Shelter managers get busy. I think there were a few days I just showed up and asked "can I get started with the dogs?"
Do you have a trainer you know and trust? That person might be able to mentor you.
One thing I highly recommend is reading a copy of Patricia McConnell's book, The Other End of the Leash. Your local library will likely have it. It will give you a lot of insight into working with dogs at a shelter, or anywhere.
Be very, very careful with cage aggression as you work on learning to read dogs. There are some GSDs who will bite your face off, if given a chance--they are thankfully rare, but I don't mess with them. I don't have the skills to rehabilitate human aggression. Part of my credibility with the shelter is that I am very honest in my evaluations--if I think a dog can't be safely adopted, I say so. Then we can call in a professional to do a more thorough temperament test.
Most of the dogs I see are simply scared of the pandemonium and noise. I often spend a good ten minutes with a new dog who is displaying any uncertainty while it's still in its cage, letting it get to know me. One thing I do a lot is crouch down with my ribcage to the dog, looking down at the cement in front of me. Without looking, I talk to it and send a few high-value treats in through the cage and watch the reaction. If the bluster stops and I get a wagging tail, that's a good sign. I have been known to play bow with a dog through the gate too, with a fearful dog.
There are a few I have taken several visits sitting outside the cage, without opening it, letting the dog get used to me. One was so feral (terrified) that I called my trainer to come help, and it took him three weeks to get her out of the kennel -- he came and just sat in her cage day after day, letting her get used to him. He ended up fostering and adopting her -- and she's an awesome dog now, but she was a big project. We eventually learned that the only human she had ever seen until the shelter was her one owner, and she had never been out of her backyard, until the shelter. She wasn't a "bad" dog, just a totally unsocialized one who was almost like a new puppy encountering everything new in the world!
I would also caution you about the "hugging" you mentioned. As much as you want to wrap your arms around them, you honestly have to hold back. I know it's sometimes hard--but for your safety, it's important. Hugging can be very, very dangerous with a dog you don't really know. Hugging can trigger bites in some dogs with hair-trigger tempers. With a dog you don't know, respectful gentle caressing is good. Leash walks are excellent. Just avoid leaning over the dog, and train yourself to approach from the side, never front-on. It all becomes second nature -- and the book I mentioned will give you lots of insight.
Keep reminding the shelter staff you want to come help. You could be a great rescuer in the making -- get started! Good luck!!!
Last edited by Magwart; 08-15-2013 at 01:30 AM.