Of the more than 150 dogs rescued in October from a South Korean dog meat farm, most have already found loving homes—but a dozen or so require a bit of extra TLC first. Their surroundings at an HSUS-run temporary shelter are a far cry from the filthy, cramped cages where they awaited a gruesome fate. Now, every day runs on an innovative and carefully structured “enrichment schedule” to build their trust and help them recover from their traumatic former life.
“We rely on positive reinforcement,” says shelter director Gina Lantella, whose team is certified in a training method called Fear Free, which focuses on minimizing stress and anxiety. “And we always try to do the least intrusive thing possible. It should be an exciting experience for them.”
For dogs too scared to even let someone pet them, Lantella’s team begins with “Doggie Zen”: sitting calmly with a treat in hand, patiently waiting for the dogs to approach on their terms and without pressure. Eventually, they work up the courage to accept that treat.
“From there, that’s the beginning of everything else we can do with them,” says Lantella. “Dogs learn from one another. Once they see someone else taking treats, they may be more likely to approach if it looks safe.”
The dogs next progress to leash training. Gahee, a skittish Jindo, now accepts treats by putting her head through a loop. Lantella’s team will gradually close that loop, barely an inch each day, until Gahee gets comfortable wearing a collar to go for a walk.