It can be exhausting: That feeling of helplessness when you are at your wits end on how to help your dog. We’re not just talking about being able to perform tricks and have good manners – this goes beyond that. It’s when you don’t feel comfortable enough to take them out for a walk in fear that another dog or person will pass by and cause a reaction. When it feels as if all outlets have been explored and nothing else works; that’s where our Dog Behavior Program comes in.
The mission of the Dog Behavior Program is to provide all available resources to the dogs in our care in order to enhance their quality of life and prepare them for life outside of APA!. The adoption follow-up portion of the program is provided by APA!’s behavior department staff and is a complimentary service for all dogs adopted from APA!. The free follow-up services include phone consultations, private lessons, and, of course, unlimited support for life for adopters and fosters.
When speaking with people who have used the follow-up services, one common message is clear: the training they’ve received for their pets is invaluable. The uniqueness of our behavioral follow-up services is the focus on each dog as an individual. By tailoring their suggestions and lessons based on a dog’s specific needs, our team is setting that family up for lifelong success. Take Susan and Bern’s dog, Wolfgang (Wolfy for short), for example. They adopted Wolfy when he was a baby and could sense from the start that he would need some additional training outside of what they could provide. After using multiple other costly trainers, they still weren’t seeing the progress they were hoping for and found that the skills those trainers taught weren’t specific to Wolfy’s needs. Wolfy needed to learn how to be well mannered outside and interact around other people first before the other training came, a necessary but somehow forgotten step in his training. It was at this point they turned to us.
After deciding that taking part in our adoption follow-up program was the right call for Wolfy, they began on this journey; and right away they saw improvements in Wolfy’s behavior. They worked the program for an estimated two months, and in their words, “It was an absolute game-changer.” The sessions focus on behavior first, addressing how the dog is wired and what they need from their parents in order to shrink their anxieties and fears. Their trainer, in this case, Amy, uses a practical approach that fits into daily life. For example, Amy made a couple house visits to Susan and Bern’s to practice situational training to mimic when guests would come over.
Susan and Bern never thought they could be at a point where they are now, but they know it wouldn’t be possible without the adoption follow-up services. One thing the couple stressed is that you can’t just count on the training to fix all your dog’s behavioral quirks. It’s a two way road: as your pup learns, you must be open to doing so as well. The most valuable thing they learned is that training is a lifelong activity. The program taught them that setbacks will happen, and that’s okay.
When asked where they thought Wolfy would be today without the program, they said it was impossible to know, but one thing’s for certain: they wouldn’t be sitting on a crowded bar patio having a drink with Wolfy! “Saving Wolfy’s life wasn’t enough for us, we also wanted him to have a full, rich life and enjoy the world around him. Thanks to the program (and Amy!) now he can.”
The biggest misconception people have about the adoption follow-up services is that because they’re free, they’re of a lesser quality than paying a private or "professional" trainer, and that’s simply not true. Those who work on our dog behavior team are professionals. Each and every day they work with the toughest dog behavior cases and find success through their trainees’ adoptions. If their methodology didn’t work, we wouldn’t be the largest and longest running No Kill city in America.
Being that we do offer these services for free, there’s always the challenge of having enough resources to give our animals the best care possible. The biggest challenge the program is currently facing is the challenge of space. While having access to the hike and bike trail along Lady Bird Lake is an amazing resource for our trainers and trainees, having a facility in which our staff and volunteers have a private space to facilitate these lessons would be a dream come true. If you know of any free-of-cost and available open facilities, please reach out to our Dog Behavior Team via [email protected]
In the words of Bern and Susan, “Adopting a rescue dog isn’t just the right thing to do for animals, it will also introduce you to a pet that will be the best pet you’ll ever have in your life. The training program puts a safety net in place for you when adopting a dog that might be more of a challenge.” The program not only drastically improved Wolfy’s life, but enriched him and set him up for success no matter environment he's in.