Before relinquishing a dog

“I have this car, a 2002 Ford Focus. Well, over the years it’s developed a few problems. It still runs really well, it reliably starts, and is mostly a great car. But, you see, recently a headlight went out and a tail light followed shortly there after. I asked a few friends and a few had suggestions but I couldn’t fix the issues. So, as much as I love this car, I’m going to have to take it to the junkyard because of that pesky head light.”

Think that sounds ridiculous? Me too.

But this is the general story that is told many times when dogs are relinquished to shelters for behavioral issues.

Dogs can end up in shelters for many reasons–unplanned litters, lost dog, found as a stray, dumped because the family was moving/having a baby/developed allergies, relinquished when the family lost their jobs and their home, etc. But one of the most common reasons is that the dog has some sort of behavioral problem. That might be house training struggles, jumping issues, chewing issues, fear issues, or aggression issues. All of these problems have some type of solution and most are relatively easily solved and able to be completely resolved.

The vast majority of the owners admit that not once did they consult a professional trainer to try to address the issues. They may have consulted a friend or family member but they didn’t try to resolve the issue by contacting a trainer.

I sometimes would like to ask them if they’d scrap their car if the check engine light came on or if they’d take it to a mechanic. I’m pretty confident that 99% of the people would say they’d go to a mechanic if their car was having issues. So it makes me quite sad that people would much rather dump a dog than spend a little bit of time and money consulting a trainer (or neither and just reach out to a trainer to get started down the path). It’s particularly frustrating when we talk about simple training issues like house training and manners training. These things are relatively easy to fix if the former owners would have sought professional advice. Asking a friend or neighbor that has dogs can be a great source of information and support but it is not a substitute for the coaching a trainer can provide.

So here is my idea, if you know someone who has a dog that has some behavioral problems (serious behavioral problems or just lack of manners training), please consider buying them a gift certificate for the holiday season to a local positive trainer (depending on the issues, you may consider contacting the trainer first). That little bit of encouragement may be all the person needs to go out there and get their dog’s behaviors addressed and give their dog’s a chance to succeed.

I say this not because I AM a trainer and could potentially benefit from the scenario but because I am the guardian of a dog who had issues that could have easily landed her back at the shelter. While there is a lot that I did independently with Shayne, I had the support and advice of some of the best trainers I know. I didn’t have the money until a few years had gone past to get into a class for reactive dogs and would have loved to have gotten training as a gift.

I really hope for a day when dogs are not so disposable that they can be thrown out without even attempting to resolve the issues. But until then, I’d hope people would try to reach out to friends/family and maybe buy a lesson or part of a lesson for a dog/handler in need.

  1. Nick and I have talked about that often. If Gracie had been in a shelter she probably wouldn’t have been adopted. Or if she had been, she would have been returned. It really made me think about the “misbehaving” dogs in shelters. You can’t know what a dog is like until you take it out of shelter and give it the time and training it needs. I will never look at a dog the same way again after our experience with her. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks? I’d take an older dog any day. People just need to put in the effort and they’ll be paid back a thousand times over.

  2. I hope for that day too. These stories are just so heartbreaking and I think most people just don’t realize there might be another way.

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