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Every animal who arrives at the League’s shelter receives a behavioral assessment designed to uncover any major problems in an animal’s temperament—aggression, extreme fear or shyness, an overly possessive attitude toward food and toys, etc.— that might stand in the animal’s way of finding and keeping a new home.
When a problem is found, the League’s behavior and training staff draws up a plan to modify the animal’s behavior. And since the League often rescues animals from traumatic situations—puppy mills, hoarding situations, dogfighting rings, natural disasters, and other cruelty cases—the trainers are frequently called upon to help animals overcome serious problems before they can get adopted.
The Open Paw Program is a tailored regime that ensures that every single interaction dogs have with people is therapeutic. It is effective in helping fearful dogs gain confidence and trust, providing hyper-active dogs with stress-reducing mental stimulation, and acclimating dogs who have lived in isolation to the new routines and demands of life in the shelter.
If cats have behavior problems, it is most likely to be fear of people. The behavior and training staff frequently sees this in cats from hoarding cases or ones born on the streets and left to fend for themselves. They use clicker training to encourage these cats to seek out attention, patiently training them first to touch a wand, then a hand, then to accept stroking, and finally to approach people on their own initiative.
Even animals without acute behavior problems benefit from the work of the behavior and training department. To make dogs more adoptable and decrease the time they have to wait for a home, the training staff and volunteers teach many of them basic manners. Some dogs have even achieved their
Canine Good Citizen certification while at the shelter, making them some of the best trained and socialized dogs in the country by the time they are adopted.