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:

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

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.

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