We also give them information about the training the dog received while in the care of the shelter. They even receive discounts on my obedience classes.

*How to make ice toys: Take a metal bowl and fill it ¾ of the way with water and add a bunch of kibble, treats, carrots, yogurt or canned food and freeze it. Before serving, run it upside down under warm water until it pops out easily. The result is a snack dogs LOVE that will keep them occupied for quite some time.

Kelly Arbogast is the Director of the Behavior Department at the NH Humane Society and owner of Doggonit Training. She has a BA in Psychology with a focus on Animal Cognition and an Associates Degree in Animal Science. She also worked as a Veterinary Technician for four years. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), an OPERATION SOCIALIZATION Certified Trainer (OSCT), a CGC Evaluator and has earned her CAP1. She has helped train service dogs for CCI and is on the board of directors for Happy Tails Dog Park of the Lakes Region.



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