When I hear someone badmouthing their dog's behavior, I wonder what they do when an appliance breaks. Usually when things breakdown, people call a repairman who identifies the problem, fixes the issue, and disappears into the night. Yeah it costs money, but life costs money, and who can live without a refrigerator or washer these days?
So why, when it comes to dogs, do people give up hope? Dogs aren't mechanical, but all dog problems have similar roots. Dogs act up when they feel frustrated, scared or bored. A good behaviorist/trainer--a doggy repair person--can help you identify what's causing the mischief and figure out how to fix it. Blaming the dog, dumping it on the street or in a shelter, and starting all over again with a new dog (who'll likely do the same exact thing) won't get you anywhere.
The number of dogs who are dumped in shelters each year - and the number of those who are put to death - is staggering. Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a celebrated veterinary behaviorist, refers to the rising numbers as a canine holocaust. In his passion to keep dogs and people together, he partnered with Dr. James Serpell through the Center for Canine Behavior Studies (CCBS) to research how people affect their dog's behavior. Still in its early stages, the CCBS is asking for volunteers to answer questions about their dogs. To participate, register online. Together with Tufts University, Drs. Dodman and Serpell hope to educate people, slow the shelter crisis and the devastating reality of euthanasia.
In reading over their materials and thinking through my 30 years of experiences with dogs and people, I've come up with my top 7 reasons people give up on dogs. Got more? Add them in the comment section.
1) The dog's too hyper
Dogs can be pretty active. They're certainly not stuffed animals. And it's a little hard to be a dog these days. Leash laws, fences, crates... dogs can get hyper when there is nothing to do and less space to do it in.
Dogs like excitement as much as anyone. The good news? Given 2-3 solid romps, a savory chew bone, and ten minutes of reward-based learning every day, even the most rambunctious dog will settle down. Puppies are especially adventurous, though they calm down by age two or three.
2) The dog won't stop peeing in the house
We humans can be a little germ phobic, myself included. Dogs shouldn't mess in the house, duh, but some get confused. Sure you can give up, but why? Housetraining isn't impossible--it just takes a little extra time. Messy dogs need a watchful eye, limited freedom and routine outings to help them catch on.
3) The dog is too destructive
Are you surprised dogs aren't more destructive? I hate losing something valuable as much as the next person, but dogs - especially young dogs--can get excited when things fall into their pathways. Kids use their hands and eyes to explore stuff, dogs use their teeth. Ripping and shredding are particularly fun.
If you want to have a dog who doesn't destroy your things, tidy up. You'll still have a laundry list of losses - everyone does - but put it in perspective, and try not to blame the dog. Most dogs mellow out after puppyhood. Teach your dog to differentiate what's his and what isn't.
4) The dog takes too much time
This is a tough one. Dogs do take time. Some days you'll have it, and some days will be a strain. If your dog's still young and likes other dogs and people, make friends with dog lovers. Help each other out. I ask the neighborhoods to drop by when I'm traveling or busy. My kids help too. Doggie daycares exist, but they're not always affordable. I occupy my brood with self-soothing activities like peanut butter stuffed toys, treats tossed into leaves or snow, and fresh new bones.
5) People move
This is a sad fact of life. If you find yourself in this situation, think ahead to help ease the transition on both ends of the leash.
6) Dogs reproduce
Dog-love knows no bounds. A dog's passion crosses age, size, and temperamental divides. It's why mix-bred outnumber purebred dogs by the millions.
Well, at least this is preventable.
• Think you can't afford to spay or neuter your pet? Low cost clinics are out there.
• Can't imagine doing it? Check out Youtube videos of mass euthanasia (very graphic and heart-wrenchingly sad), the result of over-population--not cruelty.
7) Money runs out
This is another heartbreaker. It's one reason I never judge anyone.
I have been poor, barely able to feed myself and my dog in my early twenties. I'm grateful I didn't have to choose between a dog and a child. Some people do. It's humiliating.
If you're in this situation, I'm sorry. Organizations can help.
It took me two years to get back on my feet, but I survived. Looking back, I don't remember feeling desperate. I remember out walks in the woods, nights by the fire, the time we shared, my dog and I.
A dog is a good thing to hold onto when weathering life's storms. Don't let go.