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— July 17, 2012 —

Why is this dog in a shelter?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I meet homeless dogs every week that are awesome, amazing, cool dogs…and I wonder how anyone could have given them up to a shelter.

Jelly is my newest dog. She’s a female Rottweiler. She thinks people are the coolest thing in the world. She is a cute, super friendly, pure-bred dog (as close as we can guess without having papers). She’s about a year and a half and we got her from a high kill shelter last year. She had 45 minutes to live when we got the email.

Every time I see her, I wonder how someone could have given her up.

Last week, we had a couple come into our facility because they heard about our rescue. This nice mother and her teenaged daughter wanted to “trade” their unruly pit bull in for one of our calm dogs. Really, this is what they were suggesting. They had a young dog, about a year old and since he was so out of control, he was basically living in a crate. He was (probably still is) un-neutered, untrained and young-all things that create problem behaviors.

Just a few days ago, we had a nice young couple surrender a beautiful male Rottweiler to us. Again, Tank is about a year and a half, un-neutered, untrained and missing shot records. Tank was surrendered because he bit a kid in the face. Now before you say, “Why would you take in a dog that bit a kid in the face?” I’ll say this. This bite was the result of extreme human error and a lack of education on the part of the ADULTS in the situation.

There is a saying, “There are no bad dogs, only bad owners.” If you’ve read my past Tails, you know how I feel about that statement. What I do believe is that there are lots of people who are bad owners, and they don’t even know it.

Sure, we all know that dog fighters are abusive to their dogs. We know people who starve their dogs are neglectful, but how about those un-educated owners who just don’t know any better. Lack of education also leads to poor treatment of dogs. In the case of the pit bull above, the family who wanted to give him up simply have no idea what they were doing with a young dog. A dog like this needs to be trained and neutered. With proper exercise they can be great companion dogs.

Tank is the classic case of a working breed dog that never received the training that he deserved. These dogs start to hit maturity and are often given up at about 1 to 1.5 years when they make the transition from “puppy” to “dog”. Also, to anyone knowing dogs would know that it is inappropriate to allow a young child to run up and “hug” a strange dog. This is often seen as aggressive by the dog and many kids get bit in exactly this scenario.

Lack of education can lead to dangerous dogs, too. I personally believe that this is a much more pressing issue when talking about dogs that seriously hurt or even kill people. I live three doors down from a family with three pit bull mixes. (Actually, one of them is pretty much a true pit bull and that is the nicest one. The rest are mixed breeds.) The problem is that they don’t recognize the fact that their dogs are dangerous. The dogs charge the fence when anyone, human, dog or both, walk by the yard. I have more than once had to chase the dogs back into their yard when they have gotten out of their fence. A person or a child who runs from the dogs would likely be mauled. The very fact that these dogs are not being trained or handled properly is what is allowing this situation to develop. Now, I know these people love their dogs. They walk them and the dogs appear well fed. The dogs’ owner simply doesn’t understand what could happen after these dogs spend years frustrated behind a fence. As much as I have tried to educate them, the dogs’ behavior just gets keeps getting worse.

Lack of education costs dogs homes and sometimes their lives. Every year I meet hundreds of owners who are willing to work through problem behaviors, but there are many who aren’t. Just as likely, some people just don’t think their dog can be helped. So, if you have a dog, please know that there are a few things you need to be willing to do, in addition to regular feedings, if you want to be a responsible owner.

  1. You need to understand your dog’s breed, type and temperament. While I have said many times, breed based legislation/discrimination is wrong, there are a few things that are specific to breeds and types of dogs. If you have a working breed, they will probably be more protective than a sporting breed. If you have a terrier, it will likely have a high prey drive. You should know what that means and how to deal with it. Often times, just these types of issues causes a breed to get a bad reputation.

  2. You need to understand the medical needs of your dog and accept the responsibility that comes with it. Tank had never been vaccinated by his owners. That is not appropriate or responsible. Also, unless you have a good and specific reason, neutering will make your dog easier to live with and much less likely to display aggression.

  3. Training is not optional. Training is also not supposed to start AFTER your dog has developed problem behavior. Training needs to be done early and consistently. There are a few people who come to me and say, “My last dog was perfect. He never did (insert whatever problem the new dog is doing). My response it always the same. “Congratulations, you HAD a perfect dog. This dog is normal.”

I know that the people I talk about here loved their dogs, but just loving your dog is not enough. In the case of Tank, they cared about him enough to be heartbroken over giving him up. I wish I could go back in time and explain to them what would happen down the road if they didn’t do a few very important things. Since that is impossible, I hope this helps educate a few people about the importance of training, neutering and proper medical care to prevent problems for other dogs.