One of the first things adopters want to know about a dog is if they have been trained. As a professional dog trainer and a longtime shelter worker, I have many thoughts and emotions about this.
I wish more folks realized that a trained, well-behaved and emotionally healthy dog requires an investment of time, attention and patience. Our priorities should go beyond installing a few cued behaviors in our dogs. It is about a safe, dedicated, mutually beneficial relationship!
Not to worry, I’m not here to shout from my soapbox today. Instead, I have some positive news to share! The reality is that A LOT of shelter dogs enter the system already knowing some basic obedience. It is not uncommon for me to meet a shelter dog and find that s/he knows sit, down, paw or more.
So-called strays and dogs given up by their owner know more than folks give them credit for. It is also becoming industry standard to teach shelter dogs how to behave in ways that adopters like. This means that while in the care of shelters, those that do not know basic manners often end up acquiring some.
Most dogs in shelters were previously parented by a human. Yes, feral dog populations do exist, but they are scarce and extremely uncommon in the U.S. The overwhelming majority of shelter dogs know a thing or two about how to be a very good companion.
But what about about the elephant in the room? Surveys of pet parents relinquishing animals to shelters cite behavior problems as being one of the top contributing factors to their decision. While that may be true, many of the most common behavior problems are the result of a lack of basic care. Common behavior problems like chewing, barking, and a lack of house training can be easily solved. It is amazing what a difference simple improvements can make. Things like consistent schedules and adequate opportunities to expend daily mental/physical energy reserves.
More animal shelters are incorporating training programs into their regular operations. Probably the most popular today is the CGC Ready Program created by Austin Pets Alive!. It targets the most at-risk dogs in shelters and takes them through a six to eight week basic obedience course. By the end, many are ready to pass the Canine Good Citizen test. It is a statement of the dog’s good manners and overall reliability.
Bottom line is that by the time of adoption, many shelter dogs already know basic obedience. The same can’t be said for pet store puppies or designer dogs purchased with the click of a button. Shelter dogs, on the other hand, have already been exposed to human lifestyles.
If I think about it, I can relate to the average adopter who wants to know first and foremost about a shelter dog’s training. When I first met my dog, Hope, she was just a baby. And yet, one of the things that immediately captivated me was her obvious choice to offer a sit for attention.
At the end of the day, we all appreciate a well-behaved dog.
For years, I have been in the business of teaching shelter dogs how to behave well. Though my knowledge and methods have evolved over time, the end goal has always been the same. Create dogs who know how to get their basic needs met in ways that are appealing to humans.
Even though shelters cannot substitute for stable, loving homes, I’d like to think we do all right with what we have. Check out some of the current and former shelter dogs I have had the pleasure of teaching and let me know what you think.