Behavior and Enrichment
The SPCA of Westchester has a full-time Director of Behavior and Enrichment as well as two dog trainers who develop activities and training that help animals thrive in the shelter environment and learn skills that prepare them for life with a forever family.
Through the generosity of the John and Christine Tortorella Foundation, the SPCA of Westchester began The Way Home Program, which offers special training, encouragement, and enrichment activities to dogs with behavioral challenges to improve their chances of finding a forever home. This life-saving initiative has literally opened doors for many of our dogs that might have otherwise been shut out of adoption. In 2019, more than 100 dogs found loving homes through this special program.
Behavior & Enrichment Programs for Dogs:(Link to manual)
Canine Companion Program
Volunteer canine companions spend their time walking dogs, socializing dogs, and reinforcing training protocols. Canine Companions also participate in the programs listed below.
Canine Training Classes
The SPCA’s trainers run multiple training classes at the shelter for volunteer canine companions and, on occasion, new adopters. Besides basic clicker training, there are classes that focus on walking leash reactive dogs in the shelter, safely entering and exiting kennels, and working with fearful dogs.
Behavior Modification Treatment Plans
Some dogs have specific behaviors that must be modified to help them make an easier transition into a home. Our trainers develop treatment plans that include management, training, and enrichment protocols for these dogs. For example, a dog with separation anxiety cannot settle alone in a home. The treatment plan might include plenty of exercise, basic training, and desensitizing to a crate. The dog would practice being left alone for increasing periods of time.
Canine Life and Social Skills (C.L.A.S.S.) Program
Canine Life and Social Skills (C.L.A.S.S.) is an educational program to promote training focused on the use of positive reinforcement and to strengthen relationships between humans and their canine companions. C.L.A.S.S. is a three-level evaluation through which handlers demonstrate a dog’s real-life skills. To read more, click here.
Dog-to-dog socialization through playgroups is a critical enrichment tool at the SPCA. Playgroups benefit dogs and trainers alike – dogs enjoy the physical and mental stimulation of their time together, while trainers get the opportunity to understand more about each dog’s play style and the ways they interact with other dogs, making for more successful adoptions.
In weekly nose work sessions, dogs learn and hone their skills in searching for specific odors in a variety of environments. The practice of nose work is mentally engaging, challenging, and stimulating – a very beneficial program for dogs in a shelter environment. This program is essential for dogs recovering from illnesses who cannot run and play off leash. We have also seen the benefits of nose work in assisting fearful dogs to acclimate to the indoors more easily – and have fun doing it! Nose work is a great activity to help a dog transition into their new home. To read more, click here.
Certain dogs exhibit personality traits and temperaments that make them well suited for our Golden Outreach program, in which volunteers take specially trained shelter dogs to various health care facilities to visit residents. The program brings people and animals together to combat loneliness and isolation. To read more, click here.
SPCA Trail Team
The SPCA Trail Team is a group of volunteers who meet on Sunday morning to give shelter dogs off-campus exercise. Runners or walkers are paired with the dogs who would most enjoy and benefit from this activity, and head out to a nearby trail for a two-mile run.
Canine Companions often take dogs for hikes in our local preserves and parks. They also bring dogs into town for real life simulations. In addition, volunteers bring dogs to a variety of fundraising events at health clubs, schools, stores and parks.
Thanks to the generosity of a donor, the SPCA is home to a canine treadwheel. The treadwheel is a great source of off-leash exercise that allows dogs to run at their own pace, in any weather.
Reading to Dogs
Young volunteers often visit the shelter to read their favorite storybooks to our dogs. The calming sound of storytelling is relaxing and comforting to the dogs, who enjoy the company of their visitors.
Studies have shown that classical music has a calming and relaxing effect on shelter dogs. Classical music is piped into our dogs’ kennels on a daily basis. The SPCA of Westchester is part of the Rescue Animal MP3 Project. To read more, click here.
Behavior & Enrichment Programs for Cats:
(Link to manual)
A dedicated group of volunteers visit the cats at the SPCA for the purpose of socialization. By talking to, playing with, and petting our cats, volunteers are keeping the cats’ connection to humans strong and making them more adoptable.
Thanks to the generosity of a donor, the SPCA is home to a feline treadwheel. The treadwheel is a great source of exercise for the residents of our Cattery.
A number of cats live in our Cattery, a building in which cats are not in kennels and are free to interact as they see fit. Cats are constantly evaluated to gauge whether they are a good fit for life in the Cattery. The Cattery is home to many toys, cat trees, living and sleeping environments, and our treadwheel.
Behavior & Enrichment for Cats and Dogs:
Under the direction of our Director of Behavior and Enrichment, a group of volunteers regularly share Reiki with the animals at the SPCA. Following the guidance of the Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA), Reiki practitioners share healing energy with our animals to foster relaxation, healing, and balance. To read more, click here.
Real Life Space
Our shelter is the beneficiary of an amazing shed donated for the purpose of providing our animals with the opportunity to experience a real life home atmosphere. Volunteers helped to beautify and furnish the interior.
Feline and Canine Companion volunteers can sit in our Real Life Space and socialize a cat or dog in an environment simulating a cozy home living room. The space is used for puppy and kitten socialization, as well as desensitizing timid dogs and cats to the sounds of a home. The shed has many uses from working specific behavior modification plans to just sitting and spending quality one on one with a beautiful animal.
Behavior & Enrichment Staff:
Joanne Langman, CPDT-KA
Lisa Ricker, Way Home Trainer