The shelter dog has acquired an unwarranted reputation: second hand goods, unpredictable. Statistics show that around five million dogs are euthanized in U.S. shelter each year – less than 5 percent for medical reasons. Most dogs are relinquished to shelters due to behavioral problems, i.e. behaviors that are natural for the dog but unacceptable in our society. It is easier to blame a behavioral problem on a dog’s character than to look at how the environment an owner creates is affecting it.
When a dog is not receiving the constant stimulation and guidance it craves at home, it can begin to demonstrate increasingly desperate and attention-seeking behaviors. Often, instead of examining the cause of the behavior, the owner will automatically deem the dog a “lost cause” and give it up to a local shelter.
Potential pet adopters need to be aware of a pet’s past. In order to cope with shelter pressures, a dog may hide under a security blanket of self-preservation: its true behaviors numbed by an alien environment. After a few weeks in a new home, these hidden behaviors may be awakened and the dog may display a renewed confidence that challenges new owners. Once again, the picture-book pup is labeled an unpredictable problem and returned to the shelter.
Pet adopters must educate themselves to understand their pets and be patient when rehabilitating a new family member. It is important to realize that changes have to be made by the owner as well as the pet to make the transition as smooth as possible.
The effort is worth it. With renewed confidence, the shelter dog can develop into what it was always meant to be, a happy and healthy companion.
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