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Change and Innovation In The Behavior Department

By Alexandra Dilley, Director of Behavior and Training, and Joe Miench, Shelter Behavior Manager

When we realized that we would need to radically adjust to the stay-at-home orders in the DC, Maryland and Virginia region at the Humane Rescue Alliance, we weren’t sure what was in store. There was still important work to be done in finding ways to support foster parents, adopters and the community with behavior questions or issues, as well as in helping animals needing behavioral attention at our shelter locations to allow them a path to foster and adoption.

So we decided to join the Zoom revolution! We transitioned our in-person training classes, both public and private, to online classes through the video conference platform. We also made more than 50 training videos to correspond with online class curricula.

Some videos focused on how to address behavior issues we don’t typically cover in classes, but which we knew would be useful for our more than 1,000 new foster parents and adopters, including crate and carrier training and head halter/Gentle Leader desensitization.

We knew there were certain behavior issues that would need specific attention during the pandemic, like treating and preventing separation anxiety, bringing an animal into a home with children and living in an apartment, so we began hosting webinars to address those topics.

We also worked with some of our talented freelance instructors, who spent many hours developing digital content for their more specialized classes.

Creating educational videos and webinars was a project we’ve wanted to pursue, but it became a priority in the wake of the pandemic. This project has helped our community learn how to address training and behavior issues while at home and was so well-received that we are now developing a set of online classes dedicated toward cats and kittens.

Beloved was just one dog who benefited from the extra attention we were able to provide, as we worked with him to build his confidence around people. He is now social and relaxed during sessions and is thriving in his foster home.

We’ve also been able to provide increased attention for the animals in our shelter during this time. Having a lower number of animals enter our care and significantly more animals in foster homes than ever before has allowed us to dedicate even more time to provide behavioral evaluations and perform training sessions for those who need them. Those who need training sessions are being identified quicker and starting their clock toward an adoption path up to five to seven days sooner than before!

Our goal is to focus on the silver linings and appreciate all the resources at our disposal so we can continue to do our best work for the animals and community.


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