August 22, 2019
Categories: Animal Behavior, Continuing Education

Do animal shelters need to be stressful places for pets? Leading shelter medicine and behavior experts say no, and they’ve created a free online course to show staff and volunteers how to make the process from intake to adoption a happy one.

The course is part of Fear Free, an educational company originally founded to provide online and in-person training and certification to veterinarians and other veterinary team members. In recent years they have expanded their mission to include trainers, groomers, and other pet businesses, and have educated more than 50,000 veterinary and pet professionals.

This month they launched the Fear Free Shelter Program, available at no cost to all who work and volunteer in shelters, rescue groups, and other animal welfare organizations. “We created the Fear Free Shelter Program to improve the emotional experiences of animals by educating shelter personnel about the emotional needs of dogs and cats,” said Dr. Marty Becker, founder and CEO of Fear Free. “This course will empower them to apply concepts, strategies, and techniques designed to reduce the negative emotional states that are commonly experienced by shelter animals, including fear, anxiety, stress, and frustration.”

One of the authors of the course is Dr. Sheila (D’Arpino) Segurson, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and Maddie’s Fund® Director of Research. “Confinement in an animal shelter often causes fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) for cats and dogs,” she said. “The overarching goal of the program is to improve the emotional experiences of animals by educating shelter personnel about the emotional needs of dogs and cats and empowering them to use strategies and techniques to help the dogs and cats in their care.”

The course’s lead author is Brenda Griffin, DVM, MS, DACVIM, DABVP, an instructor at both the Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida and the University of Georgia. She also serves as the Regent for the new specialty in Shelter Medicine.

Dr. Segurson and Dr. Griffin were joined by board-certified veterinary behaviorists Sara Bennett, DVM, MS, DACVB, co-instructor for the Shelter Animal Behavior and Welfare online learning course at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine; and Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB, of the San Francisco SPCA Behavior Specialty Service.

This free online program provides education in positive and progressive practices for all staff and volunteers. “The course offers a robust set of core modules for people who work in shelters, to learn the basics of what it means to be Fear Free,” said Dr. Segurson. “There are also a number of specialized modules, including enrichment and adoption, so users can focus their learning on areas of the shelter that are relevant to them.”

Maddie’s Fund and Fear Free partnered to produce a number of videos for Maddie’s University. You can find them in the Fear Free Pets class under Foster Care Management > Featured Online Courses > Pet Caregiver Training. Each video is followed by a reinforcement activity.

Fear Free also offers free training and resources that adopters and foster homes can use to promote the emotional wellbeing of the pets in their care and ease the transition to a new environment at

You can learn more about Fear Free and sign up for the Fear Free Shelter Program at