The ARL’s Dot Baisly on working with shelter dogs

Ever wonder what goes on in a shelter dog’s mind? You know, aside from the usual, “When is it time to eat? When can I go outside to play? When is it time to eat….?”

Dot Baisly, the ARL’s new shelter enrichment and behavior manager, may not know exactly what shelter dogs are thinking at all times, but what she does know are the best methods to help them adapt to their new environment and get them ready to find a new home.

The ARL Blog sat down with Dot to learn more about how the ARL approaches shelter dog enrichment and giving potential adopters a profile of a dog’s behavior.

ARL Blog: What are some common behavioral issues that you come across related to shelter dogs and how do you work with them?

DB: The most frequent issue in shelter dogs is over-arousal and “jumpy mouthy” behavior. This issue is common for many reasons, such as lack of stimulation, the animal’s adolescent age, and a lack of proper training.

I like to treat the animal holistically by working to enrich their daily experience while teaching impulse control, and by finding ways to help the dog relax and find a quiet space at least three times a week.

Dot with rooster on her head

Dot Baisly faces every day at the ARL with a positive attitude–and with her party hat (a.k.a. ARL adoptable rooster Leonidas – come meet him at our Dedham shelter!)

ARL Blog: When the ARL does a “behavioral screening” for animals, what exactly does that mean?

DB: Our behavior evaluation process takes in all the information available to us for each animal. When possible, we start with a profile when an owner relinquishes a pet to us. If the animal comes in as a stray, we do everything that we can to gather as much information about an animal’s behavior.

We process all dogs through a systematic behavior evaluation in which the animal is screened for friendliness to humans, excitement levels, fear, aggression, and how well they know cues.

Finally, we gather and report all behavior observed in the shelter and compile this information to best match each individual dog with a new home.

ARL Blog: What is a typical enrichment plan that you give to a shelter dog?

DB: A typical enrichment plan should address the individual needs of each dog. For heavy chewers, for example, we feed them from a toy daily so that food acquisition is a mentally stimulating part of their day.

Basic obedience training is a part of every enrichment plan and quiet time outside of the kennel should happen regularly.

In many cases, we encourage play to learn impulse control and other aspects of interacting with humans.  This can be done with fetch, tug, and other games for the young adolescent dogs in need of physical exercise. When possible, I also include agility, appropriate social interactions with other dogs, and handling/massaging from humans.

 MORE ABOUT DOT – Dot first came to the ARL as an under-grad looking for a part-time job. She found she loved the work so much, she joined us full-time for several years before going back to school for her master’s degree. She operated her own dog training business, through which she continued to work with shelters.

Most recently, Dot worked at the SPCA of Westchester, New York, designing and implementing a volunteer-based dog walking and training program and fulfilling all behavior needs of that shelter.