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The Welcome Committee Program

Overview, resources, and preliminary data
Amanda J. Kowalski, MS, San Diego Humane Society
Mara J. Velez, MA, Shelter Playgroup Alliance


The Welcome Committee program was developed (2018) to address the fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) experienced by canines entering a southern California animal shelter. In 2023, a 16-week virtual behavior program was launched as a training aid for staff and volunteers to implement the program. The goals of the virtual behavior program were to increase understanding of animal learning, communication, counter-conditioning plans, and low-stress handling skills. A previous study found that formalized behavior education programs have demonstrated improvement in staff and volunteer knowledge and safety in the shelter setting (Lily et al., 2022).

This new project is divided into two phases: (1) evaluating the impact and effectiveness of the virtual program on staff and volunteer knowledge, skills, and confidence; (2) evaluate the effectiveness of counter-conditioning behavior plans on canine FAS during the first four days in a shelter. This poster will report the preliminary results of participant surveys taken before and immediately after the program concludes.

This project would not have been possible without the generous support of the PEDIGREE Foundation.  Read more about the grant here.

Materials and Methods

The 16-week program took place from the end of March 2023 through mid-June 2023 and was accessed through an online learning management system.  In order to assess behavior knowledge, skill and confidence, a pre- and post-assessment survey was developed and published using an online survey.  The pre-assessment consisted of four sections (a) demographics, (b) education and experience, (c) subjective self-assessment Likert scales, and (d) multiple choice questions about basic learning theory and features of behavior. The post-assessment also contained four sections (a) demographics, (b) subjective self-assessment Likert scales, (c) multiple choice questions, and (d) program feedback. A video analysis was included In both the pre- and post-assessment. However, due to incomplete responses, it was removed from the analysis. The surveys were uploaded as a module to the online learning management system and participants were prompted to complete them prior to starting the program and then immediately upon completion.

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There were 46 pre-assessment and nine post-assessment surveys completed. Eight participants completed both the pre- and post-assessment surveys. Those eight fully complete records were used for this analysis. The eight participants consisted of five (67.5%) staff and three (37.5%) volunteers. 75% (6 out of 8) had greater than five years of experience working and or volunteering in the animal welfare field. Additionally, 62.5% (5 out of 8) of participants reported that they had five years or more experience working for or volunteering for the study shelter (see Figure 1 available in the pdf of the poster).


Participants reported an increase in knowledge, skill, and confidence across many dimensions.  Most notably, there was a statistically significant (P=0.001) 22% increase in knowledge of employing methods to reduce undesired behavior in dogs, and a statistically significant (P=0.01) 26% increase in skill in describing basic learning theory.  Across all dimensions, there was a statistically significant increase in documenting behavior observations using objective language (P=0.006;0.006;0.04). Additionally,  participants reported a meaningful but not statistically significant 20% increase in describing LIMA based behavior practices across all dimensions (see Figure 2 available in the pdf of the poster).

While there were many sources of knowledge reported, most notably, 100% of the participants indicated the sources of their knowledge in companion animal behavior came from, personal experience, Fear Free Shelter Program, and the study shelter’s training programs (see Figure 3 available in the pdf of the poster). Figure 4. illustrates the pre- and post-quiz scores for the eight individuals in the study. While most improvements were modest, one participant gained a 60% increase in their score.



The eight participants who were included in this analysis all improved in some meaningful areas that support the successful implementation of the Welcome Committee program.

Statically and meaningfully significant improvements in, knowledge, skills and confidence in:

  • Learning theory

  • Canine behavior

  • Behavior modification principles

  • Applying b-mod principles


Future areas of study for this program will include a larger number of staff and volunteers from multiple organizations. We will also measure the impact on canines enrolled in the program to include length of stay and behavioral measures.


1.Lilly, M. L., Watson, B., & Siracusa, C. (2022). Behavior education and intervention program at a small shelter I. Effect on behavior knowledge and safety. Journal of applied animal welfare science, 25(3), 195-207.

2.Lilly, M. L., Arruda, A. G., Proudfoot, K. L., & Herron, M. E. (2020). Evaluation of companion animal behavior knowledge among first-year veterinary students before and after an introductory animal behavior course. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 256(10), 1153-1163.

3.Shivley, C. B., Garry, F. B., Kogan, L. R., & Grandin, T. (2016). Survey of animal welfare, animal behavior, and animal ethics courses in the curricula of AVMA Council on Education-accredited veterinary colleges and schools. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 248(10), 1165-1170.

4.Tracey, J., Arroll, B., Barham, P., & Richmond, D. (1997). The validity of general practitioners' self assessment of knowledge: cross sectional study. Bmj, 315(7120), 1426-1428.

5.Wan M, Bolger N, Champagne FA (2012) Human Perception of Fear in Dogs Varies According to Experience with Dogs. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51775. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051775

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