Dakin’s Lauren Rubin on Building a Dog Volunteer Program

Dakin’s Dog Behavior Coordinator Lauren Rubin was a featured speaker at the 2024 New England Federation of Humane Societies Annual Training Conference last month in Warwick, RI. Lauren’s well-received presentation centered on how she recently built a behavior-focused dog volunteer program at Dakin, and what steps were involved.

She stressed the importance of having everyone – volunteers and staff – on the same team to help shelter dogs in need. Her hour-long segment, which included a Q&A session, offered tips on recruitment, training, discussing euthanasia with volunteers, and ongoing communication strategies, especially those that enable the team to share information pertaining to the dogs being helped.

Another topic was the importance of having training protocols in place that are uniformly followed and establishing standard operating procedures for a number of different tasks, from cleaning a kennel correctly to harnessing a dog and feeding them properly. “Anything you want volunteers to know,” she advised, “you should have written down…you don’t want to have a volunteer doing a task, then encountering someone who says ‘You’re doing it wrong.’”

Lauren discussed the process of recruiting new volunteers for the dog behavior program, and how they get three “shadow sessions” with a volunteer mentor before fulfilling solo shifts. In training, she stated, there needs to be clear communications, clear expectations, and clear pathways.

More than once, Lauren stressed the need to approach people with respect, kindness, and compassion. As she noted, “I will be honest and upfront with new volunteers about everything that we do because I want them to feel immediately that they’re part of the team, and because being part of the team makes anyone feel important and included.”

Toward the end of her presentation, she stated, “Having the right culture is key. If you bring the right volunteers on board with the right personality, you can train everything else. They will want to be corrected so they can learn and grow.”

About her presentation, Lauren said, “Animal shelters literally cannot function at the level necessary for good animal care without volunteers. Having knowledgeable volunteers who can safely handle dogs is a huge part of what makes Dakin successful, and I wanted to share it with other organizations so they can get the help they need, too. However, I was most excited to share how important it is to treat volunteers with respect and compassion. A lot of animal people love animals but also need to be able to work with people. I hope folks walked away with a new focus on how to make their volunteers’ lives better as much as they improve the lives of animals.”

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