Enriching the Lives of Shelter Dogs

For any true dog lover, spending a day surrounded by dogs can leave them with a feeling of immense fulfillment. As a company, Suburban K9 has dedicated a large amount of time to working with dogs that are up for adoption as well as dogs that have already been rescued. We have seen amazing progress working with dogs that have severe issues and wouldn’t normally be able to be adopted into forever homes. Seeing improvements with these dogs over time is a huge reward. While everyone might not be a dog trainer, volunteering your time at a local rescue or humane society is an ideal way to add fulfillment to your life.

Running a rescue group is not easy. There are many things that need done within shelters on a daily basis. Tasks range from feeding the dogs to taking them out for some much needed play time. Pretty much anybody can help out and make a huge impact on the lives of dogs that are far less fortunate.

While spending time with these dogs is rewarding for both the people volunteering and the dogs, everyone should be focused on one incredibly important goal. Adoption. The joy that both the adopter and the dog feel when they find their true forever match is unparalleled. After years of training rescue dogs and investing thousands of hours, all of our trainers agree that there is no greater feeling than being able to impact the lives of both a dog and their owner.

So with that in mind we have to keep our focus on the main goal: Finding the dogs a forever home. This might seem like a no brainer, but just spending time with the dogs is not always conducive to this goal. We have to think about things that will help the dogs get adopted. In terms of training there is a never ending list of things that we can work on to this end, and there are simple things that anyone can do when volunteering.

Volunteers have a limited amount of time to spend with each dog so use your time wisely. While it is a good idea to spend time petting and hanging out, it is also important to ensure the dog is receiving mental and physical stimulation. This is something that zoos typically do with animals in their care to prevent boredom. When the dogs are bored they are more likely to show undesirable behaviors that may prevent them from being adopted. Here are some ideas of things that you can do while volunteering (these ideas would also be good for your pets at home):

Have the dog work for treats. A great game that can be played involves hiding treats in an outdoor run and having the dog search them out. Other great options involve using the Kong Wobbler during feeding time (discussed in last month's article).

Teach the dog agility. You do not need to spend a bunch of money on a full agility set in order to do this. It can be done easily with items that are laying around. You could create weave poles by putting sticks in the ground and then leading the dog through them on a leash. You could create a balance beam out of a bench or a downed tree, have the dogs jump up onto the object and walk across. A jump can be created out of just about anything that is lying around. Agility is a great way for a dog to think and overcome fears along with burning off some of the pent up energy they have from sitting in a run all day.

Practice obedience. If the dog knows its obedience commands, spend 15 minutes running through each of the commands. This will get the dog into training mode and forces them to concentrate more than issuing commands every once and awhile. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy and you can focus on things they already know.

Teach the dog a silly trick. Many dogs are all too willing to do funny things. If you notice something that the dog does that is cute, you could teach them how to do it for a treat. A great example would be a dog that enjoys rolling over or doing some other silly action. Set up the situation and each time the dog performs, provide them with a treat. This would be a great trick to show potential adopters.

If the situation allows, take the dog out of its familiar environment and go for a walk. Many of these shelter dogs do not experience much outside of the kennel. Go to your favorite park, take them to a petstore to interact with staff and buy a toy from the discount bin. As volunteers, this random trip might not seem like much at first, but this experience could be the most fulfilling and exciting thing the dog has seen in weeks, or even months!

Working with the dogs gives you a greater perspective on what their personality is and what they enjoy. This will help you pair the right dog with the right adopter. We shouldn’t suggest a hyper dog to a family that wants a couch potato, and working with each dog while they are in the shelter will allow you to know their “real” personality. A dog that seems wild and crazy in the shelter might calm down a lot through daily training and stimulation. Or a dog that seems calm and withdrawn due to being shy or fearful might prove to be an extreme athlete after coming out of its shell. It is hard to know a dog's real personality when they are acting out due to stress or boredom. Knowing the “real” dog will help you make good matches and ensure stronger relationships post adoption.

Volunteering your time will not only impact the life of a dog, it will also have a large impact on your mental state. There is nothing as rewarding as bonding with an animal and helping them find their forever home! For more information on volunteering with West Suburban Humane Society, reach out to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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