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Manners are Important!

Willamette Humane Society

A $10,000 winner in the 2008 Maddie’s Fund Marketing Competition; submitted by Willamette Humane Society, Salem, Ore.

Willamette Humane Society (WHS) recognizes the first step in re-homing hard-to-place dogs is to work with the animals, making them more desirable pets, improving the transition into a new environment, and increasing their opportunity to remain in their new home. To that end, WHS participates in the Open Paw program through 1) education of guardians before they adopt their pets, 2) socialization of animals through human and animal bonding sessions and playtime with other animals, and 3) training animals with basic commands to help make the pet more socially well-mannered and well-behaved.

Two hundred eleven (211) volunteers, with over 10,450 hours annually, work with the dogs at WHS to help them maintain their good habits (house training, basic commands) in addition to providing the animals with the physical and emotional stimulation they require while on the adoption floor.

Additional programs are utilized to bring the dogs to marketability. One such program, successfully introduced in 2008, was a Junior Trainers Camp pilot program. Twenty campers, ranging from 12 15 years old, joined WHSs dog trainer, Annie Ingersoll, CPDT, to train basic manners to shelter dogs such as sit, watch me attention skills, down and settle. The program was designed to enhance the dogs adoptability, ascertain a greater history of the dog based on what was learned at camp, and improve the dogs interactions with children. It also taught the campers how to work with the animals and how to be better guardians.

Out of the 20 dogs in the program, 10 were in the hard-to-place category, many with multiple groupings such as a black Pit Bull, making it increasingly difficult to place them. Overall, we had five Pit Bulls or Pit Bull mixes, seven black dogs, three seniors and three with behavioral issues. The dogs were pre-screened for their ability to be around other dogs and other campers, as well as tolerance for being leashed. Finally, the dogs needed to be of a suitable size range (45 70 lbs.), so campers were able to manage them.

During the pilot, campers were given a Training Log in which they mapped out the dogs profile. For each day in the log, the middle school children had specific training tasks and assignments to accomplish with their dogs. In addition, campers completed a Motivator Rating Chart, identifying several items or actions they believed their dog would like, testing each one to determine which was more successful as a motivator. Campers rated the dogs reactions and repeated the test in multiple locations to establish, and record, the best motivator.

During the week-long sessions, campers made camp-dog bandanas, Im a camp dog signs for kennel doors, scrap-booked pages for the shelters public areas designed to profile and promote their assigned dog, and gift bags for the dogs. The camp culminated with a Saturday Showcase, where camp trainers and dogs were able to meet potential adopters. The campers highlighted the training and unique qualities that they had learned about the dogs while working with them.

The training logs and motivator charts were given to adopters to assist the dogs in transitioning to their new homes. All camp dogs were adopted. Once they “graduated,” the average length of stay (LOS) to adoption was 4.4 days. The other 79 dogs on the adoption floor during the same period had an average LOS of 9.6 days. Clearly the camp achieved its goals.

Building on the success of the pilot, WHS is expanding the camp, doubling its size in 2009. WHS will utilize a combination of publicity, paid advertising and on-site promotion to market the canine camp graduates as well as all hard-to-place animals participating year round in the Open Paw program. Key messaging will focus on the added benefit of adopting a dog who has some basic obedience skills and manners. Total marketing hard-to-place animal program cost is $20,000.

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