We still get many shelters/rescues/acos criticizing us and asking why we spend so much time concentrating on dogs manifesting behavioral issues or have bite histories when there are so many good dogs needing to be saved and we could also save many more dogs if we didn't concentrate on the difficult/behaviorally challenging dogs. When we do take in these dogs there is much resentment still from ACOs and shelter staff. They report they must keep community safe and cannot be adopting out dogs that growl, lunge, are jumpy/mouthy etc. without spending any resources on correcting the behavior. What is your experience with this and how do you respond?
I can only comment on this from the perspective of a volunteer who trains dogs at shelters.Imagine it from a dog's perspective. Shelters are terrifying. They're loud, they're cramped, strangers are coming in and bothering you all the time, strangers keep touching you, you're isolated in a small room for the vast majority of the day. You have to poo and pee and then spend all night being close to that. They're scary and stressful. And yet you're expected to react like you're happy, relaxed, totally fine with strangers coming in and manhandling you, even though you may have past experience where you were hit or screamed at or shot. And yet you're expected to know that THESE strangers are fine.That is what the vast majority of dogs experience when they're in a shelter. The shelter staff can be going above and beyond for the dogs under their care but the honest truth is that shelter's are meant to be temporary. They're meant as a place where a dog is held and cared for for a little while before they find their home. But dogs don't know that. All they know is that they've been shut into this scary place and there's no chance they're getting out. So ask yourself. If you were arrested and put into solitary confinement and had random people who may have hurt you before coming in and touching you, would you act happy about it? Would you feel safe? Would you just assume they meant the best for you?HELL NO. You'd lash out, panic, wet yourself, slap the person coming at you, scream, cry, and a combination of so much more. So why would people assume that dogs wouldn't react that way? Now imagine all of that happening in a place where you don't understand the language, where nothing is explained to you, and where you're basically forced to do what these strangers want. THAT is what a dog experiences in a shelter. THAT is why stuff like field trips and fostering is so important. A dog in a home, even just for a few nights, is a dog with less stress (this has been scientifically proven via cortisol levels). A dog with less stress is a dog that's less likely to be scared enough to defend itself. So saying all stressed dogs aren't worth the effort is like saying every dog entering into a shelter is a lost cause.If you need behavioral resources, then grants are a great way to go. As is putting out feelers in the community for people who are interested in learning about dog training. I'm getting my CPDT-KA and I've done 225 out of the required 300 hours at shelters. I've trained other volunteers in how to train dogs. Hell, even just taking my dogs for a walk, I train people on how to properly greet them. Alternatively, get a hold of someone with a CPDT-KA, KPA, or CDBC after their name and say that if they come in a few times a month and help to train the staff, that you'll refer adopters to them. I have worked with dogs with bite histories. All but the one I'm currently working with have gotten adopted and are in amazing homes. And guess what? No biting has been reported. Not one of those dogs has been returned, all of whom were over 50 pounds. Those dogs are in homes where they live lives that aren't 99% stress. To say they were lost causes and not worth the effort is an insult.
Thank you MK for your reply.I completely agree. What I am asking is suggestions for clear responses to:1. we could save many more dogs as a rescue if we didn't concentrate on the difficult/behaviorally challenging dogs. 2. When we do take in these dogs there is much resentment still from ACOs and shelter staff. They report they must keep community safe and cannot be adopting out dogs that growl, lunge, are jumpy/mouthy etc. without spending any resources on correcting the behavior. how do you respond?Just yesterday we were contacted by a good ACO who had transferred a dog to a rescue and the dog lunged/barked at a passerby. The rescue was going to euthanize b/c of Liability. Their reason verbatim "b/c of liability we cannot adopt out a dog that does that. What do you expect us to do wait until something more serious happens?" How do you begin to respond to such low level thinking?
Hi Mary Lou, this is such a large, important topic. Thank you for starting this conversation.... I'm excited to see everyone's responses!
While there is a number of directions to take this, I think it boils down to (1) the organization's mission, (2) the organization's resources - including trained & experienced behavior professionals & trainers, (3) the market of adoptive homes that the organization services. Many experienced rescuers who do not have a decent understanding of behavior struggle to differentiate between behaviors that can easily be worked through and reliably modified - versus behaviors that may be modified for certain situations but always present a level of risk - versus behaviors that require a LOT of resources to potentially improve but likely always have a high level of risk. Like MK mentioned, short term foster programs are great at helping to gather more information. Shelter Playgroup Alliance also has their Canine Assessment of Risk for Shelters program (https://www.shelterdogplay.org/cars) that helps rate and measure the level of risk for the community.
1. we could save many more dogs as a rescue if we didn't concentrate on the difficult/behaviorally challenging dogs.
--> When people approach me with statements such as this, I ask them to define "behavior dogs", as that is the term people normally use with me. Every single dog will act differently in my home than in my best friend's home simply due to differences in our lifestyles and family. What is a behavior struggle in a dog for me is not the same as for another family. Also, this can be said for medical cases, hospice, pregnant animals, etc. If a rescue is willing to pull a pregnant dog out of a shelter and spend the next 2-3 months raising those puppies prior to adopting them out... I do not want to hear from them that they're not willing to give a dog two weeks in foster care to see if progress can be made quickly. It tells me that rescue does not understand behavior - nor the effect of stress / genetics on puppies.
At the same time, what is the goal of the organization? Is it to save as many as possible? Is it to make a difference in the lives of homeless animals in the county? Is it to help the community gain access to healthy, well-adapted animals? The goal and mission of the organization definitely plays a role here. As what is right for one isn't right for another.
2. When we do take in these dogs there is much resentment still from ACOs and shelter staff. They report they must keep community safe and cannot be adopting out dogs that growl, lunge, are jumpy/mouthy etc. without spending any resources on correcting the behavior. how do you respond?
--> I do agree that dogs who are higher risk do need to either be worked with or sent to an organization with the resources to work with the dog. Part of a shelter / rescue's responsibility to the animal is that the best decision for that animal will be made. For example - if the dog finds living alongside humans unpleasant and aversive... the best thing for that dog is not to be immediately placed into a pet home. Another example - if a dog has severe separation and confinement anxiety, the best solution for that dog is not sending it a to a rescue that will keep the dog [panicking] in an impact crate during the work day so that the foster can go to work. On the other hand... for a young adolescent dog that jumps up and can be a bit mouthy, the best thing for that animal is probably to spend some time modifying that behavior and/or providing the adopter resources to modify that behavior themselves. I don't think there's an easy or black/white answer.
I would absolutely look into Shelter Playgroup Alliance and also review some of Trish McMillan's talks on marginal dogs. There's a balance that maybe one day some of us will find! Between providing post-adoption support, pre-adoption behavior modification, and efficient behavioral evaluations that look at the individual animal's place in the community.
Thank you Katie. One excuse/reason we are often given is we simply don't have the resources to handle behavior that can easily escalate into a bite and we don't have fosters willing to work with larger adult dogs with behavior issues. This is often the fall back excuse along with liability. If you are working with a small rescue that might definitely be more legitimacy to that However when we work with large well funded organizations where the CEO is making three figures it is deplorable. How would you respond to no resources/little fosters from a very well funded shelter?
Hey Mary Lou,It sounds like there's a lack of understanding about dogs and dog behavior among staff and ACOs. The vast majority of these behaviors are a result of fear. This results in reactivity on the dog's part. Reactivity is not aggression for the sake of aggression. Reactivity is a dog who has been pushed over their stress threshold and are doing everything they can to get back under it. Think of it like a panic attack. The dogs that lunge on walks towards other dogs don't want to kill the other dogs (there are a VERY, VERY few exceptions to this), they want the other dogs to go away and give them more space, like a comfort zone bubble. They're panicking and just like people who are afraid of bees run away, flail, and scream to get the bees away, these dogs are barking, lunging (trying to scare the other dog away), and doing everything they can to get the other dog to go away and give them more space. Add in things like leash reactivity (being forced to stay close to what they're panicking about) and barrier reactivity (being forced to be face to face with what they're panicking about), and I would say it's incredibly rare for a dog to NOT react in that way when they're put in a situation they are terrified of. Saying they're hopeless and aggressive shows the people asking why you bother don't really understand what a dog is doing and why a dog is doing it. For people that work with dogs, that's a problem.The vast majority of dogs have some behavioral issue. And quite frankly, dogs that jump, growl, and lunge are the dogs that are very clearly communicating that they're terrified and in the midst of a panic attack. They're telling you they are over threshold and need to be removed from that situation. It's the dogs that don't warn that you need to be concerned about. Those dogs don't communicate in any way, either through movement, posture, body language, or growling, that they're over threshold and are about to snap. Unfortunately, some of those dogs have been punished for warning their handler, and so they keep quiet. Those dogs do require an expert to handle them, in which case, they need to be transferred to a shelter with a behavior consultant or certified trainer on staff. But dogs that bark and jump when they're on walks? That just takes a little bit of training and understanding of how dogs actually function. It sounds like most of your dogs fit into that category so I wouldn't call them difficult, and I sure as hell wouldn't call them hopeless.I know you're looking for actual responses, but I think you may need a staff training day. You probably can't do anything for the ACOs but your staff needs to be trained in how dogs communicate, how they behave, how they learn, and how to help them be more comfortable and confident. If you are partners with a larger shelter that has a behavior program, ask them if they could train your staff on these things. Alternatively, ask them if they can recommend a trainer who would be willing to come out and train your staff. For how I train, it takes 3 half hour sessions to get a dog to stop jumping in 90% of cases. It takes 5 ten minute sessions to get a dog to stop being mouthy. Reactivity takes a bit longer, but all the handler needs to do is listen to the dog and gradually desensitize the fear trigger, all of which can be done on daily walks. None of the problems you listed are unsolvable. The majority don't even take that long to solve, but the handler needs to listen to the dog and know how to understand the dog. Otherwise, 98% of the dogs coming into the shelter are going to be considered by staff as hopeless. No response you can make will change their minds, only a change in knowledge will.The shelter that took in a dog who lunged with the purpose of killing it is a shelter that is very suspicious and needs to be looked into. The dog lunged at a passerby to get them to give them space. Did the handler ever consider taking a few steps back to give the dog that space? Probably not. I would ask them why they didn't step back to give the dog more space, though you're probably much nicer than me and wouldn't be that confrontational. It sounds like they set the dog up for failure, had no intention of working with it or understanding it, had little understanding of the dog or general dog body language or behavior, and decided to kill the dog because of that. That's like putting a person who is terrified of public speaking in front of a Broadway audience, and then screaming at them for not being able to perform perfectly. It's asinine.They need to understand how dogs behave and why they behave. If they don't have any interest in doing so and just want to not bother with those dogs, then I'm not sure why they're working with dogs in the first place. The other commenter made some great points as well about acknowledging what your shelter is capable of as well. I work with dogs that either get trained or will never leave the shelter. You may not want to work with those dogs which is totally fine, but the dogs who just jump or have basic reactivity don't fall into that category. Those dogs are pretty easy to work with, and only take a little bit of knowledge and understanding to do so. I do think that regardless of what direction you want your shelter to go in, you need to get your staff trained by a certified dog trainer or by a certified dog behaviorist.
Thank you. Regarding the shelter that took in the dog that lunged and growled. I should have clarified it was a rescue. The dog was in foster directly from the ACO facility where she had been for a month with no issue. Now in foster these behaviors were manifesting and the rescue basically said to us (we are a networking organization) 'you asked us to take in this dog so she wouldn't become stressed in the shelter and we did so and now her true colors are coming out in the home. We won't adopt her out. What do you want us to do , wait until something happens, like she bites?" (we found other placement but the original rescue stands by what they believe ). I would like suggestions on encouraging a rescue like this to keep the dog and allow us to work with the foster providing resources. But the rescue screamed liability and foster/community safety. This fall back excuse/reason is often hard to work around. I would love ideas from others how they navigate these arguments.
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