The night Melody met Rocco she had just completed the next level of her dog training. He was one of the last dogs that needed to have time in a play yard that evening, and the instructions on how to do so were lengthy, to say the least. She was directed to take him to one of our quieter yards because shelter life in general stresses him out. You see, Rocco suffers from anxiety, and being in the shelter only makes it worse. Instead of categorizing Rocco as “too damaged” to place in a home, though, our Dog Behavior Team has been working on a success plan for this sweet pup.
The Dog Behavior Program’s mission is to provide the dogs in our care with all available resources to enhance their quality of life at the shelter and prepare them for life outside of the shelter. The program is organized into three parts: dog playgroups, Canine Good Citizen Training and Total Obedience Program training, and adoption follow-ups.
The CGC Ready Program has been a part of APA!’s lifesaving efforts since 2012. It began with the intention to further enrich the lives of dogs who face societal stereotypes of being behaviorally challenged, and show that they can make great additions to a family. The goal was – and is – to lessen these dogs’ length of stay, and it’s been wildly successful. The program teaches eligible dogs the ten tests of the Canine Good Citizen, which equip dogs with the tools and confidence to behave appropriately out in the world.
Parallel to our CGC training is our TOP (Total Obedience Program) Dog program, developed by our Behavior Team. The TOP Dog Program works on skills similar to the ten CGC tests, but also on additional skills that each individual dog needs. TOP Dog is volunteer-based and geared towards the dogs in our shelter that might not qualify for CGC, but will benefit from a foundation of individualized obedience training prior to adoption. This includes dogs like Rocco.
Melody said it was love at first walk with Rocco. His strikingly handsome looks and infectious smile immediately pulled at her heartstrings. His beautiful multi-colored eyes reflect his playful spirit. That first day he was so proud to show off his skills, and burnt all of his energy by playing a fast-paced game of fetch. It wasn’t long after this instant connection that Rocco became her TOP Dog trainee.
Rocco has generalized anxiety, a mental health disorder that contributed to his return to shelter life, and is only made worse by living in the shelter. To help him cope with this, he is on a daily dose of anxiety medicine. The TOP Dog Program has also taught him many useful skills (like how to be in the presence of dogs and strangers while on leash) to help him work through his day-to-day stressors: “The anxiety medication allows Rocco to enjoy his life and focus on his training, despite the stress that comes from residing in an outdoor Texas kennel with a constant flow of people and dog traffic,” explains Melody.
Rocco is one of Melody’s favorite trainees at the shelter and the feeling is clearly mutual: “Rocco comes running towards me with a giant grin when I call his name. He leans in to soak up all my snuggles and gives me the most gentle face kisses. Rocco can also spot me from a mile away at the shelter, even when I try my hardest to avoid him so he can focus on playing with dogs in playgroup.”
And when Melody takes Rocco home with her for a break from shelter life, he settles right in with her life at home: “He's a great cuddle bug, but doesn't hog the whole bed, and will happily sleep in as late as you want. Rocco loves playing with dogs, and does a wonderful job of wearing mine out whenever I have him over. He's also a total stuffed animal fiend. Rocco loves taking out all the stuffies from my toy box, one by one, and giving them each turns being chewed on. I often find him passed out on the couch or bed with a myriad of stuffed animals surrounding him.” But Melody’s favorite quality of Rocco’s is his ear to ear smile, “... it's highly contagious to both dogs and people.”
It’s crazy to think of where Rocco might be today if we decided he was “too damaged” to work with. Every dog deserves a chance at finding their forever home, sometimes they just need a little extra care and the right person to help them get there.
Melody perfectly explains the lifetime support that APA! offers to our fosters and adopters – support that Rocco’s future forever family will also receive: “The APA! community is incredibly supportive and that support doesn't end when our dogs go home. Often times, dogs who have been in the shelter for a little while have dedicated advocates who know all their ins and outs, and would be happy to support the dog's foster or adopter in whatever way they can. We also have a dedicated adoption/foster follow-up team who want nothing more than to help our dogs be successful in their homes.”
Melody attributes being able to understand and sympathize with dogs who suffer from generalized anxiety to Rocco. Not only has he helped her understand her own dog, who she now realizes is also impacted by anxiety, but he pushes her to find creative ways to help other “anxious doggos” acclimate to the world outside of a shelter.
Rocco is a strong reminder that we never know the full story of what these shelter animals have been through prior to entering into our care, and how shelter life might affect them. Being seen as "too damaged" doesn’t mean that dogs with behavior quirks aren’t worthy of love. If you think you have the right home for Rocco, come by and meet him! He’s still at the shelter waiting to find his perfect match.
Our behavior team runs on your support. They’re able to provide dogs like Rocco with the chance they deserve because of you. If you would like to contribute to the mental health and behavioral care of our shelter dogs, please consider giving today.