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Dog, meet yoga: Brunswick shelter program aims to enrich canines' lives

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Dog, meet yoga: Brunswick shelter program aims to enrich canines' lives

BRUNSWICK — Starting in January, four lucky dog owners will have the opportunity to learn about the power of "Doga," a marriage of yoga for humans and obedience training for dogs.

The class is one of the many upcoming features in the Coastal Humane Society's new Canine Behavior Modification and Enrichment Program, which is being overseen by Sara Sokol, a behavior and training coordinator who was hired in October.

Sokol on Monday said the enrichment program is designed to improve the lives and behavior of dogs while they await adoption and decrease the likelihood owners will return them because of behavior issues.

"My biggest goal coming in here was to not only make the dogs more adoptable, but find kind of better fits for the dogs and the adopters," Sokol said. "And not only that, but make the time that the dogs are with us as good as it can be."

A portion of the program consists of creating activities that will stimulate and occupy dogs during their daily lives, Sokol said. This includes feeding them food that is contained within paper towel tubes or hollow plastic container that creates something of a time-consuming challenge for the dogs to fully consume.

Sokol said there also will be a "scent of the day" and a "sound of the day."

"They're getting a different CD every day, mostly classical music," Sokol said. "There have been studies that have shown classical music helps reduce anxiety for kennel dogs."

In addition, a new color-coding program for all the dogs will make it easier for kennel volunteers to assess what techniques they should use when improving a certain dog's behavior.

"It basically categorizes dogs based on the behaviors that they're exhibiting while they're in the kennel," Sokol said, "and it gives the volunteers really good direction on how to work on that behavior."

Jane Siviski, the shelter's marketing and development coordinator, said this is the first time the shelter has had a full-time behavior and training coordinator, and it's already making a difference for the dogs.

"I think the consistency for the animals is very important," Siviski said. She said the shelter took in 200 surrendered dogs this year due to financial, commitment or behavior issues, and they hope the new program and courses can reverse the trend.

Besides the daily enrichment activities for the dogs, Sokol also will teach several obedience classes starting in January, including her unique "Doga" program.

Sokol, who is a certified yoga instructor, said the class will combine yoga and stretching for humans and obedience cues and massages for dogs. She said this is unlike other forms of "Doga," where the dog is sometimes put into yoga positions that might be too uncomfortable.

"When people work with their dogs a lot of the time, they get really frustrated," Sokol said. "... What I found with the 'Doga' classes, people were breathing, they were taking their time, they were being calmed and relaxed and they started noticing when they were calm and relaxed, their dog was calm and relaxed."

Sokol, who designed the course, said it worked wonders for dogs and their owners during the year she taught it California.

"For me it's a really good class that helps strengthen the human-animal bond," Sokol said, "because it's a nice hour to spend with your dog."

Siviski said in addition to the new program and classes being offered, Coastal Humane Society will soon open a behavior hotline, which dog owners will be able to call for free behavior advice.

More information about the dog obedience classes and the limited capacity "Doga" class can be found at www.coastalhumanesociety.org/obedience/.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.