This is Jody, the Training and Enrichment Coordinator at Pet Orphans of Southern California. I've been working with Ashley since she came to Pet Orphans and I'll be updating you on the progress she makes in her journey towards finding a new home. Along the way, I'll try to give you not only insights into the training methods I use with Ashley but hopeful also allow you a peek behind-the-scenes at how we care for, nurture and enrich the lives of the dogs and cats in our care.
My partnership with Ashley began a few weeks ago. I was asked to evaluate a new dog who had just been brought in. All dogs who are rescued by Pet Orphans undergo an in-depth, detailed personality and temperament evaluation. This assessment is essential to ensure that we can best match each dog with the perfect home. More importantly, it gives me the information I need to create a personalized training program for every dog that I'll implement along with the support and assistance of our fantastic Pet Orphan volunteers.
So, I went to our isolation ward and...there she was. She was basically a white dog with a striking blue eye patch but all I saw at first was her skin. It was raw and scarred with huge patches - maybe as much as 60% of her body without any hair at all. There were fresh weeping crusting sores over scarred flesh. It looked as though she’d been burnt and you could tell that even the simple act of turning around would be painful.
She eyed me through the kennel run with her head low, uncertain. In spite of her clear worry, her tail wagged cautiously. I opened the kennel door and slowly let myself in. Ashley backed several feet away, her head low, her tail wagging slowly. I stood quietly, not making eye contact, allowing her to adjust to my presence and a few moments later I felt her head gently rub against my hand. I let my hand lightly rub against her and within a few minutes she was leaning full against me. I’d made a friend.
But, this was only the first step. As you can imagine, shelter life can be extremely stressful for most dogs - the noise, the smells, the constant stream of staff, volunteers and visitors. Even though at Pet Orphans we do everything we can to minimize this including burning incense, playing music, providing enrichment toys and abundant time out of kennel on walks and in the play yards, it is still a difficult way for dogs to live. Dogs who would have no trouble adapting to a quiet home environment, in a kennel situation, can have a difficult time, withdrawing and “shutting down”. Dogs under these circumstances have a more difficult time getting adopted as their true personality does not come through. So, it is important when assessing a dog’s personality, we make every effort to ensure that a dog’s innate temperament is sound and stable enough to fit in to our program.
I slipped a lead on her and Ashley followed me to our Education Center where the formal assessment would take place. Much of the evaluation is based on observation. How does the dog respond to the environment, the slicker tile floor, the way that sound reverberates? Does she explore with confidence or caution or does she freeze in place with fear? If I give her a toy, can I take it away or does she possessively “guard” it, warning me away with a growl? Can I give her food and still take it away without any aggression? Will she make eye contact? Does she show any aggression to being touched, held, lifted? This last was hard as I knew her skin must be unbelievably sensitive to touch. Yet, she offered no resistance and allowed me to do everything without a single grumble.
But, the most important thing I look for is how “people-oriented” a dog is. I want to see a dog who even though they may be uncertain, even though they may be scared, their first response is to be with a person. A dog that pulls back, doesn’t want to be touched or held, that avoids eye contact and distances themselves from people will have a hard time in a shelter environment.
…And this is where Ashley excelled. Wherever I wandered in the room, she followed like a shadow. Not intruding into my space and demanding my attention but respectfully following from a few feet away, coming to me whenever I “invited” her closer. When all the individual testing was done, I knelt down and she covered me in sloppy kisses.
The first part of the test was finished and she passed with flying colors. But we’d still need to see how she got on with other dogs and cats….