A look into HSPPR’s behavior modification program

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COLORADO SPRINGS — Before a dog can be adopted from the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, they have to be evaluated by the Behavior Programs staff.

“A lot of the animals we do get in are strays, so we don’t know much about them or their history. We also are seeing a lot of animals these days that are more under socialized. So, they just did not experience a lot as puppies, so that can lead to issues later in life. And those are a lot of the animals that we get in,” saif Derra Rankin, Behavior Programs assistant for HSPPR.

According to HSPPR, their behavior modification program gives dogs an opportunity for adoption, they might otherwise miss out on.

“We’re going to work with a dog within the context of what they’re willing to do. It’s really where their issue is and what concerns they have. We have some dogs that do great outside, but when we walk by their kennel they’re lunging and they’re growling and baring their teeth. So, we’re going to work with them in their kennel in that situation because that’s where their problem is,” said Fernando Diaz, Behavior Programs manager at HSPPR. Diaz is also a professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, is a certified dog trainer through APDT, and is a certified dog behavior consult through the International Organization of Animal Behavior Consultants.

The goal is to get animals out the door and into their forever home.

HSPPR uses: Positive reinforcement training: Rewarding a dog for a behavior in hopes of increasing that behavior. For example, rewarding a fearful dog for making eye contact with a trainer. And clicker training: A form of operant conditioning. Gives dogs a choice to want to work with trainers. Dogs will hear a click and receive a treat for every wanted behavior. For example, sitting.

“We’re dealing with dogs that are really high energy, really excitable, and they struggle in a shelter environment. And the longer they’re here, the harder it is to keep them occupied mentally,” Diaz said.

HSPPR’s agility course is also used to build dogs’ confidence and give them success.

“And as they grow in confidence, being able to conquer these different agility items, that confidence spreads over into their general environment,” Diaz said.

And HSPPR says every dog is different. Some dogs adjust their behavior in days, others can take two to three weeks before progress is made.

“It’s really, really easy to get attached, especially some of these that do take two or three weeks through some of our behavior modification programs. So, it can be a strain certainly emotionally, and mentally. So, you have to be pretty strong to be able to work with these dogs and know that we’re making a difference for them,” Rankin said.

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