Monday, January 10, 2011

Yellow Dog Certified

This past weekend I became certified to walk "yellow dogs" at Animal Haven Shelter in Soho, NY. I learned a lot about the shelter in the process.

Dogs at Animal Haven are labeled "Green" when any volunteer can walk them- meaning they are small,  or easy to walk. They haven't (YET) developed any bad habits that would make walking them difficult.

Yellow dogs have some issues- sometimes they are just larger than the average dog, but often they are hard to control and volunteers have difficulty getting their harnesses on or controlling them around other dogs or people.

I have a lot of experience controlling Bruno on walks. Winnie is very easy to walk- she stays by your side unless she sees a fun child or person or dog she can go wiggle up to. Bruno on the other hand, I have to watch constantly. Case in point- today he was walking so well on his new Gentle-Leader (a small head harness I got from Animal Haven after I saw how great it worked on Cha Cha), and was on a short leash, when all of a sudden he jumped up at the lady walking behind me! She was not pleased.

Anyway, I have a lot of experience, but I learned a lot more about how professional trainers want things done and how vital it is, not just to make it easier on you or the people on the street-- but for the good of the dog.

Apparently, as Katrina (Animal Haven's Intake manager and Trainer) said, being in the shelter actually causes dogs to "degenerate," meaning they lose skills they had and begin to learn bad habits. The Yellow-dog training is most important because it gives the dogs consistent reactions to bad behaviors no matter which of the many volunteers is walking them.

Katrina and Animal Haven only use positive reinforcement and never punish the dogs for bad behavior. She explained that jumping, biting and barking is all done to get human contact and attention. Even negative attention is a good thing to medium-to-large adolescent dogs with limited exercise. So apparently, Georgie-Girl, a large rambunctious lab-mix at the shelter, will even get egg-ed on if you turn the other way when she jumps on you, and she enjoys turning you back and forth while you are trying to get her leash on!

Basically, ignoring dogs can go a long way, because they realize very quickly that their behavior gets not results. We have always tried this on Bruno and Winnie, but apparently verbal ques should even be shunned. Dogs, don't pick up on verbal ques very well and shouting "No!" can feed into their desire to get you to play.

After my yellow training and before my yellow-evaluation (walking a dog around the block with Katrina watching), volunteers gathered to see Cha Cha, a wonderful Pittie/Shepherd mix, show off her training. Cha Cha has been at the shelter since we got Winnie six months ago (I remember them bringing her out to us) - This had been right after Cha Cha had given birth to her puppies, who have all since been adopted. But Cha Cha- for no fault of her own, has not been adopted yet. Since many dogs lose skills and gain bad behaviors in a prolonged stay in a shelter- Animal Haven has worked really hard with her to keep her socialized and well-mannered. We were all so impressed with her and I (and everyone else at AH) want to help her find a home as soon as possible.

I also learned that Animal Haven as a shelter is dedicated to temperament testing-- Basically any animal that comes through the shelter must be well-behaved and show no agression to humans. This leaves quite a few dogs at AC&C out of the running, but as my boyfriend put it-- you have to go after the low-hanging fruit first. I completely agree. Katrina said, as long as she does her job right and the dogs are testing as they truly are- they will have no "Red Dogs" (dogs that can only be walked by staff).

I think I'd like to have a pittie rescue where only friendly dogs are rescued too- at least at first, because unless you have excellent trainers and adequate resources, you can't commit to rehabiliating a dog that may be genetically aggressive. Best Friends in Utah is wonderful because they commit themselves to a dog for life, whether or not it is adoptable, but I think I'd like to save all the sweet dogs I can before I commit myself to rehabilitations. Animal Haven likes to get the dogs out of the shelter as soon as they can to keep them healthy and well-socialized, and the longer a dog stays there because they are aggressive- the worse they will get. I found this all very valueable information. Hopefully I'll get to learn much more as I continue volunteering.


  1. Congradulations!! What exciting news. Sounds like a wonderful shelter you volunteer for and a great organization. I like the way they handle the dogs. What a wonderful opportunity for you. Remember to have fun!

  2. Congratulations! It sounds like you have learned a lot already. It's interesting how each shelter and rescue works so differently. I certainly can understand Animal Haven's reluctance to take on "red" dogs. Unfortunately there just aren't enough resources, which is heart-breaking. It's not an easy decision to make.

    Good luck with your "yellow" certification. I hope you have fun and I am sure you will help many amazing dogs.


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