It took 508 days, but Tony, an overly excitable 70-pound Labrador retriever mix that everyone had passed by, finally learned a calm dog is a good dog — and found a home.
“Tony’s very adorable … he’s a very, very sweet boy but he just had a hard time calming down, he was like a — puppy in a big boy’s body,” said Vanessa Herdter, adoption coordinator for the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation in Hampton Bays.
The 4-year-old’s saga reveals the power of training with positive reinforcement — and patience, according to his rescuers, who praised Tony's new family from Hampton Bays for first getting to know him through visits — and working with the shelter’s trainers.
Taking a chance
“Somebody just needed to give him a chance,” said Nicole Tumilowicz, director of development and marketing at the foundation. “It’s hard to showcase the potential and personalities of these dogs if you don’t come in and spend time … over time they will become overlooked just through no fault of their own.”
What to know
- Even hard-to-adopt dogs can find a forever home with training offered at the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation.
- One key to emotionally fragile shelter dogs becoming good pets is plenty of time outside the kennel.
- For new owners of adopted dogs, practice patience and positive reenforcement.
Poor behavior, such as anxiety, aggression, barking, jumping and pulling on leashes, experts say, is one of the main reasons dogs are returned to shelters.
Even dogs that were well-behaved in their homes, but are abandoned, lost or surrendered, due to illnesses or moving, for example, can react poorly in shelters, which often get dogs from puppy mills or other abusers.
“In a shelter environment, they are in a constant state of high anxiety, arousal," Tumilowicz said. "They are living in a kennel with other dogs, so that makes them anxious."
Thanks to volunteers and trainers, she said, “Our dogs do get to spend a lot of time outside of the kennels, and that’s helpful,” but they often deteriorate the longer they are stuck in shelters.
Tony’s main problem was his “reactivity,” Herdter said.
“When you took him for a walk, you would see him react negatively to other animals; he would get overstimulated when people started giving him a normal amount of attention.”
She continued: “He would start getting mouthy and hold onto you and jump on you … he thought, ‘I want to be with this person and get their attention,’ but to the average person, it was a little too much.”
And Tony tended to lunge after moving objects, such as skateboards or motorbikes, which could have imperiled anyone walking him if he tugged too hard on the leash.
Redirect and reward
“The best solution is just to kind of ignore the behavior and don’t pay attention; once he settles down, and stops, reward him,” Herdter said.
If dogs in training get distracted, a toy, or a clicker signaling a treat is in the offing, will — over time — redirect their attention back to the person walking them.
“The focus should be back on the trainer, always,” Herdter said.
She added: “It’s a long process for some; for Tony, it took a little longer for him to understand what was right and wrong in every situation.”
Not much is known about Tony’s early life.
He arrived in Southampton on April 11, 2021, when he was about 2½ years old; a Massachusetts rescue that couldn’t cope with him turned to the Long Island rescue because of its training program.
Now, “He is doing so well!” Olivia Lofstad of Hampton Bays, who adopted Tony Sept. 6, texted the shelter.
“He has adjusted really well to life at home and everybody loves him! He just needed a family to give him a chance, he really is the best dog ever.”
The newly adopted pooch is destined to soon have his own helping of Thanksgiving turkey.
"I think Tony will definitely be getting some!" Lofstad wrote in a text to Newsday. "He loves eating at the same time as us and getting pieces of our meals."