Shelter Training

The Michigan Pet Alliance Shelter Training Program teaches your management, staff and volunteers how to address the psychological needs and welfare of the animals in your care, while considering the physical opportunities and limitations of your shelter.

Whether you prefer a one-on-one session with a certified trainer, a small classroom setting, a large seminar, or an online webinar, Michigan Pet Alliance offers a variety of engaging instructor-led courses with real-time feedback and real-world assignments so you can immediately apply what you’ve learned through each course.

Sessions Available (General):

Adoption Events (Available online or in-shelter)

Adoption events help shelters find new homes for sheltered animals. However, success often depends on the details. Learn how to organize successful adoption events from small to large. Session covers supplies needed, safety concerns, location considerations, and requirements for both small- and large-scale events.

Session length:  1 hour with key staff and/or volunteers

Session requirements:  Meeting room

Organizing a Transfer Partner Program (Available online or in-shelter)

There are several benefits to collaborating with other shelters in partnership with a transfer program. While some shelters in the state are still bursting at the seams with dogs and cats, others have space and welcome more animals to better match the needs and lifestyles of potential adopters.   

Every shelter has experienced the overlooked cat or dog who has stayed too long at the shelter and whose adoption potential could benefit from a new pool of potential adopters. Every shelter has a different ability to provide care. Maybe you have a dog that needs a playgroup to thrive and you don’t have a play group program. 

If your shelter would benefit from a transfer partner program, this training will help you establish or grow such a program. Two programs are offered. One will provide you with all the information you need to get started and the second includes everything from the first session along with additional help to get you off to a running start.

How to build a transfer partner program includes:

  • How a transfer program works
  • Expectations for each shelter
  • Required minimum standards
  • Model MDARD-approved documents
  • Types/characteristics of animals conducive for transfer
  • Trading animals between shelters
  • List of shelters and rescues involved in transfer partner programs

Session length:  1 hour

Getting a solid transfer partner program off the ground incudes ALL of the above, plus:

  • Hands-on help to identify both potential shelter/rescue transfer partners
  • Tailoring model documents to the individual shelter
  • Introductions to shelter staff and volunteers of several potential transfer partners

Session length: 3 hours

Session requirements for both sessions:  Meeting room

Organizing / Expanding a Volunteer Program (Available online or in-shelter)

Reliable volunteers are essential to every animal shelter. To attract and retain volunteers, you need a solid volunteer program. 

Whether your shelter currently has a volunteer program or not, this session will help create, build, expand and strengthen a successful program.

If your volunteer program is established, we can review the program, identify issues and find solutions. If you don’t have a volunteer program in place, this session will give you a head start in getting one off the ground.

Benefits to a successful volunteer program:

  • Free help!
  • Retain volunteers
  • Community involvement
  • Additional outreach to adopters or referrals

Session includes:

  • Generic volunteer handbook
  • Generic volunteer application
  • Introduction to several different volunteer-organizing software programs
  • Successful volunteer management

Session length:  Time varies depending on status of current program

Session requirements:  Meeting room, key staff or volunteer coordinator

Sessions Available (Canine):
Individuals who successfully complete the four sessions of Canine Body Language, Force Free Training, Safe and Humane Handling, and Stress Reduction will receive a certificate of achievement recognizing them as a Certified Humane Shelter Canine Handler.

Assessing Canine Behavior (Available in-shelter only)

Recent studies have concluded beyond a doubt that behavior assessments and “temperament tests” in shelters cannot and do not predict a dog’s future behavior and should never be used as such. Pass or fail results of conducting “traditional assessments” are not only useless, but they present liability risks for the shelter. However, information gathered on the dog’s behavior from the moment the dog enters the shelter until the time they leave, along with any devoted time that shelter staff and volunteers spend one on one with the dog, can assist shelter staff in providing standards of care that are best tailored to that dog and help provide information that result in the best adoption match possible. Throw out anything your staff may have known about behavior assessments because this new approach will provide a fresh way of thinking with up-to-date terminology.

Prerequisites:  Canine Body Language; Stress Reduction; Safe and Humane Handling

Session length:  Will vary depending on the capacity and average intake of the shelter.

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall. Dogs available for assessment.

Canine Behavior Modification (Available online or in-shelter)

Dogs who end up in and spend the longest time in animal shelters are often the ones with behavioral issues. 

Unacceptable behaviors, such as jumping, mouthing, pulling on the leash, appearing fearful, chewing, dog and/or human reactivity, will lengthen their time in the shelter, even preventing them from finding a home at all and sometimes resulting in euthanasia. 

Learn how to create a behavior modification program and how to apply simple methods for modifying canine behavior in a shelter environment.

Benefits of having a behavior modification program:

  • Decrease length of stay
  • Decrease return rates
  • Decrease euthanasia rates
  • Increase adoption rates
  • More well-behaved, happy dogs

Session includes how to:

  • Create and implement a behavior modification program
  • Create individual modification plans
  • Identify common behavior issues
  • Implement training methods
  • Assess and re-assess progress

Prerequisites:  Canine Body Language, Stress Reduction, Force-free Training

Session length:  1 hour for presentation followed by hands-on training for up to 3 hours (time can vary based on size of shelter, number of students, number of dogs that need behavior modification plans)

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall. Enclosed space to train dogs.

Canine Body Language (Available in-shelter only)

Just like humans, dogs are always communicating through body language. They communicate when they’re feeling happy, sad, nervous, stressed, fearful or angry, using their faces and bodies to convey much of this information.  

Dog body language is an elaborate and sophisticated system of nonverbal communication that we can learn to recognize and interpret. Being able to understand how the dogs in our care are feeling and how to help them feel more comfortable, confident and safe are essential skills that all shelter staff and volunteers should know.

Recognizing stress means that the shelter can create a plan to reduce that stress, which often also reduces rates of stress-induced illnesses in the shelter, which in turn can reduce costs.

Benefits of being able to recognize and understand canine body language:

  • Ability to communicate with dogs to better recognize their needs
  • Ability to understand dogs’ personalities better, which helps with stress reduction and future placement
  • Reduce dog bite incidents
  • It’s fun to be able to communicate with dogs!

Session includes how to:

  • Reading canine body language
  • Communicating with dogs through our body language
  • Identification of different types of aggression

Session length:  3 hours

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall and access to dogs while in kennels (if possible); Three dogs for use during class and presentation.

Canine Playgroups (Available in-shelter only)

Dogs are social animals who typically enjoy spending time with other dogs. Playgroups allow dogs to burn energy while learning from each other and building, or maintaining, social skills. 

Observing canine behavior during playgroups also provides staff and volunteers with valuable information regarding the dogs’ personalities, which will help match the dogs to their forever homes. Learn how to enrich the lives of dogs while saving time and money.

Benefits of dog playgroups:

  • Saves money and staff time
  • Uses less resources and provides better results
  • Decreases dog/dog barrier aggression and reactivity
  • Provides dogs the exercise they need: A tired dog is a good dog
  • Provides useful information regarding the dogs’ behavior

Session includes:

  • Review of equipment used for playgroups
  • Review of canine body language and safe handling
  • Canine play styles
  • When to intervene
  • The dos and don’ts of breaking up dog fights

Prerequisites:  Canine Body Language; Stress Reduction; Force-free Training; Safe and Humane Handling

Session length:  6-8 hours

  • Morning: 2 hours for presentation; 2 hours meeting dogs
  • Afternoon: Playgroups (2-4 hours)
  • Time estimates are based on a shelter with a population of approximately 20 dogs

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall; outdoor fenced yard and/or indoor room that can be closed off. Size of playgroups will depend on the size of the space available. Purchase of playgroup Tool Kit bag containing three harness leads, two airhorns, two high-power whistles, carabiners, dog first aid kit, bright duct tape and vest/apron.  Other equipment to have on hand includes two break/bite sticks and two extra slips leads (preferably a thick, strong cotton lead).

Materials Fee:  Tool Kit bag $200

Canine Force-free Training (Available in-shelter only)

Force-free or positive reinforcement training is rewarding the dog for a behavior we want to see again. Learn why it should be the only type of training used and why we need to be using it on a consistent basis in shelter environments. You will learn how to build a bond based on trust with the dogs in your care while having fun. Your adoption numbers will increase and your length of stay will be reduced.  

Benefits of force-free training:

  • Dogs will learn to build bonds with humans based on trust
  • Provides enrichment and training without the use of pain, force or fear
  • Well-behaved dogs will increase adoption rates and decrease return rates

Session includes:

  • Hands-on force-free basic obedience training class
  • Focus, touch, sit, down, off, stay, stand, come, leave it and loose leash walking

Prerequisites:  Canine Body Language; Stress Reduction

Session length:  1 hour for classroom presentation, 2-3 hours hands-on participation

Session requirements:  Meeting room – area large enough to train dogs and keep a safe distance apart – indoor or outdoor (weather permitting). One dog per every 2-3 handlers. Collars, harnesses and leashes or sturdy cotton slip/harness leads. Collars must be fitted correctly, flat safe buckle collars.


Canine Multisensory Enrichment (Available online or in-shelter)

The environment in animal shelters can be very stressful for dogs, which causes them to behaviorally deteriorate. Dogs experiencing stress and anxiety are at an increased risk for illness and behavioral problems, including destructive behavior, trying to escape, excessive jumping and mouthing, attention-seeking behaviors, excessive vocalization and compulsive behaviors. Providing enrichment will help keep the dogs mentally and behaviorally healthy. Learn several different types of enrichment that are easy to implement.

Benefits to providing enrichment:

  • Reduces stress, fear and aggression
  • Improves learning and memory
  • Helps provide a better quality of life for the dogs while in your care

Session includes:

  • Five types of enrichment
  • How to incorporate enrichment into your schedule
  • Safe oils and herbs for dogs
  • Easy DIY enrichment projects

Session length:  1 hour for presentation and 1 hour hands-on participation

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall.

Canine Safe and Humane Handling (Available in-shelter only)

An animal’s experience with the shelter and its staff starts the second they are picked up in the field or arrive at intake at the shelter. How these animals are handled, not only during intake, but throughout their stay, is important to the dog’s mental well-being and the safety of your staff and volunteers. Staff will receive a solid understanding of dog behavior and how to safely and humanely handle dogs.

Benefits of this session:

  • Solid animal handling skills prevent injury
  • Reduces stress for the dogs
  • Creates a safe, healthy and humane environment

Session includes:

  • Low-stress handling techniques
  • Safe and humane use of equipment

Prerequisites: Canine Body Language; Stress Reduction

Session length: 1 hour for presentation; 1-2 hours hands-on participation (depending on number of students)

Session requirements: A list of equipment used by the shelter (i.e. catch pole, slip leads, harnesses, snappy snares) prior to training. Equipment must be available the day of training. Access to dogs.

Canine Stress Reduction (Available in-shelter only)

Every animal experiences stress when entering a shelter. The most common symptoms of stress are anxiety and aggression. To keep the dogs in your care mentally healthy and happy, it is important to recognize when a dog is suffering from stress and anxiety and how to minimize it and prevent it.

Benefits of stress reduction in your shelter:

  • Mentally happy and healthier dogs
  • Reduces bite incidents
  • Reduces behavioral issues

Session includes:

  • The physiology of stress
  • Emotions and stress
  • The treatment and handling of stress

Session length:  1-½ hour for presentation and 1 hour for hands-on participation (time can vary depending on size of group being trained and size of facility)

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall. Dogs are required for this session.

Scent 4 Shelter Dogs (Available online or in-shelter)

Shelters can be very overwhelming, and this can exacerbate an already anxious dog and bring out less than desirable behaviors. For timid, fearful, over-stimulated, and senior dogs it can be so much worse.  Certified dog trainer and author, Laurie Horn, will show your shelter staff and volunteers how engaging a dog’s most powerful sense, their sense of smell, can help build confidence in the timid, calm the over-stimulated, and slow the cognitive decline in seniors. Scentwork can minimize the stress and help calm inappropriate behaviors, making the dogs more adoptable.

Dog looking at treat under mini cone

Benefits of Scentwork in your shelter:

  • Build confidence in fearful and timid dogs
  • Calm the over-stimulated dogs and reduce behavioral issues.
  • Slow the cognitive decline in seniors
  • Learn how to easily establish a scentwork program with minimal effort.
  • Understand why the dog’s nose is its most powerful sense

Session includes: A scent kit and copy of the book, “Scent 4 Shelter Dogs” by Laurie Horn, CPDT-KA

Session length: 1 hour for presentation and 1 hour for hands-on participation (time can vary depending on size of group being trained and size of facility)

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall. Dogs are required for this session. Various sizes of cardboard boxes and tennis balls.  Various treats.

Scent 4 Shelter Dogs - Book Cover

Sessions Available (Feline):
Individuals who successfully complete the four sessions of Feline Body Language, Basic Cat Care, Feline Behavior Assessments, and Behavior Modification will receive a certificate of achievement recognizing them as a Certified Humane Shelter Feline Caregiver.

Feline Body Language: Understanding Cat Body Language from Tail to Nose (Available online or in-shelter)

Understanding the body language of cats in your care is key to being able to develop treatment and modification plans, best housing, care and best outcomes for your cats. When we know what our cats are saying to us, we can learn to interact with them in ways that keep people safe and that can encourage trust and confidence. Making sure that your staff and volunteers have a strong understanding of body language is the best way to offer high-quality care to your cat population.

Cat laying down in front of laptop

Key takeaways:

  • Learn the subtleties of cat body language in a shelter setting
  • Learn how to safely care in your population
  • Deeper understanding of your cat’s needs
  • The ability to make better decisions for your cats

Prerequisite:  This session is a prerequisite for all other training sessions in the cat training series.

Session length:  2 hours, ideally with an additional hour to view and discuss cats in shelter (depending on the number of cats in shelter).

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall.

Stress-free Basic Cat Care: Basics of Providing Low Stress Care for Your Cat Population (Available online or in-shelter)

Offering low stress care and handling to the cats in your cat population has many benefits, including lower illness rates, more confident cats with more predictable behaviors and reduced length of stay. This course will cover housing considerations for lower stress, appropriate cage set up and housing for specific behaviors and what to consider when using group or communal housing. We’ll talk about out-of-cage time, healthy social interactions and some basics of physical care that can all lead to a healthier, happier cat population.

Key takeaways:

  • An understanding of how to set up housing that reduces stress
  • Know the benefits and downfalls of group or communal housing
  • How to organize cage breaks and out-of-cage time appropriately
  • Learn how and why to offer consistency in physical care
  • Learn some tips for caring for cage-aggressive cats
  • Understand why spot cleaning is preferred over full cage cleaning
  • Learn some minimal handling techniques to keep staff safe and cats happy

Prerequisites:  Feline Body Language

Session length:  2 hours, ideally with an additional hour for in-shelter walk-through to evaluate and offer tips (depending on size and quantity of cat housing).

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall.

Creating a Well-rounded Cat Program: Creating and Managing a Cat Behavior Program in Your Shelter (Available online or in-shelter)

Having a defined cat behavior program will serve to find cats homes faster, keep your population behaviorally sound and allow you time to find the best outcome for all of the cats in your care. Through daily rounds, record keeping and the creation of treatment and modification plans, you’ll be able to quickly know which cats in your care are at high risk and which cats can move through to adoption without barriers. It will also reduce your length of stay and ensure that your cats are receiving the behavioral support that they need.

Key takeaways:

  • Learn efficient methods of record keeping
  • Understand the benefits of daily physical rounds of your cat population
  • Find where treatments, modification and assessments can fit in your behavior program
  • Learn how outcome decisions can be made efficiently
  • Uncover the benefits of working closely with volunteers

Prerequisites:  Feline Body Language

Session length:  2 hours

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall.

Feline Behavior Assessments: Using History and Observed Behavior to Find the Best Outcomes for Cats in Your Care (Available online or in-shelter)

Through observation, interaction and collecting a detailed history, we can provide our adopters with baseline behavior information on the cats in our care. The days of using formalized assessments meant to predict aggression are gone. It’s time to get to know our cats based on the behaviors they offer, the history we’re able to collect and the progress they make while in our care. This offers us a chance to really get to know our cats, create plans that will help them succeed and offer a more accurate snapshot of who they are to our adopters.

Key takeaways from feline behavior assessment training:

  • Collecting the most detailed history possible on cats surrendered by owner
  • Understanding the importance of intake and shelter exams
  • How to gather information from your care staff and volunteers
  • What kind of information to look for
  • Know when to move a cat to adoption and when to offer treatment
  • Learn how to fast track your easier cats
  • Clear steps to adoption for every cat in your care
  • Uncover the benefits of working closely with volunteers

Prerequisites:  Feline Body Language and Stress-free Basic Cat Care

Session length:  2 hours, ideally with an additional hour of in-shelter training (depending on the size of cat population). 

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall.

Feline Behavior Modification and Management: Creating and Implementing Treatment Plans (Available online or in-shelter)

Aggression, depression and unwanted behaviors in shelter cats are most often caused by the stress of being in the shelter. We create treatment, management and modification plans to lessen that stress, offer our cats more control and help them learn ways to cope with that stress while in our care. Understanding that cage behavior is not often true behavior is important. We must diagnose issues and find resolutions for them through observation and intervention to help our cats find homes and save lives.

Key takeaways:

  • Through daily rounds and input from staff and volunteers, we can discover issues that need attention
  • Learn what behaviors of concern look like and how to treat them
  • Ways to work with fearful cats and kittens
  • Understand how to help frustrated cats
  • How to manage cats with a lower handling threshold
  • How to identify and treat depression in cats in the shelter
  • The importance of housing for stress reduction
  • Play therapy and time out of cage as treatment
  • Simple clicker training as treatment
  • Working with volunteers in your behavior modification program

Prerequisites:  Feline Body Language, Stress-free Basic Cat Care and Creating a Well-rounded Cat Program. Feline Behavior Assessments session recommended.

Session length:  2 hours 

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall.

Clicker Training and Positive Reinforcement Training with Shelter Cats: Using Clicker Training to Increase Confidence, Decrease Unwanted Behaviors and Reduce Length of Stay in Your Shelter Cat Population (Available online or in-shelter)

We can use clicker training as a way to enrich our cat’s environment, increase confidence, reduce unwanted behaviors and create a bond with the cats in our care. When using clicker training and positive reinforcement with shelter cats, our goal isn’t to teach them repeatable skills, although that can often be the by-product. Rather, the goal is to create an environment for them where they are free to choose and are rewarded for offering behaviors that we’d like to see repeated, creating more resilient, confident and social cats for our adopters.

Key takeaways:

  • What is positive reinforcement and how can we use it to help our cats
  • Learning the basics of clicker training, using a marker to reinforce a behavior
  • Finding good reinforcers
  • How to deliver reinforcers
  • What to do if you can’t find the right reinforcer
  • How to conduct a clicker training session
  • Documenting training
  • Capturing, shaping and using targeting in clicker training
  • Skills and games for different personalities
  • Tips for working with shy cats and frustrated cats

Prerequisites:  Feline Body Language

Session length:  2 hours, ideally with an additional hour of in-shelter training (depending on the size of cat population). 

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall.

In-shelter Feline Enrichment: Providing Brain-stimulating Enrichment to Lessen Stress Levels in Shelter Cats (Available online or in-shelter)

The benefits of enrichment are many: Improve physical and psychological health, encourage natural behaviors, reduce illness, improve cage behavior, increase adoptability, increase confidence and sociability and decrease length of stay. Enrichment is easy to do and doesn’t need to cost your shelter a lot of money. An enrichment program can be run entirely by volunteers, if needed. Learning the variety of enrichment and how to offer and document your efforts will make your enrichment program efficient and fun for both the cats and the people providing care.

Key takeaways of in-shelter feline enrichment training:

  • Understand that stress reduction and enrichment are two different things
  • Learn to document enrichment efforts for efficiency and success
  • Learn how to engage all senses with your enrichment program
  • Find some great ways to create DIY enrichment
  • How to use feeding puzzles
  • How to enrich physical spaces
  • Understand the importance of play and human interaction as enrichment
  • Using cage breaks
  • Clicker training as enrichment
  • How to use volunteers for your enrichment program

Prerequisites:  Feline Body Language

Session length:  2 hours 

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall.

Creating a Successful Barn Cat Program: Saving More Lives Through Non-traditional Placement (Available online or in-shelter)

Barn cat adoption programs are inexpensive to start and can be one of the best ways to save more lives in your shelter. We know that socializing feral or very poorly socialized cats is both extremely difficult and reduces our already thin resources. Euthanasia isn’t the answer. Finding them homes in an environment that they understand and that offers them a chance to thrive is the very best way to increase adoptions and save more lives.

Key takeaways of creating a successful barn cat program training:

  • The difference between return to field, colony release and barn adoption
  • Selecting cats for non-traditional placement
  • How to manage feral kittens that enter your program
  • Discussing social cats as barn cats
  • How your assessment and observations help to decide outcomes
  • Housing of barn cats
  • What medical needs should we focus our resources on
  • Recruiting adopters
  • Adoption requirements
  • Adoption process
  • How to acclimate barn cats
  • Supporting adopters
  • Handling objections to outdoor cats

Prerequisites:  Feline Body Language

Session length:  2.5 hours 

Session requirements:  Meeting room with screen or projecting wall.

Sessions can be customized to meet your specific needs. Click the Inquire Here button and let’s talk!