Helping shelter dogs with issues through training and socialization program

Best Friends offers aid to Austin Pets Alive to help shelter dogs with behavioral issues via Canine Good Citizen training and socialization program.
By Denise LeBeau

Belinda the shelter dog from Austin Pets AliveBelinda, an adorable pit bull terrier mix with a black and white coat and expressive brown eyes, looks more Holstein than hound. If folks were adopting on looks alone, she would be scooped up in a minute. However, she was a dog with issues, displaying signs of aggression at the sight of other dogs,  a major obstacle to finding a new home. How she wound up homeless and at the city shelter would remain a mystery but how she would overcome her issues and get on the fast track to being adopted was clear. 

Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Ready program for shelter dogs

Austin Pets Alive (APA) pulled Belinda from the Austin Animal Center and enrolled her in their Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Ready program. The program helps dogs exactly like Belinda get the training and socialization they need in order to be adopted. “The dogs served by this program represent the dogs who are typically least likely to be adopted,” says Adrienne Longenecker, chief advancement officer at APA.

Best Friends supports the program through a $15,000 grant to help more dogs just like Belinda. The goal of the program is simple — help more dogs find homes and speed up the process. This, in turn, allows APA to take in more at-risk dogs from the city shelter. 

Volunteers in the program receive special training, which makes the experience good not only for the dogs, but for the people who love them. The program has one of APA’s highest volunteer sign-up rates.

Treating dogs as individuals and giving them the help they need

The CGC Ready program treats each dog as an individual. In Belinda’s case, she displayed high levels of frustration inside her kennel – jumping, barking and biting at the enclosure. However, outside of the kennel, she was a different dog. The APA behavior team noticed that outside the shelter setting, she was extremely affectionate toward people. So eager for attention was Belinda that after continuous petting, she lightly chewed on the person loving on her. While not an aggressive act, it was behavior that had to be changed.

“Belinda is a wonderful dog who had never been taught the proper ways to interact with people,” says Marian Cannell, APA dog trainer. “It took a few months of consistent training for her to learn about boundaries (people aren’t for chewing) and other manners. She went from being APA’s ‘problem child’ to one of our better behaved dogs and a staff favorite.”

Resounding results for dog training and socialization program

Belinda the shelter dog adopted in her new homeWhile the CGC Ready program began just a year ago, the results have made a real difference in the number of lives saved, including a 33 percent increase in pit bull terrier adoptions. More dogs like Belinda are finding their forever homes quicker, giving APA greater capacity for admitting dogs from Austin Animal Center to the program.  

“APA is exceeding its goals for the CGC Ready program,” says Laura Handzel, Best Friends legislative lawyer and programming analyst. “Best Friends is proud to be a part of an endeavor that not only gets more pit bull terriers into homes, but also provides the training needed so the dogs can stay in those homes.”

As for Belinda, she was adopted by people who can’t believe how amazing she is and who report to APA that they couldn’t have found a better fit for their family. The CGC Ready program may be great for the dogs, but it’s also great for the whole canine-loving community.

Get involved to help pets in need

Learn more about how Best Friends helps pit bull terriers across the country through our pit bull terrier initiatives.

Photos courtesy of Austin Pets Alive

Caring for Pets