Training the trainers to save ‘unadoptable’ dogs

Students learn basic to advanced training skills and dogs gain behaviors that make them adoptable.

Dog ShelterAt many shelters, Squid would have been in serious trouble. The Jack Russell Terrier puppy had shown an alarming tendency to bite anyone who attempted to restrain him. At many facilities, that behavior might have doomed Squid. But because Squid landed at the Humane Society of Washington County in Hagerstown, Md., and had had his behavior assessed by renowned trainer/behavioral consultant Pat Miller, he got another chance.

Miller did more than bring Squid into her Fairplay, Md., home, which she shares with her husband Paul, the humane society’s shelter director. She also added him to her Intern Academy program, a six-day dog training immersion session she holds at her Peaceable Paws training center that pairs human students, most of whom are already professional dog trainers, with shelter dogs.

The sessions are a win-win for everyone, with students learning basic to advanced training skills and dogs gaining behaviors that make them adoptable.

Dog Shelter

Helping shelter animals is a longtime mission for Miller, a passionate advocate of positive reinforcement training. “My years working as an animal-protection professional at the Marin Humane Society in Novato, Calif., left an indelible impression (on me) and a strong commitment to continue working on behalf of shelter animals,” she says.

That work includes a special foster care program designed for shelter dogs with special behavior challenges.

In addition, with the help of her training apprentices and shelter personnel, Miller performs weekly behavioral assessments for incoming shelter dogs. She’s also shared her knowledge of shelter dogs’ special behavioral challenges and needs in her books, most recently Do Over Dogs: Give Your Dog a Second Chance for a First Class Life (Dogwise, 2010).

Paul Miller sees the results of the training efforts. “The programs work with dogs that have correctable behavior issues that would otherwise make them difficult or impossible to adopt,” he says.

That certainly was the case with Squid. “He was adopted by a wonderful woman in New York City, walks in Central Park … and has met (actress) Catherine Zeta-Jones and her dog,” Pat Miller says. The former behavioral washout — like many others with whom Miller has crossed paths — is now in a forever home. — Susan McCullough

In honor of the important work done at Peaceable Paws Training Center, will donate 5,000 meals of Halo Spot’s Stew to the Humane Society of Washington County.

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