June 7, 2017
Categories: Animal Behavior

Do you have shy or anxious dogs in your shelter who you just know would benefit from being in a foster home and out of the shelter environment? That’s exactly how the Anxious Dog Program (ADP) started at Longmont Humane Society in Longmont, Colo.

The Anxious Dog Program expands the shelter’s foster program to include specially trained foster families who work with dogs who are shy, anxious or otherwise stressed in the kennel environment. The program started in December 2016, and is made possible with a Maddie’s ® Idea Lab Grant.

“The Anxious Dog Program provides valuable information about a dog and his challenges,” said LHS director of shelter and clinic operations Sarah Clusman. “For an anxious dog experiencing environmental distress, the simple removal of such a dog from the shelter setting can be trans-formative. When an anxious dog who suffers from environmental distress is no longer overwhelmed by his physical setting, it allows him to focus his energy on learning new skills, gaining confidence and making him a better adoption candidate.”

Training and support for foster caregivers are key elements of the program. The program trains and supports foster families to provide a home environment in which anxious dogs may thrive, be adopted sooner, and be more likely to stay in their adoptive families. “Our foster coordinator recruits and trains foster families, while our training and behavior modification department evaluates potential dogs for the program. Dogs who show forward defense — moving toward the handler while growling, barking, lip curling, snapping or biting — are not candidates for the this program,” said Clusman.

Once a foster family and anxious dog are paired, LHS provides physical tools such as training collars, enrichment items such as Kongs and crates or barriers; educational tools (handouts on specific issues such as separation anxiety and crate training), as well as one-on-one training; and support from both the foster coordinator and the anxious dog to be designated available for adoption,” explained Clusman. “Once designated so, the dog may be brought back to the shelter or remain in the foster home depending on what is best for the dog. Adoptable dogs in foster homes are promoted on our website, through posters and cards, and on social media.”

The program is already seeing success. Of 11 dogs, seven have been adopted from their foster homes, three were adopted after being brought back to the shelter from foster homes and one remains in foster. On average, dogs have spent 37 days in the program. LHS is currently focusing on recruiting additional suitable foster families because of the continued need.

“Our foster families who have taken on these special dogs have truly enjoyed the program. The transformation in all of the 11 dogs we have had in the program is nothing short of inspiring!” Clusman shared how foster families have reported that they feel like they see the dogs reaping the rewards of the ADP within a very short time and they enjoy being part of “closing the loop” by helping to find and meeting with adopters, which is not part of the more traditional foster situation.

“Adopters have given us feedback that they have enjoyed meeting with our foster parents and learning who the dog they’re visiting truly is. Many of our adopters met with the dog several times after the initial visit in the shelter, and have stayed in contact with the foster family post-adoption.“

Flora, a one-year-old small dog who was found in a local parking lot and brought to LHS by a good Samaritan, is just one of several success stories.

“Flora was very wary of everyone and everything at the shelter. Her shy behavior and lack of confidence made her a good fit for the ADP. Her foster family provided good feedback on Flora’s behavior outside of the shelter, noting that while she was still shy, she warmed up quickly when paired with one of their confident dogs.”

After a month in her foster home, Flora was made available for adoption. While she remained in her foster home, her picture and profile were made available on LHS’s website. “Flora was nervous to meet new people, but her video posting helped the public see what a special dog she was. The right adopter made a match approximately six weeks after Flora entered the program.”

Thinking about starting an Anxious Dog Program of your own? LHS recommends starting small, saying that one or two well-trained foster families and a few dogs is going to be a great start to determine whether such a program is a good fit.

“Ideally you should have in place a solid foster program that already has policies and procedures in place for medical emergencies, foster family expectations and to track each dog’s progress. Additionally, you need some behavioral assistance, whether that is in the form of dedicated staff or a network of third party experts willing to volunteer their time and skills,” said Clusman.

“Once some of the basics are underway, start heavily recruiting for suitable foster families, making sure they are trained and supported especially well for their first anxious dog. As the foster families gain more confidence in fostering anxious dogs, the shelter’s capacity to care for such dogs and save lives will grow.”