Despite all your efforts, sometimes there are dogs that seem stuck in your program. In this article we will go over how to identify reasons for long stay dogs, ways to help get those dogs adopted, and how to prevent long stays in the future.
Long stay trends
The first step to identifying trends in your long stay dogs is to define what a ‘long stay’ is. We define long stay as any dog who has been in your care 50% longer than average. That means that if your average stay is 2 weeks, a long stay dog is defined at 3 weeks or more. Once you’ve determined a dog is long stay, it’s time to start figuring out why.
Take a look at your data (if you need help getting started keeping data, head over to our guide) and determine trends. Some quick data points to look at:
- Age of dog
- Breed of dog
- Weight of dog
- Color of dog
- Special needs (behavior or medical) of dog
- Time of year
- Intake type
You will likely see patterns similar to national averages that tell us black dogs, larger dogs, and older dogs all have a harder time getting adopted. We’ll talk about ways to overcome those barriers in the next section. However, if you see any patterns that aren’t as common, consider why these may be occurring. For example, if you have a trend that shows corgis are having a hard time getting adopted, ask yourself – do we place these dogs in a certain part of the shelter that may not get as much traffic? Do we have certain fosters that struggle with taking quality photos?
Not every dog will have a clear reason for not being adopted so it’s important to pay more attention to the data rather than the individual dog to make positive change in this case.
Overcoming long stay patterns
There are 3 underlying areas to address overcoming long stay patterns:
1. Internal bias
Sometimes people have bias towards categories of dogs without even knowing it. Here are a few examples:
Pitbulls – Misconceptions with dogs like our beloved pitties can often prevent qualified adopters from wanting to bring these dogs home. Since the misconception is that pits are “aggressive”, showing their real personalities will help overcome this bias:
- Show pitties with other dogs and people. If they are especially good, kittens and puppies are best to show their gentle side!
- Share success stories on your social media about pits who have made great family dogs
- Share news stories of pits across the country doing things like saving lives
- On kennel cards, describe their “favorite things”. This helps give personality to the individual dog. Bonus points if it’s something like “cuddling with his teddy”
Black dogs –Another dog people are often bias towards, made worse by the difficulty to get good pictures of black dogs. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Lots of light! Natural light is best. Try to take some pictures outside during “golden hour”
- Have props – show them playing with a toy or a person, have a flower crown to add a little color, put a bow on their collar
- Videos > pictures. Videos work well for any dog’s adoptability but it especially helps animate black dogs and show their personality
Here is an example of a good picture of a black dog
2. Inconvenience / unprepared
Not all adopters feel confident in their ability to care for or train certain types of dogs. These are a few examples:
Adult / senior dogs – People love puppies and often overlook the adults. There are so many wonderful benefits of adopting an adult dog that you can use in a creative way to bring attention to your older pups:
- You already know their personality and energy level – no guessing needed!
- Skip the puppy teething stage, your couch will thank you
- Adults are easier to house train
- Skip the teenage stage
For seniors specifically, consider trying to place the dogs in foster. We know how easy it is to fall in love with a senior dog, foster-to-adopts can be very successful. Frosted Faces rescue recently discussed their incentive program to getting senior dogs in foster care by providing a $200 stipend per month. This program has been very successful.
Large dogs – These dogs are often seen as intimidating for adopters, they are nervous about how they could handle them on the leash and can easily be overwhelmed with the training and exercise requirements. Here are a couple ways to get adopters over that hump:
- Partner with a trainer to provide a free training session with adoption. This has several positive impacts – the trainer receives business, you know the dog will have support which greatly increases the chances the adoption will be successful, and the adopter receives training support right away. Everyone wins!
- Partner with a doggy daycare that will provide a free week or discounted rates when you adopt an adult. This helps with the exercise component.
Breed and weight restrictions in apartments, and even some towns, immediately shrinks the pool of potential adopters for certain dogs. The best way for you to help in this area is for your organization to be an advocate for change. Reach out to your local representatives, work with groups like Best Friends, and educate your community to help enact positive policy change.
Preventing long stay dogs
Once a dog has become a long stay dog, people start to ask “why has he been here so long? Is something wrong with him?” and it can get harder and harder to find a home for them. The best way to prevent long stays is to be proactive.
Strategies for all long stay dogs – All of the above strategies can be applied for any of your long stay dogs. Here are a few more that are not as specific to any underlying reason:
- Front and center – House your longer stay pups in kennels closer to the front door so they are more visible. Have them listed on your website at the top of the list.
- Post and post and post – If you aren’t posting every day about a single dog, you aren’t posting too much. The way algorithms work for popular social media sites mean not all of your followers will see every post. Increase views on a long stay dog by posting them often. Update the posts with new pictures each time. Ask your network to share!
- Professional photos – Partner with a local photographer to have professional photos taken.
- Describe the home you envision them in – This helps people really picture their lives with this dog.
- Kennel cards – Help your adopters really get to know a dog with exciting and positive kennel cards.
It can be demoralizing when a great dog has been in your program for a long time. Remember to stay positive and focused on strategies to move forward. There are many many creative strategies and innovative rescues and shelters have come up with. If you have one you’d like to share, comment below so others can learn from your success! Happy rescuing.