January 14, 2020

Buffy the Behavior Program Slayer

It’s one of our favorite months of the year — Train Your Dog Month! We’re celebrating by introducing you to the story of sweet Buffy, who successfully completed our Behavior Modification Program (b-mod) and got adopted.

Who is Buffy?

Buffy is a 4-year-old female Labrador retriever. She arrived at our Pueblo campus on November 16, when her owners could no longer care for her. We don’t have much info on her, other than her original name was “Monster,” (which we changed because that sounds scary!) and she wasn’t getting along well with the other dogs in her household.

Why was she in b-mod?

Buffy presented as VERY fearful when she arrived. Whenever a human was near, she would retreat and crouch low to the ground. She often growled when people got too close, but she never snapped or showed direct aggression. However, our team recognized that if she was too afraid to interact with humans, she wouldn’t be successful in her new home! We also believed that if she didn’t build up her confidence, she wouldn’t get the most out of her life – she wouldn’t be able to have fun playing, and she’d live most of her life in a state of constant anxiety. Finally, we understood that when a dog is very fearful, the potential for aggression remains, even if she was acting out of what she perceived to be self-defense. So, we entered her into the b-mod program!

What did her training consist of?

Our Pueblo b-mod Manager, Miguel, wanted Buffy to associate people with positive experiences. So, multiple times a day, he would visit her and give her treats and some sort of enrichment (like a Kong or dog puzzle). Over the following two months, she started to gain trust in Miguel and come to the front of her kennel excitedly when he approached. She began to enjoy being pet and built up a strong relationship with Miguel.

But, the hard work wasn’t over yet. If we were to get Buffy into a loving home, she’d have to be put on a leash and be comfortable with people other than Miguel. He could have forced her onto a leash and see how she responded (NOT recommended!), but that would violate the trust he had worked so hard to build with her. Instead, he started by coaxing her out of her kennel, little by little, with lots of rewards. Eventually, he could put the leash around her neck without her tensing, and she would comfortably exit her kennel!

After lots of practice with the leash, it was time to train her with other people. In our Pueblo shelter, we do what we like to call “good behavior drive-bys.” This is where shelter staff walk through the kennel halls and give treats to every pet exhibiting safe and calm behavior. This serves two purposes: it teaches the dogs to be calm in their kennels (which helps them get adopted faster!) and it helps the dogs associate humans with positive experiences. Our shelter staff and volunteers began walking by Buffy’s kennel more frequently, and soon she realized that all the humans here were kind and not to be feared!

In the weeks that followed, she was letting the volunteers, whom she did not see as frequently as shelter staff, leash her and take her on walks. She had finally begun to understand that humans weren’t going to hurt her, and that she didn’t need to be afraid. And, after two-and-a-half months in our shelter, she was confident enough to be put up for adoption.

Was she adopted?

Yes! On January 8th, 2020, a lovely, quiet couple came into our shelter and fell in love with Buffy immediately. Because of her past history of fear and growling, they had a behavior consultation meeting with Miguel, where he informed them of her past behavior and provided training tips and tricks to ensure Buffy would be successful in their home.

We are SO PROUD of Buffy and the hundreds of dogs that graduate from our b-mod programs in both shelters every year. Thanks to our wonderful b-mod program staff, we are saving more lives than ever before!