There are thousands of animals sitting in shelters across the U.S., waiting to be adopted. And for dogs with behavior issues, the future looks pretty bleak.
But a Minnesota rescue is helping more of these dogs get adopted thanks to a program called Mod Squad. It's a volunteer-based, behavior modification and training program at Great River Rescue in Bemidji.
Mod Squad focuses on positive reinforcement training to help shelter dogs overcome behavior issues and become more adoptable. The dogs in the program get intensive, one-on-one sessions with volunteers on a regular basis. Common issues they deal with are barking, timidness, food guarding, dog-on-dog and dog-on-person aggression or biting.
The Mod Squad name is a trademark to the Humane Animal Welfare Society. Volunteers follow methods of training created by animal behaviorist Dr. Claudeen McAuliffe, who originally developed the program in 2009 at the Humane Animal Welfare Society in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and helped get the Bemidji shelter's program off the ground in 2014. Great River Rescue is now one of seven shelters nationwide to have a Mod Squad program and the first in Minnesota.
When a Mod Squad dog gets adopted, they "graduate" from the program. Since the program started, they've had 64 squad adoptions in almost three years – a 91 percent adoption rate.
Mod Squad's Coordinator Ethan Larson has a personal connection to the program. When he first started the job, there was a little tan Chihuahua named Shiloh at the shelter. Shiloh had issues with barking, timidness, and biting, and was afraid of men.
After two weeks in the program, Larson fostered Shiloh for a week to see how he would get along with other animals. But it was a total "foster fail," because Larson ended up adopting Shiloh, whose behavior issues had disappeared.
Now Shiloh is a Mod Squad ambassador and helps promote the program.
Q & A
GoMN interviewed Larson to learn a little more about Mod Squad.
Why did Great River Rescue start a behavior program? GRR was getting so many dogs with behavior issues that we decided to look into starting our own program or get help starting one from a shelter that had an established behavior program, which HAWS (Humane Animal Welfare Society) had.
What happens to dogs that don't get adopted after the program? The dog stays in the program until he gets adopted, whether it is a week, a month or six months. There is no time limit to be in the program, but according to the Mod Squad records I keep, the average length of stay for a Mod Squad dog is 17 days since the program started. So, chances are very good that the Mod Squad dog will get adopted.
Can you describe the training the volunteers go through? Dr. McAuliffe has a handbook she designed and came to Bemidji when GRR's Mod Squad first started to teach the volunteers how to use her different methods. She also sets up a 20-30 minute training plan that is designed for each dog in the program and their specific behavior issue or issues.
Does it take a certain type of person to adopt a Mod Squad dog? When someone adopts a squad dog, we try to give the adopter all the information they need to know about the dog, especially if the dog has been in training with our volunteers to eliminate their behavior issues and tell them what they can do at home to continue their training if they adopt the dog. Like I said, the volunteers give them all the information available, even what squad training they have done with the dog, so they can either continue training the dog or not. The return rate for our dogs is low.
If other rescues are interested in joining the program, where do they get started? Any shelter or rescue interested in starting their own Mod Squad program can go to this website to download various literature about the program and a Mod Squad "On the Road" application.