Anyone who has ever adopted or purchased a dog remembers that magical moment when all doubts were reconciled, and the decision was made to welcome an animal into your family and life. Unfortunately, for thousands of dogs each year, this story doesn’t have a fairy tale ending. Each year, more than three million dogs enter a shelter throughout the United States, many of these coming in the form of owner surrenders. Nearly 700,000 of these will never get the chance to reach their forever home and will be euthanized. Thousands more will spend months, or even years, languishing in “no kill” shelters, waiting for a chance that may never come.
Owner surrenders are the most preventable means by which a dog enters a shelter. A recent study by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy found behavioral problems to be the most commonly cited reason for owner relinquishment. A staggering 96% of surrendered dogs had no behavioral training before being surrendered.
Professional training should be utilized whenever possible before a dog is surrendered. Here at Dogology, we have partnered with the Animal Care Centers (ACC) in New York City to provide quality, accessible training to those considering surrendering their dog. However, in addition to professional training, there are other actions an owner can take on their own to give them a better understanding of their dog — providing them with the ability to work through behavioral issues that could otherwise lead to a surrender.
The first step to managing behavioral problems lies in the owner’s approach to managing a new pet. The word new must be stressed here, because irrespective of the experience of an owner, every dog is an entirely unique creature, with distinct characteristics, temperaments, and quirks. These can (and likely) will change and evolve over time, and just because an unexpected development does occur, it does not necessarily mean that the dog is a lost cause and surrender is the only option. This mental and emotional acknowledgment — that dogs are unique creatures, and will not behave in the same way other dogs you may have known or owned would have, is the first major step in dealing with behavioral issues that may develop.
Retracing our steps back to the word new and its significance, we must also be cognizant of the dog’s experience as well. When a dog is introduced to a new home, new people, or a new situation, it is an entirely foreign experience. Some dogs will take this in stride and quickly acclimate, whereas others will find the adjustment process more difficult. It is on the human though, to be aware of this, and to calibrate expectations accordingly. Furthermore, as a dog ages, much like a person does, it will enter new phases of its life, which can and likely will bring changes to its personality and temperament. In some cases, these changes will be subtle, but many dogs will experience more overt, drastic changes that could easily catch an unaware owner off guard leading them to feel as if they are losing control of their pet. It’s scenarios like this, which often lead to surrenders.
Generally speaking, the most volatile period in a dog’s development is between eight months and two years of age. This can be viewed as the dog’s “adolescent phase”, where it is not uncommon to see varying degrees of behavioral regression. These regressions may not occur in every aspect of a dog’s temperament — it may continue to excel in some areas, while badly regressing in others. Being aware of these possibilities, and reacting appropriately, will be essential to an owner being able to circumvent the behavioral issues which often lead to surrenders.
In any case, professional training is the most effective way to prevent owner surrenders stemming from behavioral issues. However, the mindset and approach the owner takes to both anticipating, as well as confronting these problems is equally essential. In the final installment of this two part series, we will take a look at what to do once an owner has reached what they perceive to be the “crisis” phase — they’ve adjusted their mindset, sought professional help, but are still having problems, and don’t know where to turn next.