San Diego Humane Society’s specialty training program helps prevent the heartbreak of return
By Stephanie Thompson
Taking a new pet home should be one of the happiest days in your life, but it can sometimes be followed by heartbreak if it turns out your pet has a behavioral problem that makes it hard for you to keep him.
That’s why San Diego Humane Society has training and behavior specialists who work hard to both resolve existing issues before pets are adopted and help new owners who notice problem behaviors after they get home.
“We learn everything that we can about a pet’s behavioral history during our admissions process,” says Amanda Kowalski, MS, CPDT-KA, director of SDHS’s Behavior Center. “Beyond that, we can only look at the behaviors an animal displays while in our care. Sometimes an animal might not necessarily show a behavior in a shelter setting, which might be surprising in a new home.”
SDHS offers a variety of support programs to address concerns. For cats, these include litter box issues, handling sensitivity, and shy or fearful behavior, while for dogs, resource guarding, reactivity or aggression toward other dogs, shyness or fear around people, and house-training issues are common.
But there are some precautions you can take to lessen the chances your new pet won’t be a perfect fit. Before adopting an animal, it’s important to determine which kind is best suited to your lifestyle and location. Kowalski says that although breed doesn’t have a significant impact on the number of behavior concerns they see, some breeds typically require more attention or physical activity than others—though a great deal depends on the individual pet’s age and personality. She advises adopters to consider their home environment, their prospective pet’s history, and to take advantage of SDHS’s free pre-adoption consultations.
Before a new pet enters your home, decide what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable to you. For example, some may be okay with dogs on the couch or bed, while for others it’s a no-no. Making some rules in advance helps SDHS staff find the best match and create an even more specific behavior plan. Adopters can also prepare their homes for their new family; this can include stocking up on treats, enrichment toys, crates or x-pens, baby gates and so on.
Once a pet is adopted, Kowalski says if they do hear back from new owners, it’s typically about more common behavioral concerns such as overstimulation, which could lead to biting or scratching. “We encourage adopters to reach out with any behavior concerns through email or our helpline. We offer a free, one-hour private post-adoption training session where we address any concerns that have come up, and provide an updated behavior plan full of management tips and training exercises. We also offer adopters a discount for our six-week group classes and individual training sessions.”
The Behavior Center’s classes and workshops cover everything from puppy and kitten training, leash walking, dog park etiquette and crate training to specialties like tricks or scent tracking. SDHS trainers can even help prepare your pet for the arrival of a new baby.
But sometimes, things just don’t work out and pets are returned. “If owners do not feel like the pet is a good fit for their home, we encourage them to bring the pet back,” Kowalski says. “This way we can continue to work with the pet on their behavior, and find a more compatible home where both the adopter and the pet can be happy.” Whatever the issue, the Behavior Center only uses reward-based training techniques. Even if it takes a little time, with continued training and ongoing support, pets can get to the point where they display the desired behaviors more consistently.
“There isn’t always a quick fix for behavior concerns, so it is important to be patient with your pet,” Kowalski says. “Seek help from us at SDHS or your local trainers. This isn’t something any adopter has to face alone.”
Finally, she says to enjoy training your pet. “Reward-based training is one of the best ways to build a strong relationship. They love working with you more than just about anything. Embrace that, and have fun with
Ready to ask for help? Call 619-299-7012 x2247, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out the online form and a trainer will help you decide the best course to take. Your fluffy pal will be a model student in no time.