SPCA Westchester has a full-time Director of Behavior and Enrichment as well as two dog trainers who develop activities and training that help animals thrive while awaiting adoption and learn skills that prepare them for life with a forever family.

Through the generosity of the John and Christine Tortorella Foundation, the SPCA began The Way Home Program, which offers special training, encouragement, and enrichment activities to dogs with behavioral challenges to improve their chances of finding a forever home. This life-saving initiative has literally opened doors for many of our dogs that might have otherwise been shut out of adoption. More than 100 dogs find loving homes every year through this special program.


Behavior & Enrichment Programs for Dogs:

Canine Companion Program

Volunteer canine companions spend their time walking dogs, socializing dogs, and reinforcing training protocols. Canine Companions also participate in the programs listed below.

Canine Training Classes

The SPCA’s trainers run multiple training classes for volunteer canine companions and, on occasion, new adopters. Besides basic clicker training, there are classes that focus on walking leash reactive dogs, safely entering and exiting kennels, and working with fearful dogs.

Behavior Modification Treatment Plans

Some dogs have specific behaviors that must be modified to help them make an easier transition into a home. Our trainers develop treatment plans that include management, training, and enrichment protocols for these dogs.


Dog-to-dog socialization through playgroups is a critical enrichment tool at the SPCA. Playgroups benefit dogs and trainers alike – dogs enjoy the physical and mental stimulation of their time together, while trainers get the opportunity to understand more about each dog’s play style and the ways they interact with other dogs, making for more successful adoptions.

Nose Work

In weekly nose work sessions, dogs learn and hone their skills in searching for specific odors in a variety of environments. The practice of nose work is mentally engaging, challenging, and stimulating – a very beneficial program for dogs awaiting adoption. This program is essential for dogs recovering from illnesses who cannot run and play off leash. We have also seen the benefits of nose work in assisting fearful dogs to acclimate to the indoors more easily – and have fun doing it! Nose work is a great activity to help a dog transition into their new home. To read more, click here.

SPCA Trail Team

The SPCA Trail Team is a group of volunteers who meet on Sunday morning to give our rescue dogs off-campus exercise. Runners or walkers are paired with the dogs who would most enjoy and benefit from this activity, and head out to a nearby trail for a two-mile run.

Offsite Adventures

Canine Companions often take dogs for hikes in our local preserves and parks. They also bring dogs into town for real life simulations. In addition, volunteers bring dogs to a variety of fundraising events at local stores, schools, fairs etc.

Reading to Dogs

Young volunteers often visit the SPCA to read their favorite storybooks to our dogs. The calming sound of storytelling is relaxing and comforting to the dogs, who enjoy the company of their visitors.

Music Therapy

Studies have shown that classical music has a calming and relaxing effect on dogs. Classical music is piped into our dogs’ kennels on a daily basis. The SPCA of Westchester is part of the Rescue Animal MP3 Project. To read more, click here.

Behavior & Enrichment Programs for Cats:

Volunteer Socialization

A dedicated group of volunteers visit the cats at the SPCA for the purpose of socialization. By talking to, playing with, and petting our cats, volunteers are keeping the cats’ connection to humans strong and making them more adoptable.

Cat-to-Cat Socialization

A number of cats live in our Catteries, spaces in which cats are not in condo and are free to interact as they see fit. The Cattery is home to many toys, cat trees, and many other enrichment items for the cats to enjoy.

Behavior & Enrichment for Cats and Dogs:

Animal Reiki

Under the direction of our Director of Behavior and Enrichment, a group of volunteers regularly share Reiki with the animals at the SPCA. Following the guidance of the Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA), Reiki practitioners share healing energy with our animals to foster relaxation, healing, and balance. To read more, click here.

Behavior & Enrichment Staff:

Joanne Langman, CPDT-KA, Manager of Behavior and Enrichment
Lisa Ricker, Way Home Trainer