So before everybody gets their panties in a wad, this post is NOT bashing rescues. I work with them frequently. However, as a professional behaviorist and dog trainer, I have seen a lot of the same issues arise.
Let’s start with what rescues do right:
- They have passion.
- They want to save lives.
- They DO save lives.
- They help educate people about how a rescue is just as good as getting a puppy from a breeder.
- They take care of everything from the vaccinations, spay/neuter, heart worm and flea and tick.
- They place importance on a good forever home.
Now what rescues can improve on:
- They need to include a training program into their business model.
- They need to include a behaviorist on staff or as a lead volunteer.
- Fosters need to be trained on how to train a dog from A to Z and watch for “specific” behaviors.
- All dogs need to be REQUIRED to go through a training program before AND AFTER adopted, even including puppies.
- All rescue dogs need to have a professional assessment done by a behaviorist before being adopted.
As you can notice, the positive things that rescues have going for them is that they are passionate. They are full of people who want to save lives. They are so passionate in fact, that their main focus is saving a life and not always thinking about the trauma that has happened while in the life that they rescued.
So this is the thing, when I started out as a trainer doing professional classes, I didn’t think rescues were any different than regular dogs. A dog is a dog and any of them can learn anything. I was wrong.
When I started working with rescue organizations, I started seeing that rescue dogs are 100% different than the average Fido. So many of them have fear issues, socialization problems, no foundation, traumatic events causing them to have a hard time coping, and all around they just have a harder time in life initially.
This doesn’t mean that they can’t be taught, they can’t be a great dog and in the end live a wonderful life. What it does mean, is that they go through things a little bit slower, need more time and in the end require more effort on the rescuer side along with the adopter.
Let’s face it, most people who want a dog, want a dog that isn’t broken. However, the thought of “rescuing” a dog is almost like an aphrodisiac to where they can confidently say to their friends and family “I saved a life.” They can then go on and on with their friends and family on the previous history of the dog and how if they would not have stepped in, the dog would have died by euthanasia or had starved to death. It’s a great story, but usually the end of that story doesn’t involve them saying “and because of all this Pup has been through, I DEFINITELY need to start training with RUFF Academy!
It would be wonderful if that was the case, unfortunately it is not. Don’t get me wrong, I now have a very large percentage of rescue dogs that come through classes which I’m really happy to see. The numbers have definitely gone up from when I first started and now it’s about 50% that is Rescue in classes. My puppy play house is usually all puppies that people got from a breeder, but all my basic obedience classes are mixed with rescues along with general dogs.
The people that attend classes recognized that the dog needed a helping hand. They also knew that they had to build a relationship with these dogs in order to be successful down the line. Some of them have had dogs with me in the past and now acquired a rescue and it was just second nature for them to come through classes.
So the dogs in classes are great, they may take a little bit of time but in the end they do amazing. The owners are happy, they recognized the dog has weaknesses and faults, but in the end they except it and love the dog nonetheless.
The issue, and one of the reasons why I am writing this article, is that I hear too many stories of dogs that have been adopted and then brought back to the rescue for many reasons.
The most common reasons are: the dog destroys parts of the home, shows aggression towards one member of the family, is “too scared,” dog urinates/defecated in the house on the first day, and more ridiculous things such as that. The number one reason why Dog’s come back is because of “behavioral issues.”
This is where it gets a little tricky. What rescues do initially is bring dogs up, provide an assessment before adoption, provide a foster if not adopted out right away and then adopt them out.
They train Fosters on basics and train how to be a foster until the dog is adopted. Let’s face it, rescues don’t have a lot of time for dog training because some rescues main focus is is to bring up large amounts of dogs at a time and find them homes so that they can do it again in a couple weeks. The main focus is saving the dogs from where their getting them from rather than taking a group of dogs and going through additional steps and taking that extra time.
We’ve all heard the horrific stories about how so many shelters down south are euthanizing thousands of dogs a month due to overpopulation, no spay/neuter and stray dogs being dropped off on a regular basis. Due to this “craziness” everyone is trying to Save dogs from being euthanized. The problem is that they focus so much on saving dogs that the behavioral training goes out the window.
Obviously, they are not bringing back horribly aggressive dogs full of infections and disease such as mange or heartworm. Those things are always checked. (What I do know is that I would not want to be the one having to decide who to take and who to leave. That alone would make it so I could not sleep at night.)
What they are doing is dogs come back to the rescue and have to be put into a foster home or adopted right away which is probably a complete 360 change from where they were before. They have to adapt, trust (which they’ve never had to do before in their life), and somehow be able to transition into a wonderful dog with no problems to then be adopted by a happy family.
Is this realistic?
As a professional behaviorist, it is not realistic at all. It is setting the dog up to fail. What doesn’t set the dog up to fail is taking time to transition from where it was to where it is now. Being assessed after its had time to transition, going through training to build confidence and leadership and then properly going into a foster home with no traumatic issues. The end result then is a wonderful adoption with a wonderful family. This takes anywhere from 4-6 months PER DOG. Most rescues can’t wait that long. They need to adopt out so they can get more dogs and feed their business. Save more lives.
What I like to see are the rescues that don’t take on tons of dogs. They have a limit and they stick to it and just focus on those dogs. They take the time, help the dog achieve great things and take their time finding the right family that fits the dog. They do training, help the transition and adjustment be positive and get to know the dog. Some stay in foster for months before they even THINK about adoption. They focus on success, not speediness.
Some rescues even send their dogs into programs for Pet Therapy or Service dog which is phenomenal!
The realistic side of it is that when you were working on making sure that your product is a good product, training is a huge thing. I don’t mean to demean Dogs and call them “Products”, but really as a rescue you have to think of it as a business. Your “business” is making sure that you are providing good dogs to good families free of behavior issues.
On the other spectrum, the family is adopting rescue dogs also have a responsibility. The responsibility is making sure that they understand the dog probably has some faults, need time and training, and it is their job to do all of those things. The dogs that go back to the rescue because of ridiculous excuses, those family should not be allowed to have a dog until they understand their TRUE responsibility.
Just recently, I have started a flyball class at another training facility. I drive an hour and a half to get there, but in the end it is worth it. Do I watch the other people in class and think about what they can do differently, sure you bet. However, I am there as a participant and not a trainer and I participate. I don’t tell everybody I am a trainer, I don’t brag about what I know, I don’t tell people what they should be doing, I just participate in the class. I see rescues and hear their stories, I just smile and get to know the people.
Training should be a part of everyone’s life. It should definitely be a part of a rescue organizations world and business model. If it’s not, the rescue will suffer behaviorally.
What they do right is they care and they are passionate. What they can improve on is learning more about dog behavior and helping the dog transition better. If they understand behavior, they can educate the adopter on what to look for and give them proper rules to follow. If the adopter fails to listen, that’s not on the rescue as they did what they could. The rescue will just take the dog back and find a better home.
As a professional trainer, I like to go to other training facilities and learn new things to help me grow. Rescues should strive to continue to grow their knowledge on behavior and definitely seek out trainers and behaviorists to help with this.
If you have a rescue and you are looking to get some inside help or advice, we are the place to go! We not only give you a rescue discount of 20% off classes and private training, but we also understand what a rescue Dogs world is all about. We take time, are compassionate and want to help.
Go to http://www.ruffacademywi.com to sign up for classes and if you are not sure where to start, sign up for a FREE Private in-home consultation with one of our trainers! We can assess your dog and let you know what your steps are moving forward!
See you in class!