As you may have heard, Austin Pets Alive! is not your average animal shelter. We take in the animals that need us most and will work with them until they find their forever home; there’s no time limit on that. The pets in our care do not have an eviction date. Once they are with us, they are family; and during their time with us, we provide all the resources they need to ensure we're providing them with an enriching life.
One of these resources is our dog behavior program. Our hope is that the training we provide our pups sticks with them into their forever homes, ensuring that they are set for life once leaving our care. This is why we begin utilizing the CGC Ready Program in 2012 and from this success created our TOP Dog Program for those dogs that would benefit from a more personalized training program.
“Back then, we had a lot of really awesome, well-behaved, blocky-headed, pitbull-type dogs that had great people notes, but were sticking around the shelter a lot longer just based on how they look.” Shares Hana Garner, our Canine Good Citizen/TOP Dog Program Coordinator. “So we implemented [the CGC Program] and were able to market them, teach them obedience, and really get them out of the shelter a whole lot faster.”
Since we initially brought CGC to APA!, we have gone through some critical changes as Austin has progressed as a No Kill city. One of the biggest changes is the shift in the population of dogs in our care. We now take in more dogs with behavior histories in which they need a specific home set up, making them ineligible for CGC training. This shift led us to create our TOP Dog program.
TOP stands for Total Obedience Program, and was developed by our behavior team. It works on skills similar to the ten real-world scenarios CGC uses, but also on additional skills that each individual dog needs. TOP Dog is volunteer-based and geared towards the dogs in our shelter that don’t necessarily qualify for CGC, but will benefit from a foundation of individualized obedience training prior to adoption. They learn how to be in the real world: around distractions, stay in a good, loose leash walk, check in with their owners, be around dogs without reacting to them or feeling stressed by their presence, as well as friendly stranger greetings. Roughly 75 - 100 dogs in our shelter are getting some sort of training in the TOP program by staff and volunteers at any given time.
Our longer stay dogs are in the highest priority to be in this program, as it helps expose them to people and distractions and gives them another outlet besides walks and playgroup to stimulate their brains.
“[TOP] not only helps give long stay dogs who have been here a long time skills when they go home, but also a foundation of obedience,” shares Garner. “It also really helps them stay sane here in the shelter. It’s a stressful place, loud and noisy. Being able to work their brain, learn skills, and that it’s okay for these distractions and dogs to be around, they learn to just check in with the person that’s handling them. It really helps anxiety levels while they’re here and helps them thrive here in the shelter while they’re waiting for their forever families.”
Watch the video below to learn more about our long stay dogs and meet a couple! Mercedes has been with us since we rescued her from Hurricane Harvey and is a great testament on how we never give up on our dogs. Learn more about Dog Behavior Program here.