Trainer Helps Prepare Shelter Dogs for their Forever Homes

By Bob Gordon, FOTAS Communications Director and Volunteer

Everyone who adopts a dog or puppy from the Aiken County Animal Shelter receives a voucher for a free dog training session with canine expert Susi Cohen.

Susi is the president of the Palmetto Dog Club in Aiken and has worked with and trained animals for more than 30 years. She volunteers at the shelter twice a week, helping other volunteers and County staff with basic dog training skills and working one-on-one with dogs that need special attention.

We interviewed Susi to learn more about the FOTAS training program at the shelter and why it is so vital to both the dogs and their new owners.

Q. What are the keys to effective dog training and why should I take the time to do it?

A. Training takes patience and consistent repetition with a lot of praise and rewards. It gives the dog good manners, more confidence, and makes him a well-adjusted dog – and a well-adjusted dog is a happy and well-behaved dog.

Q. When I use my free voucher, what training will I receive for my adopted dog?

A. I work with the dog and adopter for about one hour at the shelter. Every owner will have different issues with their dogs. And that’s the beauty of the program – we tailor the training for each individual dog. So if they have a particular issue, we can help them eliminate it.

Q. If I’ve adopted a dog from the County Shelter, can I call you with questions?

A. Absolutely. If you have any issues, I am available to answer your questions and discuss them with you. Every adopter is given my contact information as part of the FOTAS “Ask the Trainer” program. I’m always taking calls. People need to understand that dogs love to be trained. They love to be told to what to do. They love parameters and being praised for behaving well.

Q. How much training do most dogs need?

A. Every dog is different. Some dogs have bad experiences that they have to overcome. Some of these dogs have been mistreated and need to learn to trust again. But the norm is not mistreatment; it’s lack of treatment altogether. They haven’t been given any attention and don’t know when they are acting improperly. Still, despite these challenges, we’ve had great success with adopted dogs.

Q. Can you give us an example?

A. Last season I had Annie, an older German shepherd mix that was insecure and had no confidence whatsoever. We worked closely with Annie and she made a turnaround you wouldn’t believe. She went from a cowering, overly defensive dog to a happy dog that trotted with her tail straight up and exuded confidence. The metamorphosis was incredible.

Q. Has the on-site dog training made a difference at the shelter?

A. Yes, it’s worked well because FOTAS and the volunteers are so dedicated. Like me, they can’t stand seeing good dogs come back after being adopted just because they need some training. The adoption return rate has gone down and I like to think that drop in returns is because the dogs leave with better manners and are more prepared for their new homes.

For more about the FOTAS Dog Training Program and Susi’s contact information, please go to


Their lives are in our hands…


Pets of the Week

GRACE — Border Collie and Hound mix, female, 1 year old, 50 lbs.  — $70

CINDER— gray tabby, female, 7 months old, 6 lbs. — $35


By the Numbers

January 2013 – August 2015

FOTAS organized and paid for the spay/neuter surgeries of 699 citizen’s pets and 628 community cats, totaling 1,327 dogs and cats fixed!