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What Shelter Dogs Need the Most

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What shelter dogs need the most has absolutely nothing to do with brick and mortar. It doesn’t matter to dogs what color the paint on the wall is, what modern design a shelter has, or that you can even feed and water them without the need to open the gates. It’s not the fabric of the building that makes a difference, it’s the people inside the building, the quality of the staff, and it’s the caregivers that will make that difference.

Why are we building more shelters when we were told that the spay/neuter campaigns were supposed to take care of the overpopulation? We should be closing doors, not opening new ones to even bigger shelters… and when technology takes over the details of feeding a dog, the dog loses the human touch, the hand that would have touched him and the face that would have smiled at him. A better solution would be to educate people in our communities about the necessity of training their dogs to live in a world of people and educate them about the natural behaviors of dogs and their body language.

Thousands of adoptable dogs are destroyed every year in animal shelters across Canada and the US. To comprehend the magnitude of this needless waste of life, think about a pet you are fond of and all the animal’s qualities. Then think of the thousands of pets just like the one you are fond of who wants nothing more than to be part of a loving family, but are killed every day in Canada and the US

Why are we breeding more and more dogs when most times we can pick exactly what we want from shelters, the vast majority of dogs destroyed are not inferior to those who come from breeders or pet stores? Shelter dogs can make much better companions than those bred for pet sales. Police dogs, service dogs, sniffer dogs come from shelters.

And even if you’re looking for a pure bred dog, that’s no longer a problem either, the days of only locating mutts are gone; twenty years ago you wouldn’t see a Boxer, Shih Tzu, Corgi, or a Cocker Spaniel in a shelter. It’s quite a different story now; you will find Pugs, Papillions, Bichons, Huskies, German Shepherds, Chihuahuas, Labradors, Goldens and Border Collies.

There’s a dog hanging on to go home with you, so why are we not adopting our companion dogs? Don’t buy your dog from a breeder, don’t buy from a pet shop, don’t buy on line, don’t buy from a puppy mill, buy your dog from your local shelters or breed rescues, you may find that once in a lifetime dog.

And if there aren’t enough homes for dogs in shelters and their obviously aren’t, we should be taking the best ones and not take in the worst ones, we should make the owner responsible or better still we should make the breeder responsible.

We ought to be training people to take responsibility for their pets when they behave inappropriately in society and in their homes instead of dumping them for someone else to repair. Perhaps pre-testing them before they come in rather than after they are dropped off. When the owner arrives and says I don’t want it anymore, the person who is doing the interview could ask the owner to groom it for about ten minutes. If the dog won’t tolerate the owner touching it how are they going to find a new home? They could do a lot of work with him in the shelter, but not all shelters are equipped with professional groomers that will teach the dog to accept being touched and handled.

Then mix up a bowl of food and ask the owner to stroke it while it’s eating, you won’t need an assess-a-hand now you have the real one and it’s the owners. And if the owner knows she can’t touch the dog while it’s eating, they will decline to do the test in front of you anyway. That prevents the dog coming in and perhaps going out with problems that the staff might not know about, and it also avoids all these extensive hard to do test in shelters that take up a lot of time and finances. Would this not tell us a lot more about the dog that’s being dropped off?

Only accepting surrenders that are adoptable would make it less challenging to find them homes and get them out of this highly competitive, high stress environment quicker while saving time and money that could be better put to use somewhere else. Then you could ask the owner to walk by other dogs and if their dog is lunging out at other dogs, don’t take it in. In other words the shelter is not taking responsibility for a dog that’s already a problem. Shelters would then be in the business for finding homes for nice dogs.

Then if the dog failed the test, I’m talking about an owner drop off, they would need to go through some sort of training and at the owners cost before being accepted for adoption. Thus giving the responsibility back to owners. What are we teaching the next generation of companion dog owners? Do we want them to think that our companion dogs are just something we can dispose of for whatever reason? What about our children and grandchildren, will they follow our ways or can we begin to make a change by doing things differently and setting new goals for unwanted animals?

We can begin with how to improve the way we train companion dogs. It’s no longer in demand to train our dogs to do precision heel-work, to sit-stay with its owner of sight or to come to front on a recall and then finish to heel. This is for competitive obedience; it has no purpose what so ever for a companion dog owner. Something as simple as teaching people how to teach their dog to walk nicely on a loose leash; could save dog lives.

Teaching owners to have their dog sit when requested, or to be able to send their dog to its mat or bed, or to teach dogs self-control. And how about how to use emotions to give dogs feed -back. Emotional language is universal just as is body language and no one uses it anymore, you don’t need words to be understood by dogs worldwide.

And here’s the big one. Prior to the past two decades, the idea of socializing a puppy involved familiarizing our puppy to a variety of different people under different circumstances and environments. We did this because domestic dogs live in a people world. During this past decade or so, there has been a shift in emphasis from socializing dogs to people to socializing dogs to other dogs.

I think there may be several reasons that motivated this shift. Undeniably guilt plays a role here. Then our lifestyles have become more and more complex as well which means our dogs mean far more to us. What better way to compensate our dogs than allowing our dogs the opportunity to romp with their own kind and to become one with their inner dog?

Though that sounds ideal, it overlooks several realities that I find troubling. First, humans have spent more than 10,000 years, 40,000 maybe even 100.000 years domesticating dogs so dogs would prefer humans over canine companionship. Do we really want to encourage dogs to play by canine rather than human rules while at the same time we demand more of them in their intimate interactions with us?

And finally, don’t forget to ask why you think your dog needs this kind of activity. If your dog is well-behaved and healthy, chances are that he or she is perfectly content to spend time with you rather than other dogs. Is that not why we call them companion dogs, to be people companions rather than another dog’s companion.

I love the fact that my dogs would rather play with me than any other dog they meet. They are being normal balanced dogs by choosing me. I don’t want to be treated like just another canine. I want to be all I can for my dogs in return I also want them to be all they can for me, after all I control everything in their world, I want them to want to be with me because I’m a heck of a lot more fun than any dog they would ever meet. Dogs that would rather interact with other dogs than people are not the normal but rather the exception.

Does that mean that you can’t engage in dog activities because you enjoy the companionship of other people who like dogs, too? Not at all. However, just be sure to select those activities that will meet your dog’s needs and not just yours. So if owners took responsibility for the education of their dog we would have better behaved dogs that would remain in their homes, with their families and alive by looking at changes we could make by:

  1. Making training and education a requirement in order to own a dog
  2. Training effective and useful real life exercises
  3. Accepting only good dogs from drop-offs
  4. Having owners perform behavior testing, as this will tell us much more about that dog
  5. Placing the emphasis on socializing dogs to people, rather than dog to dog
  6. Refusing bad dogs as surrenders until some training has been done by its owner at the owners cost

If we taught owners in dog training classes’ useful everyday exercises that they could actually use in their homes where they spend ninety percent of their time with their dog they may not get as frustrated, they could send the dog to his mat to chill out.

If we taught owners how to achieve loose leash walking, they could enjoy walking their dogs without the stress of jerking and yelling at them, which creates owners that end up disliking their dog. We could make such wide-spread changes while diminishing a disease known as “Disposable Pet Syndrome”.

For even more training and behavior tips, visit The Pee Press!

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  1. While it’s nice in theory, expecting the person who is surrendering his dog to pay for training that dog is irresponsible at best and horrendous at worst. Many of the these people will get rid of the dog in any way they can rather than pay for or attend a class. They already don’t want the dog, and if it’s more difficult to surrender their dog they will either continue to neglect it until it dies, kill it or simply dump it off somewhere along the side of the road. Prolonging the suffering of unwanted pets is not acceptable.

  2. Avatar Of Pam Mahony

    Pam Mahony


    I wonder if the author of this thread has read the thread about making it too hard to adopt dogs.

    I CANNOT imagine requiring an owner to jump through hoops before he/she is allowed to turn the dog over to a shelter!!! THIS is why we have abandoned, starving dogs~~~ NO ONE, not even a shelter, is willing to take responsibility for that dog.

    Many of the people who move into a place which will not take dogs (I cannot ever imagine doing this) do not have the love for the dog that makes that person a good dog owner. But they are responsible enough to try to find the dog a safe haven.

    If the shelter does not take the dog then who will? Answer, no one. And the dog beomes a lost and starving stray. Will the shelter take the dog then????

  3. Avatar Of Malene Tranholm

    Malene Tranholm


    I am always happy to read an article, that is well-written and by someone who took the time to try to understand all the mechanics in this society. The way I understand your article, you want to owners of dogs to take responsibility for lack of effort in training, socializing and committing to their dog. Not just when they want to dispose of the dog, but also while they have the dog in their homes & lives. And otherwise suffer the consequences AND be responsible for maybe making the hard decision to end its life, if they failed this dog. They will have to live with this, not that they will reflect too much on it, but it will be a pattern in their life (I like to think, that their life will never be really good, because that requires good choices;)). I agree that dog ownership should require a show of good intentions, training, socializing and so forth. Our dogs are part of our lives and we take them everywhere, where appropriate (not Everglades, Casino and the Mall). If something were to happen to my husband and I, we have friends and family, that would love to commit to our wellbehaved, socialized and happy loving dogs. I don’t mean to sound like I’m preaching, but dagnabbit put a little effort into something other than yourself, who knows you might find that you are good at it and enjoying the fresh air, beach, park, forest.. & most of all COMMIT!

  4. Avatar Of Peter Peter says:

    I have just adopted a shelter dog- he is incredible, but his two plus years have been hell. His biggest issue is separation anxiety. Having been deserted in open fields three times, who could blame him??? He is all love- I trained dogs of all breeds for years– he is a winner— Kong toys work well, but nothing and I MEAN NOTHING replaces consistent assertive positive energy. Dogs instinctively wish to please– it’s the human owner who needs the training more than the dog. Petey (named after the pooch in the little rascals- all white with a black eye, and my nickname as well) has progressed in one month beyond belief. I am at the point of simple hand signals to indicate what I want him to do. I naturally reassure him with rewards– not necessarily food, but affection– work folks, they’re worth it !!

    • Avatar Of Paul



      I totally agree with you Peter. Someone dumped a beautiful brindle akita/pit bull mix out in the country near my property. She showed up at my place and was drinking from the deer water trough when I returned home from work. She calmly introduced herself to my dogs thru the fence when I put them in the yard. I sat on the ground and remained quietly looking into the distance until she walked up and smelled me. No collar, took pictures, put up signs, put ad in paper and notification on three different facebook pages and after 10 days no responce. Took her to my vet, no chip but heartworm negative. Started her on preventative and she is now utd on shots. She is now part of our pack. Still haven’t discovered behavior that got her dumped. She is affectionate, non aggressive to other dogs, non food aggressive, well balanced already returns on recall and has gone from a puller to a loose leash walker in less than three weeks. Perhaps it was the previous owner that was the problem as I couldn’t have ask for a better dog.

  5. Avatar Of Amanda



    I have a problem with the assertion that all bad dogs should be turned away from shelters. The people who don’t properly socialize their animals and then want to give their animals up simply don’t care enough to then go through training. If these people cannot get their animal into a shelter then they will get rid of the dog by alternate means. It is more humane for a dog to be taken into a shelter and euthanized than it is for the same dog to be dumped alongside a busy highway and struck by a vehicle. And if a dog is truly aggressive, then removing it from society is a matter of public safety.

    • Avatar Of Cheryl



      I totally agree with you. People who get dogs and don’t socialize them, train them and make them a part of the family will never take the responsibility for their misbehaved dogs. Many like the cuteness of a pup, but once an adult the dog loses it’s appeal. Turning these types if dogs away from a shelter is more than likely a death sentence. I volunteer for a group that takes shelter dogs to PetSmart every week-end and many times we get unruly or dog aggressive animals. These dogs come back week after week and I am amazed at how they transform right before our eyes. Our volunteers work hard at sit, stay, down, etc. They ARE trainable. It may take months to get there, but we have yet to get a dog that was too far gone to help. One dog was with us for almost a year and was dog aggressive but with work she turned into a wonderful companion. Just this week, her “mom” brought her into the store to see us. What a delight!

  6. Avatar Of Dr.howardhail



    Where to start, first mandatory spay and neuter increases more dogs in shelters and more expenditures for the city. Education of dog owner is needed as a female dog can only get pregnant when she ovulates and that is once or twice a year. Most dogs come in every 8 months only a few every 6 months. If you train people who to recognize this event then the dog can be kept away from males for one week. Great birth control and you don’t have to rip out their organs in a surgery that causes 100,000 dogs to die each year who have homes. It also lengthens their lifespan and prevents cancer, incontinence and a host of other diseases caused by removal of their hormone making organs. Did you know that hormones tell the dog’s bones when to stop growing, they mature the mind and keep the dog’s immune system healthy. In fact there is no good health reason to spay or neuter a dog according to studies put out by the AVMA. As for shelters if they would mentor the new owner like responsible show breeders do they would find fewer dogs being returned to the shelter or to another rescue group. Did you know that 47% of all dogs adopted will be returned to a shelter or rescue group for the same behaviors that got it put into a shelter in the first place. Dogs should be acclimated to all human beings and all animals that may reside in a home with them and that includes other dogs. As for sit, stay, heel, these are time honored methods of training your dog to obey and to make them a good citizen. Blaming this training rather than educating people to use time honored methods that truly work is just plain stupid. If your dog doesn’t obey you then you do not have control of your animal and its an accident waiting to happen. The only thing I agree with is that ill tempered dogs and those in ill health should not be adopted out. If they illness is treatable then treat them, if they are aggressive, extremely ill or full of parasites don’t dump them on the public. Sometimes these animal rights cults get too caught up in their lack of knowledge about dogs in general. After all HSUS tried to feed dogs and cats a vegan diet. Really shows their lack of knowledge.

    • Avatar Of Malene Tranholm

      Malene Tranholm


      I agree with everything you wrote, especially coming from Scandinavia, where no vet will perform a spay or neuter on a pet UNLESS there is a condition that can be resolved by performing the surgery. Thank you for common sense and emphasizing responsible pet ownership:)

    • Avatar Of Mmatthews



      Dr. Howard Hail – your suggestion to try to educate the public about dog ovulation and reproductive cycles and dismiss spay/neuter programs is the most ridiculous and irresponsible statement I have ever heard. Mandatory, and I do mean MANDATORYspay/neuter is the ONLY way out of this overpopulation problem. The majority of our shelters are full of Pitty/Am Staff mixes who have been bred beyond what could ever be a sustainable population by people who are not interested in discussing ovulation. It’s BREED, BREED, BREED. Spayed and neutered dogs live perfectly long and healthy lives if they receive proper nourishment, exercise, health care and love that every animal needs and deserves. Dogs adopted with behavioural issues should receive appropriate training with follow through from their GUARDIANS. An un-spayed/un-neutered dog (or cat) IS an accident waiting to happen that could have easily been prevented by a simple surgical procedure. Spay/neuter techniques are less invasive than ever before and pose a minimal surgical risk to the animal. By the way, dogs can be perfectly healthy on a vegetarian diet. Cats, however, are carnivores.


  7. Avatar Of Karen



    I think this article hits the nail on the head. People need to be educated about spaying and neutering and training their dogs. I always tell people that I know when they get a puppy to take it to school- it’s amazing what you learn about dogs and humans! I do have one problem, at least in my area, Western Massachusetts- some rescue places have requirements for fenced in yards and are not flexible on that.

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