No Dog is Beyond Hope, No Behavior is UN-trainable and No Dog Should be Euthanized Young for Non-Health Issues...
Posted: Dec 15 2015
As I write this article, it is hard to keep from crying and I must admit I have let a stray tear or two fall upon the keyboard as my heart pours into these words. This is a subject that is very emotional for me and is one of the reasons that I started my Rescue Project, The Cleveland Dog Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. According to the ASPCA website:
"Approximately 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, and approximately 3 million to 4 million are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats). Nearly half of these are young animals owned for less than one year and relinquished because of behavior problems."
Think about that for just a second, as hard as it might be. Millions of dogs every year are killed due to fixable behavior issues. I have no delusions of legislation being introduced enforcing some kind of standard of re-homing, surrendering or euthanizing your dog. In my vision of a perfect world, there is a necessary amount of training and testing that all dogs must go through before euthanasia is even considered and then only when it is determined that a very rare case of idiopathic aggression, a chemical or hormone imbalance is at play. When such factors don't exist, then euthanasia just shouldn't be on the table! Unfortunately, the dog world is currently overrun with two types of extremist and even within the training community, it is difficult to get people to agree on training methods, even ones that have been proven to work time and time again. That being said, I will not let this article turn into a diatribe on dog training methods, suffice to say that as a whole, the dog community is pretty volatile, with opposing opinions, bickering, hate and distrust at the forefront. The current atmosphere is highly unproductive with a frustrating cocktail of lack of progression and a never ending cycle of debate.
Today I drove Luna, a beautiful Husky, 129 miles to her forever home. A month and a half ago, Luna had an appointment to be put to sleep at Bartels Pet Hospital, but because of my relationship with the veterinarian and the owner's knowledge of my skill set in Aggressive Dog Training and Rehabilitation, she contacted me first. My mission at the Cleveland Dog Rescue is to take in dogs set to be euthanized for behavior problems, train them, find the right homes and families that will continue to work with them and re-home the dogs with a commitment to continue to support and dogs and new owners for the lifetime of the dog. This is a bitter sweet process because a big part of my training philosophy is building a relationship with your dog based on love, trust and also respect, which invariably is left out of of dog-human relationship. As I work with and bond with these dogs, they become close and dear to my heart. I start to imagine the what ifs...every dog at my facility would be dead, or if they were "lucky", caught up in the "system" of being re-homed and returned from shelter to rescue until eventually being put to sleep. As I ponder the horrible fate that would have overtaken dogs like my precious Luna girl, my mind drifts to the countless other dogs that I've never met and my heart begins to break...
Dog training and behavior modification is a simple yet tedious process. At the root of the issue is stopping a dog from self-reinforcing a behavior, meaning in order for you to teach a dog that the target behavior is not allowed, you must find a way to stop him from doing it. A dog that is allowed to jump on you, despite what some mainstream internet dog trainers will tell you, will never stop jumping on you just because you ignore him. Mainly because jumping is a self-reinforcing behavior. A dog does not NEED your attention to enjoy jumping on you. By ignoring him, yeah, it may not be as enjoyable for him, but I guarantee, he is still having a blast clawing up your back! The same is true for aggression, anxiety and any other aspect of behavior. The simple part...in order to stop a dog's behavior, you must not allow him or her to continue to do it. The tedious part...how to stop the dog's behavior.
Staying on track with our jumping example, there is a group of so called dog trainers out there who advise their client to rely on just a physical correction. That is if the dog jumps on you, they may advise sticking out your knee to knee the dog or they may even suggest an electronic or pinch collar. This might well stop the unwanted behavior, but it won't product the desired result in that the dog may not jump on you if you rely only on punishment because it fears what happens when it does, but it will most definitely continue to jump on all your guests, your spouse or your kids. Remember this is also the case with issues such as aggression. If you just correct your dog for growling at you, he may never growl at you again, but he will certainly continue to exhibit aggression, possibly on a more severe scale with other people. Relying on PUNISHMENT does not build the relationship you want with your dog for many reasons! On the outside, the dog my be seen to obey, but overall, relying only on correction leads to an anxious dog who doesn't understand why he is being corrected, who never learns what he should do, and there's a high possibility of him shutting down, or worse, ultimately developing further aggression issues.
How do I teach my dog not to jump on me or other people, you ask? That's simple! As I already mentioned, don't let your dog do it! As humans, we have deductive reasoning and multi-process thinking. We are able to manipulate our environment, surroundings and circumstances to put the dog in a situation where he cannot jump. For example, if we leave our dog in a gated area or if we are using a crate as a training too, we can have the dog securely away when we are gone or too busy to attend to him or her. When we arrive home and are ready to interact with our furry friend, we can easily stroll over to where he is safe, happy and securely relaxing, put a LEASH on him, and then interact with him in a calm manner. This is only initially of course. What you are doing is establishing a routine of calm greetings...dogs are all about routine - most of your pets probably do the same thing everyday at the same time when you think about it! You have to change that routine, but more importantly, you have to show a dog what you want them to do, not what you don't want them to do. This is a philosophy I call Decisions not Dominance. Of course there is much more to dog training than that, especially when aggression and anxiety are involved, and it would be foolish and unprofessional of me to give blanket advice in a blog without talking to YOU, the owner. However, every dog issue can be handled, from severe aggression to separation anxiety, by building a relationship with your dog built on love, trust and respect. Teaching them what you want them to do, not what you don't want them to do and being fair in your reinforcements. No dog should have to die because they cannot be handled or controlled, no dog should lose it's home because the owner's can't figure out how to make it stop barking or chewing the sofa. As a professional and dog enthusiast, I declare it is time for a change - it's time we stand up for what has been proven to work EVERY TIME and cast off what has proven not to work. Dogs are dying...it isn't fair, it isn't right and it's 100% preventable!!
On a closing note, I would like to include my contact information in case anyone reading this would like to contact me with questions about their dogs. If you're in the Cleveland, Ohio area and are interested in dog training or in a FaceTime or Skype session or simply want to ask me a question, please contact me. If you would like to help Cleveland Dog Rescue to rescue more dogs, please consider donating.
Have a Pawfect Day and I look forward to hearing from you soon!
Twitter: @Pawfessor Dan
Daniel Makara is a Cynologist and Dog Behavior Consultant based in Cleveland, Ohio.