MANATEE -- Cindy Skarda's basic dog obedience class was what got Lee Redfern out to the Manatee County Animal Services Palmetto shelter.
Redfern heard about the weekly training classes in February and in March, Redfern became a regular dog walker. Redfern volunteers at the shelter five to six days a week.
"It was jaw dropping," Redfern said of the class, which teaches the shelter dogs adoptable behaviors. "She takes the hardest-to-handle dogs."
Redfern recently witnessed the success of Skarda's six-week classes when Joey, a grey pitbull terrier who Redfern worked with, was adopted just after he completed the classes.
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On Tuesday, Redfern was walking and training a new dog named Sarge, who she hopes has similar success.
"If we have a cute sit, then the dog flies off here," Redfern said.
Skarda, who has more than 25 years of experience as a dog trainer, began the weekly obedience classes at the Palmetto shelter last winter and about 50 dogs complete the classes. Some dogs have gotten adopted before they've completed the class.
"We hope to keep dogs in class until they get adopted," Skarda said. "We always want to reinforce adoptable behavior. ...In the shelter environment, it is important to be consistent because they get a lot of mixed signals."
As part of the Bright Futures Shelter Dog Training Class, a program to train the volunteers to train the shelter dogs, Skarda teaches commands including look, off, sit, come, heel stay and wait.
"Our job is to get them out of the shelter," Skarda said. "The end goal is finding the right home and being able to keep the dog in the home."
Once a dog completes the class, a kennel card will be placed on the dog's kennel so potential adopters are aware, Skarda said, adding the dogs also receive a certificate of training.
"It just might help when people are walking down the aisle to start a dialogue," she said.
For Skarda, who also leads the class at the Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch, the most telling example is Bert, who was used as a bait dog, she said. When Bert came to the shelter, he was closed off. The classes and volunteers have turned the dog around as he now understands commands, Skarda said.
"He is really just the true example of the time, compassion and training that has turned this dog around," she said. "This dog was a blank stare, and to see him happy and wagging his tail. All that effort brought him back to life."
Skarda said she hopes the dogs being trained will increase adoptions.
"As long as they are here, we should be teaching them something," she said. "I believe every time you walk the dog, it is a training opportunity."
While there are between six and eight dogs participating in the obedience class at a time, the shelter is hoping that with more volunteer dog walkers, they will be able to increase the number of dogs trained and also get the dogs out of the cages for a longer period, said John Marble, who has been volunteering five days a week for the past two years.
"It will allow more dogs to spend time outside," Marble said, adding that he's noticed a difference in dog's behaviors since the class began.
Dogs that have been at the shelter the longest or have behavior that is not handable are the animals selected first, according to Debra Starr, director of marketing and public relations for the nonprofit Animal Network.
"We want to pick the dogs that need it the most," she said.
Page Jackson, a new volunteer at the Palmetto shelter, attended the obedience class for the first time Tuesday.
Jackson said she wanted to participate in the class to try and help get the dogs in shelter adopted.
If a dog's behavior is "all over the place and they have no manners," they will less likely be adopted, Jackson said.
"They will be more adoptable," Jackson said of the dogs that participate in the class.
Skarda said she thinks the training is making a difference.
"It's amazing what time, love and training can do for these dogs," she said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.