By Christine D. Calder, DVM, DACVB
Calder Veterinary Behavior Services, www.caldervbs.com
Did you know that behavioral challenges are the primary reason dogs are surrendered to shelters each year? Many of these sheltered dogs are under two years old, and only a few have received prior veterinary care before their surrender. The backgrounds of these dogs vary: some may be sick or injured, others might be strays due to abandonment, getting lost, or escaping from their homes. A common trait among them is the lack of formal training, and many have not been spayed or neutered.
Adopting a dog from a shelter is undoubtedly rewarding but equally challenging. The history of a dog, including their early behaviors, previous environments, and genetic background, often remains a mystery. However, once your adopted dog is home, it's vital to provide them with a dedicated "safe haven." Meeting their basic needs, like comfortable bedding, warmth, food and water, can make them feel secure. Give them time to acclimate to their new environment. The transition from a shelter to a home can take weeks to months. It's not unusual for dogs to exhibit new and undesirable behaviors once they start settling in. It's essential to monitor these behaviors and, if necessary, seek early intervention.
It's crucial to understand the emotional distress some dogs experience when surrendered. The act of surrendering can be deeply distressing, as dogs are suddenly uprooted from familiar environments and separated from people or other animals, they've formed attachments to in their previous home. In the shelter, despite best efforts to provide care and comfort, many dogs experience feelings of anxiety, fear, and frustration.
Being returned after an adoption can further compound this emotional distress. While returns can indeed offer valuable insights into a dog's behavior within a household setting, they can also be traumatic for the dog. Being reintroduced to the shelter environment after experiencing the comforts of a home can be difficult for some. However, there's a silver lining: the information gained from a return can aid in ensuring a better-suited subsequent adoption, as it sheds light on the dog's needs and compatibility factors.
It's important to note that before considering surrendering a dog to a shelter due to behavioral issues, there are resources available. Assistance may be sought from family veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists, or other pet professionals such as trainers. These professionals can offer guidance, solutions, and techniques to address and manage various behavioral challenges, potentially avoiding the need for surrender.
For dogs, the prevalent reasons for surrender related to behavior encompass house soiling, destructive tendencies, excessive barking, and boisterous behaviors. This is often followed by behavioral traits of fearfulness and histories of biting.
With professional guidance, proper training, and adequate resources, your dog can experience a smooth transition into their forever home. Remember, understanding, patience, training, and veterinary care lay the foundation for a lasting bond with your new canine companion.