Back to School for Shelter Dogs
Back to school season is in full swing, but at the SPCA Albrecht Center school is always in session with student dogs in our Phideaux University program. The teachers are our Canine Behaviorist, Michelle Jurnak, along with our Pet Care Specialists and trained volunteers, who are all dedicated to finding these dogs new homes and setting them up for success to ensure that home is forever.
The curriculum is Petiquette- basic dog manners that give our adoptable dogs every chance at quick adoption into loving homes. They learn sit, down, and relax - behaviors that make them much more appealing to potential adopters and better behaved dogs in a home. The goal is a PhD, a permanently homed dog, and photos of our PdD graduates are posted in our adoption lobby.
Phideaux University has been part of our adoption program since 2012 and it truly produces amazing results! Dogs come and go so quickly around here, often the first time I actually see them is as they are walking out the door on a leash, heading to their new home. Our average length of stay has decreased from 3 to 6 months prior to implementing the program to only 36 days.
This is hugely important, not only because the dogs are kenneled for less time, but because we are keeping the dogs healthy inside and out while they are with us. Too many times, the importance of a dog’s mental health in a shelter environment is undervalued. It is simply not enough to just offer these dogs life; they must have a life worth living while in our care and every opportunity for quick placement into a permanent home.
Along with Phideaux University, dogs are taught how to be calm and chill in the presence of people with our Read & Relax program. Typically, dogs are very excited around people, especially shelter dogs who have been confined to a kennel or room alone for several hours. That excitement can mean jumping, barking and whining, which make it difficult for potential adopters to meet them.
With Read & Relax, volunteers sit quietly in the dog’s space, reading out loud or to themselves, while the dog sits or lies nearby. An occasional pet or head scratch encourages this calm behavior, but nothing more than that so as not to excite them too much. Over time, dogs learn to be calmer around people, which results in better meetings with potential adopters.
Phideaux University and Read & Relax make a big difference for most of the dogs in our care, but sometimes we find that a dog needs more training and individual attention than our staff and volunteers are able to provide. Ziggy and Flapjack were just these types of dogs.
Thankfully, we have an amazing local resource in Off Leash K9 Training of Georgia. Kara Dixon is one of their amazing dog trainers, and she put each of these dogs through her immersive boarding and training program. While living with Kara in her own home, each dog learned to sit, come when called, walk on a loose leash, heel on and off leash, handle distractions in multiple environments, proper greeting, meal and door manners, and lots more.
Kara’s work with Ziggy and Flapjack was amazing to see and both dogs have been successfully adopted into great homes. Her training is just another example of the potential that every shelter dog has, if given a chance, the opportunity and tools to show you.
You can meet our student dogs for yourself at 199 Willow Run Road, in Aiken, or see them online at LetLoveLive.org. You can also find information on our website if you are interested in becoming a Phideaux University trainer, volunteering in other ways, or making a contribution to the SPCA Albrecht Center.
If you have a dog of your own that would benefit from some schooling, I highly recommend checking out Off Leash K9 Training. Their website is full of information about what they offer, plans and pricing and client testimonials: OffLeashGeorgia.com. You can also reach them by phone at 770-450-0988.
Sarah Neikam is the Operations Manager for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the Albrecht Center since 2012. Sarah's family includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA Albrecht Center.