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7 Things to Try Before Surrendering Your Dog

The dreaded “It’s not working out” phone call. It happens in rescue more than most people would believe. A good rescue, as well as a good breeder, will always take their dog back – but the ability to return a misbehaving dog, may just be the impetus of the problem.

Faced with the option of a high-kill rate shelter or “the rescue will just find her another home” many adopters opt for option 2 and dump the dog they’ve committed to for 15 plus years back on the rescue as someone else’s problem. The reality is, many of the behavior problems encountered are the fault of the owner and not the dog itself.

Take Sara, a very high-strung, busy, young German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) being returned a third time to our rescue. A pure-bred GSP is typically bred for as a versatile hunter and all-purpose gun dog per the American Kennel Club. This type of dog, based solely on the intent of her breeding, will innately require a different living environment than perhaps a Great Dane who are known couch potatoes. As a sporting dog, Sara’s owners needed to realize that most require regular, invigorating exercise – without that regular exercise, a dog must find other outlets for their energy.

In Sara’s case, without the regular exercise, her outlet became digging up the backyard. For her owners, who were renting their home, they felt this was an unresolvable behavior that required her to be returned.

But what can you do when your dog is being destructive, or aggressive, or exhibiting other inappropriate behaviors that make you consider surrendering her to shelter? We’ve identified 7 solutions to help you identify and resolve those behavior problems before your consider the shelter option.

  1. Research your dog’s breed(s): Starting with a history of your dog’s breed purpose may just help you identify why your dog is misbehaving and how you can solve the problem. Sara is hunting dog and requires activity similar to her hunting background. Herding dogs’ pure instinct prompts many of these dogs to gently herd their owners, especially children. Dogs in the working group are bred for guarding property, pulling sleds and performing water rescues and while you may not need to stage a rescue effort – these dogs enjoying working. This information is invaluable in helping you understand why your dog is behaving the way it is and may help you identify means of channeling their behavior into a activity that is more instinctual and satisfying to your dog than the misbehavior they are currently exhibiting.
  2. Exercise: Many good rescues will try to match their dogs with families with equivalent activity levels. A high strung dog is a good match with a family that runs or hikes often while a dog with less energy is typically a better match for a family who tends to be more sedentary. But regardless of the activity level of the dog – A TIRED DOG IS A GOOD DOG. This is our number one mantra for the misbehaving dog. A tired dog is typically not: destructive, noisy, aggressive, etc, etc. So the first recommendation for solving behavior issues is TAKE YOUR DOG FOR A WALK AND MAKE IT A LONG WALK. Yes, that is capitalized and screamy because it is the most important and often the best solution for solving behavior problems. Don’t have time? Hire a dog-walker to TAKE YOUR DOG FOR A WALK AND MAKE IT A LONG WALK. We think we have made this point clear. If the dog is still acting inappropriately – make the walk longer and/or faster.
  3. Train: In some behavior cases, a good trainer can make all of the difference. If your dog is comfortable with basic commands (sit, down, stay, come) then you know the dog is trainable and may just need more advanced training from a professional source. We have seen huge behavioral turn-arounds from our foster dogs after spending a week or two with the trainer that works with our rescue. Behaviors such as leash aggression, food aggression, and general lack of control can be curtailed by a great trainer as long as the owner understands that this training is an on-going process and they will most likely need to change their own behavior as well. By the way, if your dog doesn’t even know the basic commands – how about spending a little quality time with Fido to get him there?
  4. Contain: You wouldn’t leave a baby home alone to wander the house and get themselves in trouble but it is amazing how many people will do that with a puppy or adolescent dog. If your dog has shown ANY signs of destructive behavior or is still a puppy or adolescent you NEED to contain the dog when you are not able to keep an eye on it. This is for your sanity and the dog’s. It is less cruel to contain your dog for its own safety than it is to dump it off at a high-kill shelter because the dog is destructive when you are not watching it. Containment can be baby gates, a laundry room, a crate, a indoor or outdoor dog run – anything that protects both the dog and your property is the correct solution for destructive behavior. Here’s the real deal – if the dog destroys your property when you are not watching it and you have not contained the dog – the destruction is YOUR FAULT because now you know better.
  5. Socialize: While it is completely appropriate to keep your puppy away from other dogs until it completes its final round of puppy vaccinations, it borders on cruelty to not socialize your dog with other people and other dogs after that point because your dog will have no idea how to conduct itself appropriately around other people/dogs that it will encounter through its life. Many unsocialized dogs will either exhibit aggressive or submissive behaviors in these situations – which neither type of behavior is typically coveted. If your dog is unsocialized, try starting with regular trips to an off-leash dog park or walking a neighbor’s dog together with your dog until a more appropriate comfort level is reached. In some cases, extreme unsocialized behavior issues are best overcome with assistance from a professional dog trainer.
  6. Schedule: Many dogs, like children, are best behaved by adhering to a consistent schedule. If they understand what is expected of them, at what time, and in what order they obtain a level of comfort from that schedule. Your schedule can consist of meal times, play times, walk times, quiet times (in their contained area), etc. We experienced the benefit of schedule when we volunteered at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kenab, UT. The caregivers at the sanctuary keep the animals on a very strict schedule which includes outdoor time, walk time, feeding time, and quiet time in their crates in order to give the dogs in their care a sense of comfort and stability.
  7. Keep trying: However your dog became part of your family, when you brought it home you committed to that animal for its lifetime which in many cases can be 15 plus years. While your dog is not a human being, it is a living creature that fully depends on you and your care for its well being. Volunteers at shelters and rescues are completely underwater trying to save the lives of so many unwanted, homeless dogs that adding to the problem isn’t the right thing to do. Please try all of the options we have given you in this article before surrendering your pet for someone else to deal with – then try again. Most dogs want to please their owners so every little effort helps.

Thank you for reading this article in trying to resolve your dog’s behavior problems prior to sending them to a shelter. If everyone dedicated themselves to trying to solve these problems first, the shelter and rescue volunteers across the county might be able to take a rest… a small rest.  Good luck with your best friend. They need your commitment more than ever right now.

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