The first two months of 2019 I spent in a place near Lisbon where I was asked to help with in a dog shelter. Training shelter dogs in Portugal. I had been traveling through Portugal in 2018 so I was okay with staying at the same place for 8 weeks. This way of traveling can also turn into a lifestyle.
Expectations and acceptance
When someone asks you to train dogs, they already have some expectations. Also in this case. The questions were:
- Stop dogs from barking
- Stop dogs from jumping up
Unfortunately I had to disappoint my client. Both things cannot be done. Not even in 8 weeks. We are talking about eleven dogs. Who have interactions with many different people. And they all reinforce the unwanted behavior.
First of all they shout at the dogs when they bark. And do that for years now. The behavior didn’t stop. In those cases I always ask the people: “Why are you still doing that, if it doesn’t work”. The answer is that they don’t know. That’s okay. This is where I can help. Because I do know why it doesn’t work.
And everyone who has an interaction with a dog that jumps up, is also reinforcing the behavior. They try to correct by telling the dog to go down, or they push them away or start yelling ‘no’. Probably a combination of all those things and multiple times. This is what the dog learns: If I want attention, I jump up. Because if they are quietly sitting, nobody notices the dog which means no attention.
The next step was my client accepting this. That was a good start. He understood my explanation and gave me the opportunity to do what I thought was needed. He trusted me.
So here I was at a place with eleven dogs and a female care taker. She devoted her life to taking care of the dogs. And chicken, pigs, cats and rabbits. The first day we set down. She told me all about every individual dog. Name, age, where they came from and what their behavior was. We made a plan.
Some dogs needed training for walking on the leash. With all the dogs we trained on recalls and impulse control. Every dog got physical exercise, as well as mental exercise. We give each dog personal attention every day and try to give them as much stimuli as possible.
There are still a lot of stray dogs in Portugal. When a dog is wandering around and has no collar on, people can take it. So this is how the shelter ended up with 11 dogs. All sizes, ages and disabilities. But we found a way to give each and every dog what they needed. Some are runners, others like to sniff around and some just want to be on your lap.
Training shelter dogs in Portugal
I am a professional dog trainer for more than 17 years now. But my experience is with owners who have a dog. They came to my dog training school or got private lessens. Which is completely different than working with shelter dogs. Dog behavior is personal. If a dog can walk on a leash with me, doesn’t mean he can walk on a leash with somebody else. Learning experience: don’t expect others to do what you do.
A big challenge. In stead of training all the dogs some obedience, I showed the care takers what each dog needs. They all want to use their nose, so we made a pile of wood into a search area. Which was a great success. Not only for searching but also for balancing. Some dogs became very good in using their body. Learning experience: you don’t need fancy materials. Be creative and use what you have.
Some people in Portugal have a different view on dogs than in The Netherlands. They leave them without leash or fences walking around. Or chain them up in the yard. Or just ditch them when they are old or disabled. But they all want to learn. They all want to play. Learning experience: training shelter dogs in Portugal is very rewarding.
Featured image: Paco