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Calming Shelter Dogs

Sue Sternberg

Turn frenzied and wild into peaceful and calm

After a particularly excitable and loud group of dogs were in our shelter, I wondered what could be done to help calm them down, and also wondered why they were so aroused.

I sat back and observed an average day at the shelter.

I realized that the only time shelter dogs see people, is for an excitable activity: Cleaning time (a frenzy of excitable barking) feeding time (a frrenzy of excitable barking) leash-walks or exercise time (a frenzy of excitable barking) and the public coming in to view the dogs (a frenzy of excitable barking). I realized that the longer a dog stayed in the shelter, the more he learned that the presence of people meant hyperactivity and arousal.

What will a pet dog need to know around people? Calmness around people!

Consider having your staff and volunteers focus as much on calm-down visits as on exercise-related activities. Have some volunteers and staff go inside with a shelter dog and just sit quietly, mostly ignoring the dog until the dog calms down. THEN have the volunteer calmly and slowly stroke the dog. Bit by bit, the shelter dogs will learn to quickly calm down when greeted, instead of anticipating a physical activity.

Consider Story Time, instead of exercise time. What if a volunteer came into the kennels and read a Dr. Seuss book to the dogs instead of a busy, arousing activity? Have volunteers or staff take a dog out to a quiet, indoor spot and just read aloud until the dog settles down, THEN the person can give the dog soothing attention.

It is so important to reinforce calm behaviors for the shelter dog. Life in the kennels is so difficult and arousing. The longer a dog remains in the shelter, the harder it is for him to remember how to be peaceful and calm. These exercises can actually reduce stress and help some of the more excitable dogs maintain weight and mental health. It also keeps them adoptable.

Courtesy of

Rondout Valley Kennels, Inc.


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