Note from Con Slobodchikoff: This is a post by guest author Nancy Frensley, CPDT, CAP2, who is Manager of Behavior and Training at the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society in Berkeley, California. She will write periodic posts about the behavioral challenges and joys of shelter dogs.
When you work at an animal shelter you encounter people on a daily basis who are struggling with the dilemma of having to give up their beloved pet. Among the main reasons people come up against this decision are the following: housing changes, unaffordable medical problems, behavior problems, and lifestyle changes of various kinds (i.e. age and lack of lifestyle fit). Every one of these reasons is valid when looking to surrender your pet. I find most people really do not want to give up their dogs but are faced with no-win situations. Some people are able, though, with a little extra effort to keep their pets.
Housing changes are one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. Dog friendly rental housing is hard to find and often comes with size and breed restrictions, as well as prohibitive deposits. The best line of defense in this case is to have a truly well-mannered dog with no history of house soiling or destruction. These are traits you develop from the moment your dog comes to live with you. If you have a well-mannered dog, do your best to get references from the landlord and neighbors as well as from your veterinarian, trainer and boarding kennel. When you move into a new place, show an exceptionally high-level of courtesy and responsibility.
When you have to search for new housing, give yourself a lot of lead time. In the event you absolutely can not find a place for your dog, there might be an opportunity for an organization, such as the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society (BEBHS), to successfully re-home your dog. As long as you have one of those stellar pooches with no major problems.
Lifestyle and housing changes share similar problems. New roommates, fiancés, spouses, and babies can make it difficult to keep a dog. I have received many requests for behavior advice from people with new roommates/spouses. Generally, they find they must change their own and their dogs’ habits to accommodate the new situation. To do less is a formula for failure and strife.
In the case of new babies you have nine beautiful months to change your dog’s habits. With adequate preparation and a dog that you are really committed to, you can subtly change the dog’s habits and apply additional training so the dog is manageable during this most stressful time in your life. If, on the other hand, your dog is not well socialized or is poorly socialized (specifically with children) you may not have a choice about keeping the dog in your home. There is abundant information on the internet about preparing your dog for a baby. Your local humane society, like BEBHS, may offer classes and counseling on preparing your dog for this life-changing event.
Behavior and medical problems are areas that seem to cause people the most anguish when it comes to their dogs. Some behavior problems are easily resolved by managing the dog. House soiling, mild food guarding and a few others fit into that category. Fixing those often means your dog will have to lose some freedoms to which you think he or she is entitled. But, if it resolves the problem and makes everyone more comfortable – it’s worth working on. Aggression and separation distress are the two that are most invoked for giving up a dog. And they are the most difficult to deal with.
In the case of medical problems it is often the cost or the time needed to care for the animal that makes people think about a new home as a possible solution. With these cases, we encourage people to find a friend or relative who has a suitable situation and is willing to work on a treatment plan for the dog.
Very few (if any) shelters are able to take dogs with significant behavior or medical problems. But it is worth taking the time to talk to staff at the shelters to explore the possibilities. You can often get good advice and referrals from experts who can help if you choose to work on the dog’s behavioral issues. There are pretty much four universal choices you can make for dogs who have these problems:
do not happen.
2. You can try to change the behavior or seek alternative treatments.
3. You can give the dog away to someone willing to handle the dog’s problems.
4. You can euthanize the dog.
The best way to get to the right solution is to be informed. Have your dog evaluated by a qualified professional to see if the issues are surmountable. Expert evaluation can present you with an idea of what might be involved in rehabilitation.
Surrendering your dog is not always the only option. Do not be afraid to be creative and do not give up at the first obstacle. If, however, you come to the conclusion that your dog must go, know there are a number of valid reasons for re-homing a dog and that you have done everything possible for your dog.