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KPA Grads Contribute to A Sound Beginning for Shelter Dogs

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Collaboration at its best

Several graduates of the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Dog Trainer Professional program are contributing to a training program designed specifically for recently rescued and/or adopted dogs—and for their families, too, of course. The full program, designed to be followed for the crucial first 14 days in a dog’s new home, is called A Sound Beginning (ASB) and includes a book entitled Adopting a Dog? Start off right with… A Sound Beginning. The program also includes a CD of piano music that can calm shelter dogs and ease the transition as dogs move to their adoptive homes. ASB training classes and behavior consultations are a new, and quickly growing, part of the program.

Lou Ann with Dog

With backgrounds in canine rescue and training, program founders and authors (along with Rebecca Cann) of the A Sound Beginning book, Julie Dorsey-Oskerka and Pat Rattray have created a training model that is focused on communication—the need for rescue dog to be understood as well as to understand. While the original goals of A Sound Beginning were to reach, and provide help for, owners and their new dogs during the crucial first two weeks at home, the program has been most successful when it is embraced by shelters, rescues, and adoption counselors. When foster parents follow the ASB program with foster dogs, and when volunteers bring shelter dogs through the ASB training classes, rescue and shelter organizations have documented the greatest success. Shelter/rescue staff can then encourage adoptive families to continue the use of the ASB book and CD, and/or attend ASB training class with their new dogs. This continuity provides a smooth transition for the dogs, something that was not possible before.

How the partnership works

KPA Certified Training Partner (CTP) and co-author of the KPA Shelter Training & Enrichment course, Leanne Falkingham, is a Program Manager with A Sound Beginning. Having led training programs in a shelter setting since she became a KPA CTP in 2008, Leanne sees A Sound Beginning as complementary to the KPA Shelter course. If the KPA Shelter Training & Enrichment is the “before” for shelter dogs, then the A Sound Beginning program can be viewed as the “after” (as in after adoption).

Leanne says, “I've found that the ASB book and training class continue the humane, positive-reinforcement-based work we begin in shelters with the KPA Shelter Training & Enrichment program. When an adoptive family takes a new dog to an ASB class, they are shown the same life-affirming methods that shelter trainers begin: understanding canine communication, clicker training, and building a trusting relationship.” The two programs are so complementary that ASB director Julie Dorsey-Oserka seeks out KPA CTPs to be lead trainers in ASB classrooms. According to both Julie and Leanne, KPA CTPs match the ASB program principles and training ideals very well.

Spread the word!

Group Photo

Back row (L-R): Leanne Falkingham,
Terri Klimek, Dr. Karen Becker, Leigh Casino,
Liz Mishima, and Amy Saletta
Front row (L-R): Pat Rattra, Julie Dorsey-Oserka,
and Lou Ann Forbes

In November of 2014, ASB founders Julie and Pat were interviewed about the ASB program by integrative wellness veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker. The interview explores in detail the history and future goals of the A Sound Beginning program, and introduces many of the significant contributors to the program, including Leanne Falkingham. In the video interview, clicker demonstrations in Leanne’s kennels are shown; Leanne is the one leading “quiet in the kennel.” Watch the full-length interview, or read a transcript or summary of it, here.

After the documentary by Dr. Becker was released, the A Sound Beginning program began to hear from shelters and rescues from the around the globe. Currently, Leanne and her colleagues co-present at Chicagoland speaking engagements, highlighting both the KPA Shelter Training & Enrichment course and the A Sound Beginning program. The team has been invited to speak at their first conference in June 2015—the Prairie States Animal Welfare Conference. Other KPA CTPs involved in the A Sound Beginning Program include Amy Saletta, Liz Mishima, Liz Geisen, Julie Benson, and Erica Kendorza. Read about their roles at ASB on the ASB About Us page.

Onward, positively

Both the KPA Shelter Training & Enrichment course and the A Sound Beginning program provide tools that make shelter life, and its immediate aftermath in forever homes, more positive for animals. These tools become even more valuable as shelters seek to increase their adoption rates; the need to improve the adoptability factor (and reduce return rates) for the animals in shelter care increases. While rescued animals recover from the stress of their lives before shelters, as well as from the shelter experience itself, they require lessons geared to their state of mind and preparedness. Targeting shelter training to its unique population by focusing on calm communication leads to better outcomes for the animals and humans involved.

How wonderful is it that high-caliber solutions like the KPA Shelter & Enrichment course and the A Sound Beginning program exist, work in sync, and can be recommended and publicized together? Please share the documented success of these shelter-care efforts!