Barks & Rec / Zaden the GSD has a positively fabulous 1st Bark & Rec Adventure

Pet training dog washing session at Paws N' Play in Sacramento, with a happy dog practicing commands
Barks & Rec from Sacramento County Animal Care and Regulation was a blast and this Shepherd is ready for a new best friend

“Barks & Rec” is an innovative program offered by Sacramento County Animal Care and Regulation, designed to give shelter dogs a break from kennel life and a chance to decompress during a mini field trip. It also provides an opportunity for potential adopters to get to know the dogs in a more relaxed setting, which could potentially lead to adoption.

As I pulled up to the staff parking lot, beyond the large dog park, I noticed a gate by the play yard with a sign instructing visitors to call a specific number at their scheduled appointment time. I made the call and awaited an answer. I happened to see an officer heading into the staff area, and they promptly went to get help for me. Once inside, I was given the opportunity to review three kennel cards to choose which dog I would meet first through the Barks & Rec program. My choice was Zaden.

Zaden, a nine-month-old German Shepherd with a history of medical issues since being found as a stray, immediately stood out. His kennel card bore an ‘R’ for ‘reactive’, suggesting he might exhibit typical young Shepherd traits—full of emotions and not shy about expressing them. According to his profile, he had been at the shelter since April, making it seem as though he had spent most of his young life there. The animal control officer, with her badge gleaming, warned me of his high energy levels. I was so ready to help the overexcited and over-aroused pup through Barks & Rec. When he was brought out to meet me, his energy was evident as he crouched to the ground to gain traction, pulling towards his potential adventure. As a dog trainer accustomed to working with Shepherds, including reactive ones, I was instantly drawn to him. Everything about him was exactly what I look for in a dog to train and possibly help find a forever home. “Yes, give him to me,” I thought, eager to see how he’d handle a day out and potentially make a connection that could lead to a better life outside the shelter.Barks & Rec Paws N Play

So we proceeded to the play area to greet, and Zaden’s excitement was very obvious—he was not hesitant around strangers. Instead, he leaped towards me with enthusiasm, prompting me to grab the leash to guide him off my chest as he seemed to say, “Oh, I’m outside to play, let’s go.” Together, we roamed the concrete yard, sniffing everything I could see and things that only he could smell. The officer revealed she had been the one caring for him, attending to his skin issues with medication. His response to her putting on his harness that attached to his seat belt was tolerant, like a small child that had to put on a coat to go outside and was like, “Fine, do this so I can play.”

This tolerance, unusual for a young Shepherd, was impressive. Typically, Shepherds demand a level of respect that acknowledges their boundaries, ensuring clear consent before physical interaction. Yet, Zaden behaved as if he had grown up with this officer, treating her almost like a mother figure. Inspired by his resilience and adaptability, we set off to experience an incredible day at my canine community center through the Barks & Rec program.

At Paws N Play, the first thing we did was go to the enrichment room and play ball. He loved the balls, especially the small jolly ball, and he really liked the purple and orange rubber spiky squeaky balls—not that I cared that much for it, haha, but he traded balls like a pro as well. He wasn’t guarding over them; his body language was pretty soft, squishy, and sweet. Again, I didn’t expect that from the appearance of a Shepherd. He looks like he means business. We thought about introducing him to another dog that would be an appropriate play friend, but his arousal level was too high for greetings. (I prefer all dogs that get to greet have a clear and calm brain.)

I did discover that he likes to bark at any type of direct eye contact; that is a trigger for him, and it makes sense, as direct eye contact is confrontational in dog language. So when the stuffed animals stared at him, he barked and stared at them. Silly boy. On the plus side, he was very easy to redirect. I would turn the item sideways so he could walk up and smell it and figure it out. Then he was like, “Oh okay, they are not even real.” (video here)

Our next adventure after playtime… BATH TIME. We were going for the best spa day of his life so far. He got peanut butter on his lick mat and a lickey stick as well. He got all the fancy plum soaps, and he smelled like a dream. The blow dryer was placed on low, and he was very tolerant of the slow, warm air. I dare to say, he might grow to love the air blowing over him almost like it’s petting him. (video here)

After that, we played with a treat—what treat? The answer was all of them. Okay, not all of them, but small bites of many. I let him shred and shred up a really yummy rabbit rawhide. (Video Here) It is not the yucky rawhides we’re all told not to eat. It was actual Whole Foods, with no glue or any yucky chemicals. It’s from a human-grade facility out of Orange County. Naked Beast. LOVE THEM!

Barks & Rec

Now he’s played ball and had his bath, so it’s time to work on leash manners. He’s on a martingale collar, and he’s pretty sure that he’s allowed to tow everyone. So we took our time and did a lot of back-and-forth walking so he could learn that he can’t push forward. I’m sure this will log in his memory with me, but it’s something that will need to be worked on consistently in his potential new home.

Our walking manners session led us to my friend, Groomer Annie, over at We Love Paws. She was not in, of course, as the boss is always busy, but Gen was, and we did a greeting with Gen. We even hopped on the groom table to practice getting our nails done. We didn’t do all the nails because it seems his gridding on the concrete has kept his nails short. We just did a couple and gave him some cookies for being 100% okay with his pedicure.

Now, heading back to Paws N Play, we came to the laundromat at the River Park Shopping Center. We went for a stroll to check his ability to walk on new slippery surfaces. He was totally fine with the slippery floors and the washers and dryers. He was actually excited to meet some of the strangers. I did not allow greetings in the laundromat because I preferred a more controlled setting on who he meets. I wanted to make sure everyone was appropriate, and if I don’t know a stranger or if they know how to pet a dog, I won’t even try.

After the laundromat, we went to The Honest Barber. This was a very small space, and the barber, Kevin, was on break. Zaden then showed me his bark. (Video Here)It was a happy, yet conflicted bark, going back to that hard eye contact. Kevin did the normal thing of looking at the incoming cute, furry, fluffy pup, and the pup acted like a normal Shepherd—ALERT, ALERT. I allowed Zaden to process this on his own since he seemed to self-soothe pretty fast. Before I knew it, I had to get him out of Kevin’s lap. Silly boy, Zaden, you’re too big.  Barks & Rec

After The Honest Barber, we went back to Paws N Play to sniff around. We worked on taking food around the cat, Sparkles. (video here) He’s interested in the cat, and he can ignore the cat, but I would not put him in a house with a cat because he’s a Shepherd and he likes to chase things. If the cat was a dog-savvy cat, and the owner really knew how to work with a Shepherd, it could be fine, but it’s not ideal for either animal to have to live together if not required.

So then I took him back to the shelter, and Officer Blevins gabbed with me. I heard about his story, and I am so surprised he’s as confident and strong as he is now. I will admit he is insecure. He goes to sniff things, and his body language says he’s very unsure, but he’s trying. He’s trying to learn everything; he’s just absorbing all the things in his little nine-month-old brain that he can.

I really hope there is someone out there who wants this beautiful, soft, Velcro pup. I know eventually he’ll be able to stay alone somewhere, but he’s never experienced the freedom of a house. He’s going to need someone who is with him quite a bit but also able to start teaching him how to self-regulate, relax, and enjoy freedom in the house. I don’t know how he would handle a crate. I didn’t put him in a crate today. I know he’s been raised in a kennel, so if I stick him in a crate, he’s just going to whine because he’s so excited to have a person for the day.

We clicked really fast, and he followed me around inside like a shadow, which tells me he wants his own person so, so, so, so, so, so bad. I can’t wait to help take him on an adventure again through the Barks & Rec program. I hope that whoever adopts him will take me up on a free training package with him because this little guy is so amazing. Yes, I am offering 4 free training lessons with this guy.

Zaden is an incredible dog who deserves a loving home. His journey so far has shown his resilience, adaptability, and potential to become a loyal companion. With the right family, he will thrive and bring endless joy. If you’re ready to give Zaden the home he deserves and benefit from free training lessons, please consider adopting him through the Sacramento County Animal Care and Regulation or offering a friend there own day adventure. He’s waiting to become someone’s new best friend.
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