Who's in Charge -- You or Your Dog?
by Debra Parsons (CEO, Suncoast Humane Society, Inc., Englewood, FL)
Isn't it ironic that thousands of "man's best friends" are abandoned in shelters across America every day? Out of every five dogs surrendered to shelters by their owners, four are given up because of "behavioral problems." Out of every five dog owners, only one will ever take his dog to a training class. Is the connection becoming clearer?
Every day we are asked to help find new homes for dogs with problem behaviors. Dogs that growl at their owners, are food aggressive or play too rough typically end up at the shelter. How much easier would it have been to first try to modify the inappropriate behavior rather than removing the dog from the situation?
True, if left to their doggish devices, many dogs will take charge of the family. But most behavior problems can be corrected with consistent, assertive training from a committed owner.
While shelter adoption programs attempt to find appropriate homes for the animals in our care, we sometimes fail to make a good match the first time out.
Recently, Cheyenne, an energetic, easily intimidated but non-aggressive dog was surrendered. When she was adopted, the young couple took her into their hearts and home with high hopes, but they were not terribly realistic. They were infatuated with the idea of a dog. They didn't really see Cheyenne, they saw a dog to fulfill their fantasy of a dog.
In a state of heightened enthusiasm, they were too busy to listen to our counselors, although they readily agreed to obedience classes and crate training. Several weeks went by and the honeymoon was over.
The adopters made lots of excuses to themselves about why they didn't take Cheyenne for basic training. They were always on the go, socially active, running behind schedule, or just too busy to commit to Cheyenne.
Then there was the first phone call. They contacted us because they did not know what to do about Cheyenne's pushy behavior and growling when challenged for things like food, or getting off the bed. We explained why she was demonstrating this behavior, and suggested training that would help. We gave dates and times of classes, trainers to call, and suggested materials to read.
Unfortunately the second call, a few weeks later, was because the wife had been bitten when she reached for Cheyenne. Any amateur trainer could have seen it coming. But the adopters were unable to admit to their inexperience and could not commit to their dog's welfare, even knowing that they were having a problem that could be corrected.
And so, like hundreds of other family pets, Cheyenne ended up in a shelter. The adopters gave up and are probably still making excuses to themselves and to their friends.
This scenario impacts every shelter worker, and we are either saddened or angered by it. Unfortunately thousands of dogs are abandoned in shelters and many are put to death because of behavioral problems.
This shows a lack of commitment and disrespect for "man's best friend." It is so simple, yet many people find it difficult to listen to the advice of trained professionals, to admit inexperience, and ask for help. Information about dog behavior or training is readily available, and training fees are typically modest ($60 for a 6-week course).
So, why are so many of "man's best friends" abandoned to a shelter or dog pound for behavior issues? Cheyenne will have another chance with a more carefully selected adopter.
We at the shelter do make mistakes in evaluating others' motivations and their level of commitment to an animal. But at Suncoast Humane Society, we are committed to making life just a little better for every animal that comes our way. To our way of thinking, the Cheyennes of the world deserve better.
Author Debra Parsons-Drake may be reached by phone 941 474-7884 or fax 941 475-3877. Copyright 2002 (3/02) Reprinted here with permission of the author.
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