By Jess Borda
With only 5 full time staff and a team of volunteers with the task to care for the 130+ dogs in the outdoor kennels at the Town Lake Animal Center, you may wonder how Austin Pets Alive! ensures how each and every dog in our gets  the outlets they need to be the most adoptable dog they can be.
There are so many programs in place to ensure the mental, physical and emotional well being of each and every animal in our shelter and beyond. With Austin Animal Center consistently saving 96% or more of every animal that comes into their open intake shelter, Austin Pets Alive! constantly steps in for dogs with known behavioral issues or those that start displaying them in homes as they adjust.  APA! is now saving the last 2-4% of dogs (large, small, medical or behavioral cases) and successfully placing them in well-matched homes with skilled matchmakers helping find the perfect dog for the perfect home to a full time adoption follow up programmer that answers emails, sends out educational material and meets in person either at the shelter or in an adopter’s home to help them navigate the dog’s needs.
On all fronts, something has to be done to keep a dog sane as they could wait for years for their forever home. Through enrichment, training, sleepovers and at least twice daily outings, each of our dogs are treated as individuals. Dogs are given individual training plans for obedience or to address a specific behavior that might keep them from being successful in a home.
Through our Canine Good Citizen Program ( and our Canine Coaches and Behavior Buddies, we’re teaching our dogs at the shelter the basics-making them more adoptable and have a basic foundation of obedience. Many dogs that are pulled from the city shelter are lacking basic manners and programs that teach sit, down, coming when called and stay, among other things make dogs that much more appealing to adopters.
Since the CGC program has to follow the strict guidelines of the American Kennel Club, not all our blocky headed, short coated dogs qualify because they might have some behavior in the past. We’ve got a program for them too! APA! trains their volunteers to train dogs and sets up the dogs that need the most intervention with a training plan and resources to help the volunteer and dog be successful. That’s almost 50 dogs with individual training plans! Now the staff can focus on the dogs that need pretty intense modification to help a dog be adoptable.

Practicing Coming When Called

How do we meet the dog’s physical needs? Approximately 60 out of the 130 dogs in our big dog kennels get out for playgroup daily and most even twice a day! This gives our dogs a chance to burn energy, socialize with dogs and stretch their legs for extended amounts of time. Then back in their kennel, they are often caught snoozing by an adopter. Who wouldn’t want a lazy dog?
What about the dogs that don’t like playgroup? Every single one of those dogs get out at least 2 times a day for walks, either in the shelter or out on the nearby Butler Hike and Bike Trail. They get mandatory potty breaks and people time. By ensuring each dog gets out of their kennel at least twice a day, stress is decreased and us humans get to know the dog so we can communicate that with potential adopters. If you can do nothing else, make sure each dog is getting out of their kennel at least twice a day.
How do we decrease the length of stay? Here at APA! we have a team of volunteers, working closely with the Marketing Manager, to come up with innovate ways to market our dogs that have been here over 300 days. There has been a steady drop in amount of dogs over 300 days since this team was formed. They are out-of-the-box thinkers that are willing to try silly or serious campaigns to bring awareness to the dogs that wait the longest for their perfect match! Finding a subset to focus on narrows down the search, so a person can walk out of the shelter knowing they helped a dog that needed them the most!
Gotta keep those brains busy too! Enrichment! Dogs with lots of energy that might not have been completely expended in playgroup need something to tire out their brains. Some dogs get kong wobblers for their meals, some dinnersicles and ALL of our non-resource guarding dogs get a kong 3-5 times a week! By giving dogs something to do while they sit in their kennels for many hours, they are less likely to get bored and display unwanted behaviors. There are many ways to mentally stimulate dogs like scent work, agility work or working for their meals.
Learn more about Austin Pets Alive!’s innovative and lifesaving dog behavioral programs this fall at the annual American Pets Alive! conference  ( Besides many speakers, there will also be demos of our playgroups, modeled on Dogs Playing for Life and basic obedience demos.
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