If I managed the Austin Animal Center Behavior Program….

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A friend pulled me aside at the recent Dogs Out Loud! Tails Under the Stars event and convinced me that I needed to apply for the available Behavior Manager position at Austin Animal Center. At first I was like “no way”, but when I looked at the job posting it started to make more sense. While completing the application, I found myself writing several principles that would drive a Behavior Program that I managed. I thought I’d publish them here.

I want the city to hire the best applicant – whether or not that is me. The dogs and people of Austin deserve that. My door will always be open to help whoever gets the gig in any way I can, provided they aren’t complete dummies.

These principles are also in no way a reaction to anything currently happening in Austin shelters. I’m not as involved as I used to be but from what I do know I’m actually thrilled with where things are and the people in charge.

I am NOT looking for other jobs!!!! I love DeBono Dog Training and am thrilled with the work we are doing and excited about what we have planned for the future. It just seems like, with the help of my friends in the rescue and pet community, I could provide something awesome for the city’s Behavior Program. I almost felt guilty not applying!

With all that said, if I managed the Austin Animal Behavior Program we would:

I. Provide excellent quality of life and preserve/improve the behavior health of the dogs.

  1. Focus only on what is controllable.
    Worrying about things we can’t control (eg. breed, size, color, past history, budget, staff constraints) is a waste of energy. Instead, we will quickly acknowledge them, set them aside, and take action on what we can control.
  2. Have fun.
    Yes, it’s an animal shelter. Lots of unpleasant things happen. But I’ll be damned if the dogs aren’t going to have fun. Play groups are a great and crucial start. We can build on that. And when the dogs have fun, so do the people.
  3. Provide more than enough enrichment using allotted resources.
    Develop programs that maximize physical and mental stimulation while minimizing the consumption of resources. Besides playgroups, potential programs that are in my wheelhouse could incorporate scent training, “focused” obstacle exercises, simulated off-leash exercises, agility games, and Ttouch.
  4. Be purposeful.
    We will always have an answer to why we are taking a certain action – even for questions as small as “Why did we give that dog a Kong?”
  5. Get help from allies.
    We will need them and we will use them.
  6. Reduce arousal and stress levels.
    Recognize the signs and have protocols for intervention.

II. Make informed, consistent, and defendable behavior decisions.

  1. Be objective.
    Behavior decisions will be made systematically.
    We will ask the questions that get us closest to an accurate, unbiased perspective. We can and should feel emotions. But we will not let them drive our decision making. And the buck will stop with me.
  2. Kill egos, not dogs.
    Ego and personal pride are the enemies of good decisions. We will take active measures to reduce their effects on our decision making.

III. Create and maintain a positive environment for employees and volunteers.

  1. Keep an open door and respect all voices.
    We may not always agree but we will always listen.

  2. Abolish the term “aggression”.
    It  is a useless label that is not descriptive of anything and does irreparable harm when thrown around. Behavior is just not that black and white. A person can get into hundreds of bar fights while another person shoots up a school one time. Both people can be labeled as “aggressive”. But they are nowhere near equal. Instead, we will adopt a standardized vocabulary that describes behavior in terms that are clear, meaningful, and non-judgmental.

  3. Address common struggles among shelter employees and volunteers.
    How many good people might we be losing because of overwhelm or compassion fatigue? We will actively seek solutions to help prevent and cope with these issues.

  4. Provide ongoing education and opportunities.
    We will encourage learning and personal progress through programs and incentives.

IV. Serve the public in good faith.

  1. Offer post-adoption support.
    Our job does not end at the adoption stage. While we can’t provide full-on training service, the more dogs we save, the more crucial it is to offer post-adoption support to reduce returns and increase quality of life for our dogs and adopters.

  2. Prepare dogs for life in a home.
    Long-stay and challenging dogs are especially at risk of being returned if they don’t easily and quickly adapt to the home. We will work on teaching them these skills to make the transition as easy as possible and reduce returns.

  3. Be transparent.
    I understand the need for tact. But if we do this right we shouldn’t have to lie or sugarcoat.

  4. Educate.
    Create campaigns, programs, and materials/games/contests that help the public better understand dog behavior and training.

V. Never take our eyes off the Big Picture.

  1. Always be moving forward.
    Keeping the status quo is easy. And unsatisfying. We will have clear, trackable goals that we will get a little closer to every day.

  2. Implement, innovate, evaluate.
    We will adapt proven existing programs while working to create new and innovative new ones. We will continuously track programs for effectiveness and efficiency.

  3. Take risks.
    We will not shy away from taking calculated risks to receive potentially large rewards. We will not be afraid of making smart mistakes.

  4. Be flexible.
    When it comes to animals, nothing ever goes as planned. We will be ready, willing, and able to switch gears and reprioritize at any given moment.

  5. Have wills of steel.
    We will not be discouraged by failures. They will happen. Our success will be defined by how we overcome those setbacks.

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