By: Sarah A. Neikam, Operations Manager

Our animal shelter, like many others, runs like a faucet with the drain open. We process adoptions and return lost pets to owners every day, but then there are newcomers that immediately fill the open spaces. As the animals come and go, they all need food, medicine, water and many need immediate veterinary care.

In a no-kill shelter, like the SPCA Albrecht Center, where animals may be with us for an extended amount of time, it is not enough to give them life; they must also have a life worth living and every opportunity for success in a permanent home. One often overlooked necessity in dogs particularly, is training.

The majority of dog owners cite “behavioral reasons” when relinquishing or returning a dog to a shelter. Ironically, the majority of people selecting a pet prioritize looks over behavior.

Often, when one of our Pet Care Specialists ask potential adopters the type of dog they would like, the response is a breed, a color, or a size. This book-by-its-cover mentality is what leaves rescue rookies remarking, “How in the world did a pure bred German Shepherd (or Collie, or Great Pyrenees, or Shih Tzu) end up at the SPCA?”

Surprisingly, among the mixed breeds and “who-knows-whats” on our adoption floor, the SPCA often (in fact 25% of the time) has the popular and recognizable celebrities of the animal world- purebred, sometimes AKC registered dogs available for adoption.

This is just one of the reasons we try to encourage selection based on behavior and temperament, not looks or breed. When pressed, people generally admit they want a “smart dog”. That’s why we have been working hard to meet that expectation, through our train-to-adopt program, Phideaux University.

phideaux university logo

In the fall of 2012, the SPCA implemented Phideaux University to encourage the animal-human bond, increase adoptions and decrease the length of stay for dogs in our care. The program employs a pretty simple training method, but almost everyone who sees it in action is convinced they have just met the smartest shelter dog ever.

Even people who are insistent that they have to have a pure bred dog are swayed to look at mixes when they discover that our shelter dogs come with manners. It is a remarkable thing to watch the guards go down and the excitement go up when our Director of Training and Enrichment, Ann Kinney, hands the potential adopter the leash and says, “Now, you try.”

See, Phideaux University dogs respond to whoever holds the leash. They are trained not only by Ann, but by multiple staff members and volunteers, too. This way, we can pass simple instructions to the adopter and they can take over this easy training method at home, ensuring a smooth transition from shelter dog to family dog.

Our simple, fun and effective training methods are open to all dogs, not just those awaiting adoption at the SPCA. So if you have a great dog who could use some guidance toward becoming a true family dog, contact our training Headmaster, Trish Wamsat for information on enrolling your dog in the program. Call 803-574-DOGS (3647) or visit

If you need a pet to pamper, let the SPCA set you up with one of our handsome scholars today! Visit for details on adoption and training, and come see us at 199 Willow Run Road in Aiken.

Sarah Neikam is the Communications & Marketing Director for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah lives in Graniteville with her husband, Tom, mother, Cheryl and three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady.

The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare is a private, nonprofit, no kill animal shelter in Aiken, SC.  The SPCA also operates a local Thrift Store (“Where Shopping Saves Lives”),  a public, affordable Veterinary Care Center & a Dog Park.  It is our mission to improve the lives of companion animals by rehoming abused, abandoned, and neglected pets while fighting for their well-being through vigorous legislative efforts, humane education, and by offering affordable veterinary care for all.