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Aug 9, 2017 10:14 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Longtime Southampton Animal Shelter Dogs Get Special Training, Become More Adoptable

Deborah Whitney, director of training at the Southampton ANimal SHelter Foundation, helps train longtime shelter dogs to become Canine Good Citizens through the American Kennel Club. AMANDA BERNOCCO
Aug 11, 2017 1:00 PM

Bundles, a 6-year-old gray pit bull terrier, was on a leash, calmly sitting to the left of his handler, Derrick Nash, on Sunday at the Southampton Animal Shelter, when a stranger approached them.“May I pet your dog?” the stranger, Deborah Whitney, asked as she approached the pair.

“Sure,” Mr. Nash replied, and Ms. Whitney proceeded to pet Bundles from the left side.

Bundles looked up to his handler as if he were seeking permission for affection before standing up and wagging his tail, his long pink tongue dangling out of his mouth in excitement.

The entire interaction was a test—Bundles, a nearly lifelong resident of the Hampton Bays shelter, is in training to become a Canine Good Citizen, a special recognition of good behavior by the New York-based American Kennel Club.

Bundles behaved perfectly during that interaction, according to Ms. Whitney, who also happens to be the director of training at the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation, or SASF.

Ms. Whitney said this particular program, which has been around for decades, is beneficial to dogs like Bundles because it gives them an edge on getting adopted. She explained that while some people may be too intimidated to adopt a large dog like Bundles, he will have much better training than some of the other dogs waiting to be adopted at the shelter—a coveted trait to some people looking for a new furry friend.

To become a Canine Good Citizen, Bundles and other dogs in the program will have to pass a series of 10 tests, including staying put when their handler interacts with a stranger and politely accepting petting from a stranger. The other tests are based on appearance and grooming, behavior when going out for a walk or walking through a crowd, sitting down and staying in place on command, coming when called, reacting calmly to other dogs and handling distractions, and overall behavior when separated from their handlers.

Ms. Whitney said the Canine Good Citizen course is a positive experience for a dog to go through.

“I call it continued education on a dog’s level,” Ms. Whitney said. “Overall, it keeps the dog stimulated, it keeps their mind going, it keeps them looking into something else.”

Kate McEntee, director of adoptions for SASF, who also participated in the class, added that the class is equally beneficial to the handlers.

“I felt like it was very good for humans and dogs,” Ms. McEntee said. “Sometimes when you take a class that is dog-oriented, you learn a lot about yourself as well. And sometimes it’s human things—like not making your dog sit before it meets someone—that once you hear it from a trainer a light bulb goes off, like, ‘Duh, I should have done that from the beginning.’”

The dogs who go through the program receive the nationally recognized Canine Good Citizen recognition, which could help them become a service dog. Such canines have gone on to work in law enforcement, or have been put into service as therapy dogs. Or, as in Bundles’s case, the training helps make them more adoptable.

Ms. McEntee explained that while Bundles is a “big mush,” sometimes shelter visitors pass him by and opt to bring home smaller dogs. Although Bundles is already an expert at following several commands—including sit, down, come, stay, drop it, wait, let’s go, stand, touch, place, watch, and roll over—becoming a Canine Good Citizen will be further proof that he will be well-behaved with his future forever family, she said. Bundles also loves to relax and would be a great movie-watching partner, she noted.

“It just helps him,” Ms. McEntee said. “It almost makes him more adoptable.”

Bundles came to SASF because his prior owner could not care for him any longer.

The Canine Good Citizen program was started by the American Kennel Club in 1989, and its goal is to reward dogs that are well-behaved, according to its website, akc.org. The website also notes that the program, which can be joined by both pure and mixed breeds, encourages people across the country to make sure they have well-trained dogs.

“This is a program that can help us assure that the dogs we love will always be welcomed and well-respected members of our communities,” the website reads.

On Sunday, Ms. Whitney held the second of six training sessions for eight dogs—most of whom are longtime shelter residents—with the ultimate goal of becoming Canine Good Citizens. The handlers and their dogs stood in a circle in a gated yard with a green turf floor to engage in an obedience lesson with Ms. Whitney.

At the start of the lesson, the handlers walked their dogs clockwise around the circle, then turned to walk in the other direction. The dogs had to calmly walk at their handler’s side, despite the smells of other dogs filling their tiny nostrils.

Next, the handlers asked the dogs to sit tall and to the left of them. Each handler would then be approached for a handshake by a friendly stranger—Ms. Whitney—and the dog would have to accept the stranger and remain seated during the entire interaction.

Some of the dogs in the circle were behaved and sat still the entire time, while others took a few tries to remember to stay put. Ms. Whitney went around the circle greeting each handler three times, explaining that dogs typically learn in threes. By the third time Ms. Whitney circled to each handler, nearly all of the dogs figured out what they were supposed to do.

The dogs enjoyed a short break in the middle of the hour-long training session, before returning for the second lesson of the day: accepting a pet from a friendly stranger.

In this scenario, the dogs were charged with staying calmly seated while watching the stranger ask their handler if he or she could pet the dog. The dogs must stay in the seated position until the stranger pats it—at that point it is okay for the dog to stand up.

Ms. Whitney pointed out that Bundles, and many of the other dogs, did especially well on Sunday, noting that the training session was held in the same yard that the dogs typically associate with play time. “And so to take our shelter dogs, and now bring them out here, and ask them to do these commands—it’s really hard,” Ms. Whitney said.

Shelter staffers hope that their hard work pays off, and Ms. Whitney said the Canine Good Citizen title may be just what Bundles, and other pit bulls, need to get adopted.

“If someone knows that a dog that looks like Bundles can be trained to end up with the title of the Canine Good Citizen, it takes some of that stereotype off that’s on him … ” Ms. Whitney said, “to give him a better shot at finding a forever home.”

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Really hoping Bundles attains the Canine Good Ciizen certificate and finds a forever home.
By metsfan2 (124), southampton on Aug 10, 17 1:46 PM
2 members liked this comment
Good luck Bundles!! Hoping you find your furever home!!!!
By LilOnes21 (21), hampton bays on Aug 11, 17 10:33 AM
CTREE, benefit, therapy, horses, riding