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How To Provide Enrichment In Shelters: Strangers and Treats

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John Griffin is the director of shelter services at the Women’s Humane Society in Bensalem, PA. They are committed to the humane and compassionate treatment of animals and are distinguished as America’s First Animal Shelter.

How to provide shelter enrichment? How do you help dogs like strangers?

The Women’s Humane Society has a multi-pronged approach to enrichment. We do have treat buckets attached to every kennel that provides us with the ability to work four on the floor or to reward quite time when we’re walking through and it also provides, “Hey people are coming through, that means I get good stuff,” which is a nice benefit. We are not going to probably provide a true kind of counter conditioning in that regard, but it does provide a good kind of benefit like, hey this isn’t quite that bad.

Why is shelter enrichment important?

Being in a shelter is very stressful to a lot of dogs. Providing extra enrichment while they are in their kennels can actually make them more adoptable. The treat bucket can serve many functions:

  • Reward good behavior: As volunteers, staff, and visitors walk by the kennel, they can easily throw a treat in when the dog is sitting nicely when he is not barking and when he is being good. This teaches the dog to be good when people are walking by.
  • Counter Conditioning 1: If a dog gets a treat every time a person walks by their kennel, they will learn that people mean “good things are going to happen for dog!” They are going to be excited to see people walking by and that will make them more adoptable.
  • Counter Conditioning 2: If a dog is afraid of people or is extra shy, they are more likely to hang out in the corner. This makes a potential adopter not want them. However, if the dog is getting something yummy every time a person walks by, they are going to start coming out of their shell and be more adoptable.

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How to make the treat baskets?

  1. Collect some Tupperware containers or any plastic container.
  2. Print this out:
    • If I am sitting quietly and not barking, please throw a treat in. If I am barking or jumping up, please wait for me to quiet down and then throw a treat in.
  3. Attach the label to the container.
  4. Attach the container to each dog kennel
  5. Fill it up with a mix of treats and even some kibble.