Can Performance Help Power an Animal Shelter?

People just love going to the circus. I'll bet if you asked people what they enjoyed the most some would say the whole experience, others would say the performers but most would probably say that they enjoyed the trained animals in action.

Elephants doing headstands, big cats jumping through flaming hoops, bears riding bicycles...all impressive feats and a testament to the versatility of the animals and the skill of the trainers.
The same can be said about performing marine mammals.  Animals jumping, flipping and doing a variety of acrobatic feats.  It is impressive!
There's even some silly stuff out there as displayed by this old school pic of the first marine mammal park, Marineland of Florida:)
People really enjoy watching a well-trained animal in action and they come out in droves to take part in the experience.  They will often elect to spend their free time watching dancing elephants or a watching a dolphin leap high into the air as part of a bigger show. I've personally witnessed this for years and one of the best parts about it is that people seek out the trainers and staff after the show is over.  They want to know more about the animals and also "how" we got them to do such unique behaviors.
 A captive, inspired and curious audience.
When people walk through your doors they are your guests for at least a couple of hours.  Sure you can sell them some popcorn and t-shirts but the responsible organizations try to share some positive messaging in line with the organization's mission.  People will come in to learn about some of the other animals on display but they are drawn to the performances featuring trained animals.  My question:
Would an animal shelter driven by a performance mentality work?
Using not just any animals but homeless or unwanted animals that could be trained to participate in a variety of shows and workshops.  The shows would be used to bring people in and to get them thinking differently about homeless animals and why there are so many homeless animals in our country.  Throw in some other types of messaging and you have Performance driven mass- education.
This would be an active adoption facility so people could take the steps to go home with more than just a t-shirt

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I've seen it work on a smaller scale. I even have a plan for such a facility (housing about fifty animals but having the ability to adopt out many more) driven by a positive reinforcement training mentality.  I know it could work.  Some people I've talked to think it's an idea worth exploring and others think it is just not feasible.  Either way, I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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  • This made me think of a post I read from the KC Dog Bog about " most sabotage is self- sabotage" and going further to explain that animal welfare, rescue workers and such tend to make excuses why things won't work instead of doing what we can, what we know how to do to try and make a better life for animals. There is a difference between going into a new project knowing the pitfalls, have a plan to deal with them, and going in with an attitude of this won't work, unfortunately I have come across too many that have the latter attitude. I think the question is how would you define this shelter being a success? every dog being adopted? or half the people that go to the show look to adopt? Right now there are to many needless animals that die to overlook any proposed solutions.
    As far as my personal experience this is near and dear to my heart, I have fostered animals that did not fit the typical personality of the breed. I soon realized that these dogs would have to do something more to get noticed and adopted and started training them with more than the usual commands, in fact I will probably have to train the new foster in this matter also. While the process takes longer it has been well worth it, and opened a few minds that the dogs do not have to fit into "adoptable" and "un-adoptable" labels. And most have been extremely happy with their unique, well trained dogs.

  • In reply to imagine663:

    Hey graham 4043, I'll check out the KC Dog Blog to find the post you're referring to. It sounds very interesting. For me, success would be defined by the ability to reach as many people as possible with some effective messaging. We're going to have to really change the way people think (or don't think) about the reasons for the animal surplus we have here. You know what the messages are but this would just be a different way to deliver them.
    The way I envision it, the dogs at the proposed facility would undergo a lot of training before they would be eligible for adoption. If done correctly, I truly believe that all of the dogs would have no problems finding a suitable home. Knowing that we would have a slow turnover, I feel that partnering with local rescues would be an ideal way to place as many animals as possible...making every weekend an adoption "event". Partner with the rescues, use the show as a way to bring people in and get them thinking about adoption and then providing the training tools (classes and instruction) needed to make each adoption successful. To sum it up:
    1. Use the show to bring people in and get them thinking differently about homeless dogs and the reasons for homelessness.
    2. Show them what a well-trained dog can do and inspire them to take the same action with their present of future pets
    3. Offer them the training tools to maximize success
    4. Work with local rescues and actually have them bring their dogs on-site to greatly increase their chances for adoption. Offer the same training tools to the rescues to maximize their efforts.

    You mentioned using training as a way to transform a challenging animal into one that is a happy member of their family. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than taking a dog that has challenges and turning them into not only a great pet, but a well sought after pet. I'd love to be able to create a facility where we can not only change the behavior of the animals in our care, but also change the thinking of the people who come into visit. There is a lot more to this but I hope I answered your questions. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and feel free to start some training discussions too. I love to talk training:)

  • In reply to imagine663:

    Sounds fantastic, and that your voice and shelter can be a interesting and progressive way of looking at your family pet. I think if you stay true to that plan it will be good for chicago, but many people will flock to volunteer.
    As far as training, got any ideas for a slightly fearful of humans dog who has very little impulse control?

  • In reply to imagine663:

    Thanks for the feedback:) Fear can be one of the most challenging things to deal with but I've had a lot of success with developing some solutions for individual dogs. If you can describe your dog's reactivity in more detail we can probably come up with a solid plan. Sounds like you've done some training that correct?

  • In reply to imagine663:

    Sometimes I forget I have written on a blog, sorry for the late response.
    I have done some training, I take in foster dogs all the time. This is not my first fearful dog, and it is not the worst fearful dog I have had, just having some motivational issues. I am not an expert but it seems like he had very little socialization when he was a pup, with both humans and other dogs. He is afraid of people, he will go up to them, he will hang out for a little, but if they pay too much attention to him he is out of there. It can be some usual triggers like over the head petting, but not always. Fearful of other dogs, if it is a hugely confident dog he will work through it in a short period of time, maybe 10 minutes, but really confident dogs are becoming less common.(just my opinion) The motivational issue is that he loses a bit of self control when really good food is around. If I use really good treats he gets way to excited taking them, not just when he is nervous but in the living room if I pull out the cheese he starts taking the treats really hard. I have had to really tone down the treat level because I like having fingers. I am still trying to get him interested in toys, and being a fearful dog petting is not so rewarding. Motivating him to work is getting difficult, the treats hold his attention for a few minutes but if something shiny or papery comes by i have lost him

  • In reply to imagine663:

    Hey graham4043, no worries on the late response. First off, I think it's great that you are doing foster work and not shying away from tough cases. It seems like your guy has some impulse control and some attention issues and both can be addressed. If you have the time (10 minutes AM and PM) I would take him to a different room and hand feed his food to him. Put 1-2 pieces of kibble in your hand and present it to him on your open palm. He should gently lick it or take it from your hand. If he knows eye contact then have him look at you each time before you give him the food. Do this for a few days and make sure you only reward calm pushiness on his part. I would recommend that you don't give him any treats for the next couple of days. he has to learn how to work in the presence of food and kibble is a good place to start and it's a good way to get his diet into him.

    He does sound fairly functional outside but you can do a few things to make him more comfortable. If he gets nervous with people touching his head some of the time then it may be a good idea to not let anyone pet him when on your walks. This may sound counter-intuitive, but you can leave a situation where he is doing well and use the "leaving" as a reward for his calm behavior. The thinking is that by taking him out of a stressful situation when he is being calm and doing it consistently, he will begin to understand that calm behavior gets him out of the situation. It's very important that you don't accidentally reinforce any fearful responses either by giving him food, toys or by leaving a stressful situation. Try to keep him in situations where you know he will do well and avoid the more challenging ones for a while. If he is good with confident dogs( I do agree with your take on that one to some degree)for 10 minutes, take him out of there at 8 minutes before he has a chance to get more nervous. Video is a great tool to use if you have the capability. If you want, send me some clips of your dog in action and I may be able to give you more info. Try doing the things I suggested for a few days and then we can move onto the next steps. Hope this helps!

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