In the world of animal rescue we commonly hear the phrase “Who rescued who?”, this poignant play on words suggests that the pets we have rescued have in turn rescued us. I do not disagree with this phrase, in fact, I proudly boast a bumper sticker saying exactly that. Though in my years of rescue rehabilitation, fostering and dog training I can’t help think it could have an alternate meaning. You see the majority of the dogs that come through our rescues and local shelters could have been rescued much earlier. By proper training and socialization, early on in their lives, many dogs can be saved from shelter life. 96% of dogs relinquished to shelters had not received any obedience training and the majority of those surrendered dogs were 5 months to 2 years of age. As a dog trainer, I constantly emphasis the importance of socialization and early training to my puppy classes not only because it will make them great dogs but because I know it can save these pups from ending up in a shelter someday.
A puppy’s socialization period lasts from approximately 7 to 16 weeks of age. During this time, a puppy develops the seek-avoidance blueprint they will use for the rest of their life when encountering novel items. A well socialized puppy is less likely to become fearful and therefore much less likely to become aggressive. You see a little known fact is that 90% of aggression in dogs is based on fear. There is nothing more sad to me than a dog backed into the corner of his crate growling and snapping at me as I attempt to leash him or even give him a treat. This dogs is saying, “Get away from me! You are making me uncomfortable! I am a big, mean, scary dog and I want you to get away from me NOW!” Most people would just write this dog off to a bad dog not thinking about why he is acting this way. Perhaps this dog had never been out of his house, didn’t get the opportunity to meet a variety of different people or dogs, wasn’t used to a loud environment, the list could go on and on…the realm of socialization is as vast as there is matter in this world.
Proper training of the basic commands such as sit, down, come, stay, leave it and loose leash walking could save many of these dogs too. Most dogs relinquished at an early age were done so because the owner could simply not handle them. “They just don’t listen!” Dogs don’t speak human and humans don’t speak dog BUT a basic training class with your dog you can bridge that communication gap. The simple commands such as “sit” and “stay” can stop a rambunctious dog from jumping all over guests. A “leave it” and “down” could teach your dog not everything goes in their mouth and relaxing on a dog bed or mat somewhere is a lot better than stealing human food off of the dinner table. And there is of course walking politely, no one wants to walk a dog that drags them around the neighborhood, so many of these dogs are just not walked. This leads to bored dogs that are full of energy which is a recipe for destructive behavior!
A lot of dogs that end up in shelters were not relinquished. They just got out of the yard, got lost and never made it back home. Microchipping your dog can save your dog in this situation, but that is another article completely. The key here is having a solid, reliable recall or “come” command with your dog. Being able to call your dog and have them reliably stop whatever it is they are doing and turn and run to you at full speed is not something they are born with knowing. Plus most of the time you are much more boring than whatever they have just found to roll in the in the neighbors yard. This is where proper training comes in again. A reliable recall can be taught at an early age and continued to be practiced throughout the dog’s life. I still practice recalls with my 9 year old Aussie and am proud to say I can call her off of a squirrel in full run! A reliable recall can save your dogs life in many ways; stop them from running out in front of a car because the neighbors cat was teasing them in the front yard or your 5 year old son left the front door open and of course stop them from running away and being picked up by animal control. How reliable is your dog’s recall?
So, Who Rescued Who? Let’s start saving our dogs before they end up in the shelter and rescue systems. If you haven’t already, sign up for a Puppy Socialization and Manners, Adult Basic Manners or Private In Home training class with a certified professional dog trainer. Not only could it save your dog’s life in the future, it will help you establish a clear communication system and create a strong life lasting bond with your dog.
Amanda Pingston, CPDT-KA
Every Dog Has Its Day
“Positive training for the every day dog!”