The three main things we always strive for with the animals while they are in our care is positive reinforcement, positive reinforcement, and positive reinforcement! We try to reward good behavior and discourage bad behavior. We don’t like to use the word “punish” because we don’t want our animals to associate bad things with bad behavior, we just want them to know that happiness and good things come from good behavior which in itself should discourage bad behavior.
We do try to urge the dogs to have good manners in the playroom, both with people (employees, volunteers and in meet and greets) and with the other dogs. It not only keeps everyone happy, but it keeps everyone safe! If a dog behaves rudely toward a person or another dog and we’ve tried to gently correct them but they are persistent, we put them in a short “time-out.” We have been bringing them back to their kennels and putting them there for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, just so they can “sit and think about what they’ve done.” When they’ve had a chance to calm down and hopefully lose their focus on the “rude” behavior they were previously displaying, we give them another chance and allow them to be out in the playroom again with the others. We strive for them to see the playroom as a positive, fun, enriching way to spend their days, but we also want them to understand that polite behavior is expected of them in that environment.
Our awesome trainer, Erin, recently decided to try something a bit different with misbehaving dogs. We set up a wall with a bit of space between the playroom and the kennel room. In that space, we lined a few portable kennels. When a dog consistently misbehaves to the point where they need a time-out, rather than being put in their kennels for that time out, they’re now put in the portable kennels which face away from the wall (so they can still see things and hear the playroom). The objective with this new method is that we don’t want the dogs to associate their actual kennels with anything at all but positive things (feedings, peaceful sleep at night, etc.) We try our best to run our rescue like a “doggy day care” and give the animals as much stimulation and exercise as possible, but there are times when kennels are still necessary for safety and for cleanliness. When “kennel times” arrive (feeding, sleeping) we want the dogs to look forward to going into their kennels because they know something good is going to happen.
I’ve got to hand it to our awesome trainer Erin, and the rest of the kennel staff for always being so on top of training tips, and so willing to try new things to help keep the animal’s spirits up and their less than desirable behaviors to a minimum. They work so hard to make ECPR a positive, fun learning environment and they really do an excellent job. Kudos, kennel staff and Erin! When anyone asks why the dogs here are so happy, my finger points directly at you!