The BC SPCA sees many animals in its care with behaviour challenges. Some have experienced traumatic circumstances and others never got the socialization or training they should have received. The work the BC SPCA staff do to help these animals gives them a second chance to be loved in a forever home. One of the best examples of how this work changes an animal’s life is Mo. Mo is a two-year-old Belgian Shepherd, Malinois cross who was reactive to strangers. She was surrendered to the BC SPCA after her guardian tried to help her with her behaviour issues, but was unable to make any progress.
“Mo exhibited the same behaviour to unfamiliar people at the Cowichan animal centre when she first arrived,” says Kim Monteith, BC SPCA’s manager animal welfare and animal care services. “She warmed up to the staff over time, but she was reactive to volunteers and other people she didn’t know.”
Monteith adds that Mo was also uncomfortable with harnessing and body handling when she was at the vet. What would it take to help make her ready for her new home? A plan.
“We knew that getting Mo ready for her forever home would require a plan catered to her needs that was centred on positive reinforcement,” says Monteith. Mo would also need harness training.
The plan that Monteith put together included using treats to make Mo more comfortable when she saw people walk by her kennel at the animal centre. “Part of positive reinforcement animal training is getting the dog to associate something good, like a treat, with what they perceive to be a negative or scary experience, in this case, unfamiliar people.”
Under Monteith’s guidance, the staff at the animal centre took steps to limit the number of unfamiliar people who approached or passed Mo’s kennel to keep her from practicing barking at strangers. They tossed treats when approaching the kennel and gave Mo a cue like ‘walk time’ to indicate she was leaving the kennel and going for a walk.
To keep Mo from getting bored and to prevent her from barking at strangers, she had scheduled time for enrichment and exercise. Her enrichment included “work to eat” feeding toys and adding different scents to the kennel so she could practice nose work.
“The staff placed treats in various spots in the yard so Mo could find them,” says Monteith. “They started by tossing the treats and then when that became too easy for her, hid the treats and asked her to find them.”
After two months of dedicated work by the animal centre team, Mo was ready to be adopted. It took some time but Mo found the perfect forever home and she is thriving.
“She is a very happy girl who loves getting pets and kisses,” says Mike, Mo’s new pawrent. “She settled in really quickly. She is very smart and has been really good at meeting new people.”
Mike’s Mom found Mo on the BC SPCA site and he fell in love with her immediately. “When I first met her I was a little nervous because she was a bigger dog and I had been told she had issues with strangers, especially men, but she was great. They brought her out and I gave her some treats. She didn’t pay a lot of attention to me at first.” It would take two more meetings before Mike was given the go ahead to take Mo home.
Mo has been with Mike for about six months. “I am a property manager so I take her with me when I am working. We go on long off leash walks together.” Mike adds that his family has been spoiling their “granddogther”. “Every time my parents come over she gets a bag full of toys and treats.”
Mike knows that Mo’s breed needs tons of exercise and she gets that on his two-acre farm where she can run, explore and play. One of the funniest stories he has to tell about Mo is how much she loves other animals. “I have cows behind my property. She dug under the fence to go see the cows. She didn’t bark at them, she just wanted them to chase her, to play with her.” He has since blocked off the area where she dug the hole.
“I am so happy with her,” says Mike. “She is the best dog I have ever met. I really want to thank everyone at the BC SPCA Cowichan animal centre who put in the time to train her.” Mike will be using the positive reinforcement training he received with his previous dog to help keep up the good work.
If you need some help with a reactive dog, or any behaviour challenges, don’t hesitate to reach out to a BC SPCA recommended Animalkind trainer. “We are here to help you and your dog have a happy and rewarding life together,” says Lynn Gagnon, trainer and owner of AnimalKind accredited Stoked Dogs. “Positive reinforcement training allows us to focus on what the learner (the dog) is getting right instead of just noticing what we don’t like which results in better training outcomes.”