The Rewards of Good Behavior

Jacksonville is one of the largest cities in the United States, known for its beaches, city life, the Jaguars and love of animals. Animal shelters in Jacksonville are taking proactive steps to become one of the first cities to go “no kill” by 2014.

One of the fastest ways to move toward a community without homeless pets is to hold super adoption events. Animal Care & Protective Services, the Jacksonville Humane Society and First Coast No More Homeless Pets held the first super adoption event in July 2012 and adopted out more than 900 pets in three days.

The next step is to keep the animals permanently in those loving homes. How does one live happily ever after with the newly adopted family member? In Northeast Florida, one takes them to see Stacy Strickland or Renee Yaple at Jacksonville Humane Society (JHS). Yaple is the JHS behavior manager and Strickland is the lead instructor for the Tiny Tots, Dog Manners and Canine Good Citizen classes held at the shelter. Both are members of the world’s largest organization of positive reinforcement trainers, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. The philosophy of this organization is to train without stress, fear or harm to the dog. The two women work like magic with the dogs that come to them for help. They can solve any dog training or behavior issue, as long as the owner is willing to teach and train the dog using APDT methods. The dogs are good pupils, willing to work for a treat.

Bella was adopted from JHS as a cute little puppy, but she grew into a 50-pound neurotic, unruly nightmare. Bob Colgan, Bella’s owner, was on his way to return the disorderly canine after she chewed up a very expensive loveseat. Colgan thinks of Bella as his child, and he was distraught with his decision. He loved the blonde Labrador mix, but had reached a breaking point with her disruptive behavior. After a few suggestions from Yaple and Strickland over the phone and committing to attend the seven-week Dog Manners class, Colgan was willing to give Bella one more chance.

The first week of class is for people only, and Colgan’s initial reaction to Strickland’s instruction was, “If all that Stacy says in the class comes true, Bella will be speaking French at the end of all this.” The classes teach the dogs fun and safe obedience skills along with tricks and socialization. This type of training is especially effective in rehabilitating a fearful dog. Bella went from being a fearful dog that destuffed a couch to a model citizen in a matter of a few weeks.

At graduation, Bob was awarded the Most Improved Handler award and Bella won contests for the Longest Sit Stay, Best New Trick and the most puppy push-ups. What’s a puppy push-up? The person asks the dog to sit, down, sit, down simultaneously with hand signals. The dogs love it, because they know the reward at the end of all that work is a high-value treat.

Dogs want nothing more than to be paid for a job well done. That’s how Strickland describes her training. People don’t work for free; we go to work to earn a paycheck. Dogs go to work (obeying basic commands or performing tricks) for food, a toy or lots of praise and love. Positive reinforcement training is leading the trend in the dog-training field. It’s been well-documented and proved to be the fastest, most effective and most humane way to train. Strickland and Yaple are two of the best in Jacksonville to introduce this highly recommended method of training for bonding with your canine companion.

With continued super adoption events, commitments like Bob’s to keep dogs like Bella permanently in loving homes, and passionate dog trainers, Jacksonville will see a time when there are no more homeless pets.

Miller is a passionate freelance writer and blogger with a serious love affair for the beach, running, animals and the environment. She lives in Jacksonville with her two shelter-rescued pit bulls.