Return Rates of Shelter Dogs Plunge When Training is Provided with Adoptions

With overcrowding reaching critical levels at shelters and rescues across the country, those in charge of running them have had to get creative in their rehoming efforts. So, how does one entice the public into bringing home a new furbaby?

Some have tried offering extended veterinary care for senior animals or those with health issues. Others are offering assistance with food and pet supplies. These are marvelous ideas, but they don’t directly address all of the reasons people are either hesitant to adopt or high return rates.

Dog with HSTB
Photo: Humane Society Tampa Bay

So, what’s hampering successful adoptions that turn into true forever homes? In many cases, it boils down to bad manners or unwanted behaviors. That’s right. Dogs that are viewed as sweet and loving can still be a huge pain in the derriere due to a lack of training.

To be fair, rescue animals require adjustment periods, and some folks might have unrealistic expectations about pet ownership. Additionally, people used to devote more time to instilling good manners in their pets.

Even basic commands like sit, stay, come, drop it, and lay down are often lacking these days. As it turns out, many of the animals have never been provided with any leash training, either.

husky leash training
Photo: Pixabay/andrescarlofotografia

Sherry Silk, CEO of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay

One shelter in Tampa, Florida, is trying to reduce its return rates and improve the overall experience for both the dogs and their humans by enlisting the services of a K9 trainer for new adoptions. That facility is the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, and we had an opportunity to talk to CEO Sherry Silk about the scholarship program, as well as Micah Adler from GoodPup, an online training service that provides tutorials to paw parents.

Sherry was gracious enough to take time out of her busy day to discuss just how important programs like GoodPup can be for successful placement. And when we say successful, that means they’ve stayed put in the home and been accepted as a family member for keeps.

While she noted that HSTB has a full-service animal hospital for people who can’t afford veterinary services, they needed to do something else to help the animals in their care find lasting love and acceptance. That’s when they hit upon financing training for new adoptions.

Sherry Silk of HSTB
Photo: Humane Society of Tampa Bay

A Lack of Basic Training

When asked which canines were seeing the highest return rates, Sherry stated, “Larger, high-energy breeds are having the hardest time, and the training is helping them. It’s another aid to try to get larger dogs and pit bulls moving to forever homes.”

It’s important to note here that pets often end up at rescues because their owners died or became incapable of caring for them. These cases can account for as much as 45-50 percent of surrenders. If they have basic training, it makes it that much easier to successfully place them in a second home.

Strays have no known history, and many have no prior training or walking skills on a leash. Ultimately, they need basic instruction.

“People will put up with bad behavior in small dogs, but not a 45- to 65-pound dog. Little ones get a pass, big dogs don’t. In addition to obedience school, crate training can be helpful. And it’s something we try to convince people to try, but a lot of people have misconceptions about them and are hesitant to go that route.

“It’s up to shelters to educate adopters about using them. We are successful more than half the time in convincing them, and we have the crates to sell if they need them.”

German shepherd in kennel
Photo: Pixabay/andyround62

K9 Obedience Classes

As to incorporating the GoodPup scholarship program into their adoptions, Sherry said they’d gotten great emails from adopters with positive feedback.

“A lot of people don’t have time to go and do the training, so this is conducive to lasting adoptions. We did 13,000 adoptions last year alone.” That’s because they’re bursting at the seams like so many other shelters. When asked, she admitted that people don’t even come into the shelter to drop pets off anymore. Now, they just drop them off outside, and animals literally being “thrown over the fence” has increased tremendously.

“They don’t realize that by doing so, rather than surrendering it through normal channels, we have to keep the animal for five days before doing an evaluation rather than giving it an exam and placing it immediately. That means the length of stay is increased for them.”

In addition to providing training, HSTB’s most recent animal welfare initiative is called Operation Pit Stop, and it runs from July 1 to August 15th offering 500 free spay and neuters in Hillsboro County for pit bulls.

When asked if there was anything she’d like to share, Sherry said, “People should pause before deciding to add a pet to their life and make sure you can make a commitment to them. That includes training. Ask yourself the hard questions and be more thoughtful about the decision because it is a commitment.”

graduating pup

The GoodPup Advantage

Next, we turned to Micah Adler at GoodPup for more on how the training program works.

GoodPup is a provider of positive reinforcement training conducted remotely (online) via video chats and credentialed trainers who appear live during your training sessions. Headquartered in Boston, Micah explained that the advantages of this type of training include but are not limited to fewer distractions and that the dog is learning from their owner in their own environment.

It’s all tied in with technology exercises you do in conjunction with the sessions, and there’s a chat feature available for asking questions about your dog, training, and behavior. Half of the trainers are credentialed vet techs, which allows them to answer medical questions within the constraints of VCPR. Most of what GoodPup does is provide help after adoption.

dog at HSTB
Photo: Humane Society of Tampa Bay

The group built its own platform, so you’re not on Zoom, Skype, Hangouts, or Facetime. Training sessions are weekly, plus they have daily homework sessions.

GoodPup works with almost 900 shelters that they partner with in various forms. The GoodPup Advantage Program addresses returns and surrenders with shelters like the HSTB that give 4 weeks of GoodPup training to every adopter free of charge.

Outside of the Advantage program, dog owners can sign up for GoodPup 101. It’s a 6- to 8-week course for dogs starting from scratch, and then there’s a certificate for grads. More classes are available for interested parties.

GoodPup study pdf

Making Learning Fun

“It’s a fun program, plus it helps build bonds between the owners and their pets. These classes are a more cost-effective way to do one-on-one private training, and we’re available to the public,” Micah explained.

When asked how the collaborations were funded, Micah noted that Tampa Bay and other shelters foot the bill themselves but that they can buy training in bulk for group programs like these that reduce surrenders.

So, what’s the percentage of success? They can reduce returns by about 50 percent, but it’s frequently better than that. Unfortunately, not everyone takes the time to use the scholarship offered.

When asked, Micah shared, “The bottom line is train your dog. It makes dogs safer, healthier, and both of you much happier.”

If you’d like to learn more for your own benefit, there’s a mobile app or you can visit them at The best part? It’s free to try!

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