Meet Fernando, our new Behavior Programs Manager!

Our new Behavior Programs Manager Fernando is already hard at work designing a behavior program that will save more lives than ever before. We sat down with Fernando to get to know him a little better and find out what he has in store for the Behavior Programs at HSPPR!

What excites you most about being the new Behavior Programs Manager at HSPPR?
This is such an awesome step for our shelter to take. There are not a lot of shelters across the country with behavior programs; most behavior work is handled by animal care and is pretty rudimentary. So the fact that HSPPR wants to move in this direction, that it is important enough to us that we are willing to put precious resources into improving the level of care we are giving, is phenomenal. I’m really excited about being able to work with animals that we couldn’t work with previously and to be able to move animals more quickly through the shelter to adoption. 

This program means so much to me because I get to create it. I have - within reason - an open-playing field, so I can really make it mine and use my knowledge and experience to shape it to be the most effective program possible. I’ve got a long-term goal for building the department so we can do more and more for the animals and work with the community to build relationships and get more animals – even behaviorally challenging animals – into wonderful new homes.

What does a day in the life look like for you?
So right now, I’m writing a lot of standard operating procedures and just basically building the department from the ground up. I’m writing instructions that our staff and volunteers will be able to follow that will cover all the different types of issues we see to hopefully help more animals start the path toward overcoming some of these issues before getting adopted. I help evaluate dogs who might need a little extra behavior help, and I start individual plans for these dogs to hopefully give them the positive interactions they need. I perform training sessions with individual animals using clicker training and positive reinforcement to reward brave, calm behaviors that I want to see. Also, I’m setting up meetings with potential adopters of these more challenging animals to help them be better prepared for the type of animal they are bringing home; I’m giving them tools to help these pets stay in the home after adoption. So far, the adopters have been very open to this information. 

What is one animal you were able to rehabilitate whom you will never forget?
Well, of course, I have to talk about my own dog. I adopted Leyla from Dumb Friends League several years ago. When new people would come to the house, she would get very nervous and would growl or snap if the person moved suddenly around her. For the last four years, I’ve been working with her to reduce that aggression and build her confidence so that when people come over she’s excited, not afraid. I use clicker training and positive reinforcement to do this. When people come over, I have her on a leash, and I give my guest instructions not to interact with her. I keep her focused on me, and when she has calmed down, she is allowed to approach and seek attention from them. We use positive associations to work around her fear mechanisms, which helps reduce her fear. 

Can you give us some quick tips on working with a barking dog?
The first tenant of training is management. If your dog is barking because of some stimulus through the window, can you close the window? If not, or if you want more control over it, that’s when you can start training using positive reinforcement. If your dog is barking, barking, barking, at some point he is going to have to stop to take a breath. The second you hear that pause, click and treat, and eventually he’s going to associate the quiet with getting the treats. 

What should pet owners do for a cat or dog with house soiling issues?
First thing is to rule out medical issues. If your dog has a urinary tract infection, for example, that can lead to house soiling. Next you want to remove any scent tracts. You can buy some enzyme remover to make sure a spot does not smell like urine, which will help discourage your pet from urinating there again. For dogs, routine is critical. By building a solid routine, you can teach them there’s a time and a place. With cats, they are very sensitive to other situations. It could be other cats, changes in the household, etc. I recommend putting them in a small space, like a bathroom, and work on stress reduction.

How should pet owners best introduce a new cat or dog to the family?
Look at finding a sterile environment that’s not in either dog’s territory, and just go for a walk. If they are doing well, maybe a longer walk. One thing I see a lot is a tight leash. Sometimes when you tighten a leash, the dog senses that tension and responds to that, not the other dog. With cats, cats can be simpler and more complicated. Start off with some sort of barrier. Slowly add introductions, like scents. You can create visual openings where they can see each other but not interact. And then finally, you can let them interact with each other. Move to the next step when you don’t see any aggression, which can include growling.

Fernando is the Behavior Programs Manager for Humane Society of the Pikes Region. He has over 8 years of experience in the animal care industry, having worked with marine mammals, reptiles, fish, cats and dogs. He directly oversees the development, delivery, and evaluation of the organization's behavior programs, working with staff and volunteers to do so.

Fernando is also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and works with cats, dogs, and reptiles. He focuses predominantly on fear-based behaviors and aggression. Additionally, Fernando is also a Professional Member of APDT, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Most recently, Fernando was nominated to the IAABC Board of Directors.