By Ann Fowler
Oak Hill’s Canine Center for Training and Behavior has a slogan: “Life is short. Enjoy it with your dog.” Life can be too short for Austin’s homeless canine population. The Canine Center (www.TCCTB.com) not only trains dogs and their humans, but helps with dogs housed at rescue group facilities such as Austin Pets Alive (www.austinpetsalive.org).
Gretchen Meyer, PR/marketing director for APA (Austin Pets Alive) told the Gazette, “We sent dogs to TCCTB for tutoring days and they sent trainers to our TLAC facility to work with some select dogs there.” She said the two groups have worked together since 2008.
Recent APA guests included Tiffany and Redford. Tiffany had a bite history and guarded her food. Jane Del Re, owner/trainer with TCCTB, said, “We advised APA that she must get out of the shelter into a foster home. They found her a foster home and we trained her how to handle Tiffany. It seems she is considering adopting her now!”
Del Re said of Redford, “We kept him onsite at the Canine Center and various trainer’s homes until a foster could be found.” That foster is TCCTB’s own Shari Elkins. Added Del Re, “He is really a wonderful dog that would have been euthanized for biting, and now he is a happy, playful, very cute dog. He is looking for a forever home.”
APA will now handle some training in-house with a recently hired behaviorist who will, among other things, set up play dates to help the shelter dogs relax and socialize. Said Meyer, “We used to send dogs to TCCTB for the day so that they could get a break from shelter life and get some one-on-one training with professionals. It was a great help for dogs like Tiffany, and Redford, who have a lot of energy and have a hard time containing that energy in a shelter. The trainers worked on their manners and helped them channel their energy into more positive outlets. They also recommended individualized training plans for our volunteers to do with the dogs when they were back in the shelter.”
Del Re points out that long-term kenneling for dogs can become a high-stress environment, bringing out the worst in a dog. “It can vary from a dog completely shutting down, to a dog delivering bites to anyone who tries to handle them,” said Del Re. “APA will send these dogs to us to board and train. We give them quiet time to decompress, and we work them so they can be the dog they were meant to be. We have been successful in getting several cases successfully adopted.”
Del Re is quick to point out that boarding-and-training is for shelter dogs only. She explained, “The Canine Center does not support board and train for owned dogs. Our training is based on the handler/dog relationship, so it is key that the owner is involved. In the case of shelter dogs, we are teaching them how to form a relationship so they can bond with an adopter.”
The trainers at the Canine Center understand dogs, particularly the difference between a truly aggressive dog and one demonstrating aggressive outbursts due to other causes. Del Re tells the story of George, a deaf pit bull born in a shelter. She said, “At 7 months, he had multiple bites on his record and the shelter kept a padlock on his run. People could not go in and out of his area without being bitten.”
After working with George, Del Re quickly realized that he was not biting out of aggression but as a means to keep people from leaving. “He was so lonely,” recalled Del Re. “We pulled him out of the shelter and did a social immersion program to teach him how to live as a pet dog. Within two hours on the first day at my house he relaxed. A number of our trainers passed him around for a week each. Now that he realized he was not going to be abandoned in a run, he was such a sweet and playful boy — and found a home.”
Rescue groups are working hard to make Austin a no-kill city. APA says on its website, “We promote and provide the resources, education and programs needed to eliminate the killing of companion animals.” TCCTB is one of those resources.
Said Meyer, “Even with our full-time behaviorist, there are so many great dogs in the Austin shelter who need behavior support that it’s crucial we partner with outside groups like TCCTB, who have the expert skills to help these dogs.”
To that end, TCCTB takes it a step further. Training discounts are offered for those who sign up for training within three months of adopting a rescue.
Meyer added, “Our goal this year to build up a big enough behavior program so that we can save the rest of the dogs and be a true no kill city.”