11.28.2010

Volunteering at Lincoln County Animal Shelter

Every holiday I spend in Maine, I dedicate one day with my dad at the Lincoln County Animal Shelter in Edgecomb, ME, and this year, The Boyfriend and I brought our greyhound Zeppelin over to demonstrate Nosework.

Nosework is a great activity for dogs that need focus, confidence, or always get in trouble for sniffing everything. Our intention was to get some of these dogs an activity to do in order to keep them mentally stimulated, and hopefully, more adoptable. These dogs spend days, weeks, or months in a shelter with little to do but bark at people passing by. The goal here is to give these dogs something to look forward to, and teach some of the staff how to use very basic nose-work skills to get these dogs moving in a positive way.

One of these dogs was Sam, a big, young, goofball of a dog, and had already been brought back to the shelter once. He was brought back because he "didn't listen" and wasn't house-trained. The second part could be worked on with some crate training or other techniques- but the first part was a bit odd. Sam picked up on Nosework VERY quickly, and I got the impression that Sam is smart, so the whole "not listening" bit was curious. Yes, he was a bit of a meathead, but he always had his eyes on me or his handler if he wasn't engaged in checking his Pee-Mail...

 This is Sam, a young male Plotthound Mix - brought back to the shelter because he 'doesn't listen'.

A few minutes later, Dad was holding Sam's leash and he jumped up at me. Dad made a move to pull Sam back, and I told him to wait a second. I approached Sam again, and he jumped again. I turned my back and walked away from him. The third time, I approached and he didn't jump. At this time, I asked Sam to sit.

Predictably, he didn't listen.

I provided a hand signal for sit, and he looked at me like I was from Mars. I then took a piece of food, lured him into a sit, and gave him the treat for doing the right thing. Several seconds later, I tried the exercise again, and he sat when I approached, and had the expression as if to say, "Oh - THIS is what you wanted! Why didn't you just say so?"

He didn't jump on me for the rest of our visit.

Sam didn't listen because he was never taught what to do instead of jump. You can yell at a dog to not jump, or not pee in the house, or not eat off the table - but you'll just yell until you're blue in the face. Instead, teach them to do a behavior in place of the behavior you are trying to extinguish before proclaiming a dog isn't listening. He's listening - he just doesn't know English. As humans, we have to teach them what we want, and those silly human sounds that mean "sit" or "down" before we write them off as stupid, untrainable, or bring a perfectly happy, loving, smart goofball dog back to a shelter because he doesn't listen. Dogs don't come to the earth knowing what the word Sit is, or that we don't want to be jumped on.

(For information on local Nosework Classes or Stop Jumping classes, check out City Dog's Upcoming Classes page. Both classes have sessions running through December).