Due diligence

cartoon of woman & manI was talking to a friend who recently went to meet the person she had been communicating with for months via phone & email. They’d never met in person but both had built a lovely fantasy of what their life together together would be like. They had much in common, respected the paths each other had taken in their lives and found each others pictures appealing.

Unfortunately once they actually were face to face with time together the reality turned out differently. The decision to end the budding relationship was mutual, and although disappointed, both realized they were not likely to see many blossoms in the future. Their fantasies were shattered but the shards of reality inflicted no real harm.

A not so dissimilar scenario plays out daily in the lives of dogs that are adopted by people who, with good intentions, find a dog either at the shelter or online, and create in their minds the perfect future they will share together. They will love each other, the dog will behave appropriately and respectfully in its new home, and any challenges will be sorted out quickly with a minimum of fuss and bother. When reality strikes, or as my mother once said, ‘the bloom is off the rose’, and the decision is made to end the relationship, the consequences for the dog may not be inconsequential.

A common reason dogs end up needing to be re-homed is that they never learned how to behave properly with people, either in a home or out in public. Their behavior may have been annoying, or it may have been dangerous. Either way, each experience they have with people and do not succeed at learning skills, can make their problems worse.

I am not advocating that anyone keeps a dog they feel unprepared to manage properly. Nor am I laying a guilt-trip on people who give up a dog. Indeed, being able to assess one’s lifestyle or environment and conclude that it is not the best for a dog, is important and may provide the dog with the opportunity to move on to a more appropriate home. It is likely however that a dog who is returned to a shelter or rescue and has not grown from the experience in its temporary home is running out of second chances.

Kevin Myers of Dogloversdigest.com will be considering how people can ‘keep it real’ when looking to adopt a new dog in the coming weeks.

It’s exciting to think and dream about adding a new dog to your life. Just remember that the snapshot you see of a dog, whether it’s an online profile or during a visit to the shelter, probably hides a few blemishes that in real life could end up being deal breaker if you are not prepared for them.

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19 comments so far

  1. Kristine on

    It is very true. When we adopted our dog Shiva, the people at the shelter did take the time to warn us about the potential “honeymoon period” of a new dog. They said after a few weeks, once the dog was more comfortable, she may start exhibiting challenging behaviours. I did a lot of reading before we made the decision to adopt and I was well aware of the problems we could encounter, but even I was eventually surprised by the level of problems that eventually cropped up. Fortunately, I was in a position where I was able to work with her to fix and manage these issues, but if I had children, she probably would not have been the right dog for our home at that time.

    So thank goodness for not having kids!

  2. George on

    Unfortunately most dogs lodged in a shelter are there for a reason. I have never found a shelter dog given up because it was the best dog in the world without any problems. As Kevin states so well, ‘keep it real’, if we expect problems and plan on working them out, we may just find the “best dog in the world”

    • fearfuldogs on

      Or at least the best dog in our back yard 😉

  3. Mary Doane on

    Tis so true, Deb. Thanks for this post. I think you have to keep falling in love with them, over and over, continue to set realistic boundaries and keep a realistic outlook.

    It’s most important to “be there” for owners when things begin to go astray. Sometimes just a phone call can help get things back on track. And, always be ready to loan a good book.

  4. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    As I commented over on Kevin’s site, I think a big part of this is also knowing yourself and what you really want out of a relationship with a dog. Some people like independent, not terribly cuddly dogs. Then, girls like me appreciate dogs who are affectionate, even if others think it’s CRAZY that Lilly kisses and nibbles on us so much.

    Even someone like me has a few non-negotiables when it comes to behaviors I can handle or retrain. It’s good to know what those are when you seek a shelter dog match.

    • fearfuldogs on

      So true Roxanne and also accepting that as with our human partners, it’s hard to change some parts of their personalities. Though many can be trained to put caps back on toothpaste tubes and do dishes.

  5. Chris Dignan on

    well said!

  6. Deborah Flick on

    Good advice. Don’t people who adopt kids have to jump through some hoops to determine if they are prepared and willing to deal with what an adoption is likely to entail? Do dog adoption groups do something similar? If not, maybe they should. Of course, making dog adoption too onerous means they won’t happen as much. But, surely there is a middle ground.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Some rescue groups are very selective. I was turned down by two different groups because I didn’t have a fenced in yard at the time.

      The challenge is often having the people to do the interviews or home checks, and having the luxury to keep a dog until the ‘perfect’ home is available for that dog’s needs. Some rescuers may not even be aware of what those needs are. Some are so thrilled to get a dog into a home and out of the shelter that they are not very selective. My own dog’s hoarder was a frequent visitor to shelters and rescue groups, it’s how she ended up with 477 dogs.

      And when it comes to fearful dogs I wonder how many of us heard, ‘oh just give him some time, he’ll come around’.

  7. Lizzie on

    Someone said to me recently that you get the dog you need, not necessarily the dog you want! Maybe that should be the dog who NEEDS you??

    So I guess all us fearful dog owners are the right ones for the job 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      Many of us end up being the right person for any job because we’re the only ones willing or crazy enough to do it.

  8. Donna in VA on

    The other problem is when the dog is living in a family and family member X expects the dog to behave one way and family member Y has different expectations. The smart dogs may learn to please both X and Y but that’s quite a challenge and may be too much to ask.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Good point Donna. It’s a lot to expect a dog to sort out when a behavior is appropriate and when it isn’t, when sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t! I will say that the genius dogs in my house that choose to hang around us have figured out that they get better results when they beg for food from my husband as opposed to me. 😉

  9. Mary Haight on

    Ah the dream of the perfect dog, like the dream of a perfect human partner, is a culturally imposed illusion that we can all fall into when we fail to open our eyes. I admit I had dreams of my Springer Spaniel sitting at my feet by the fireplace…I had to wait 12 years before he slowed down enough to be “that” dog!

    I have to make this point for those here who think all shelter dogs are there because they have problems. My Tashi, a shelter dog, is perfect and loving in every way – no kidding, most loving dog I’ve ever met! His canines did not grow back when baby teeth came out, he can’t stomach commercial food (well, really – isn’t that just smart on his part?), and he’s sound sensitive…afraid of thunder and big noises. That’s it. Most of these are problems that could crop up in any dog, from a family breeder or otherwise. Shelter dogs are “everydog” – often just mismatched with the family who gave them up, and that ordeal has left a mark – you just have to be able to work with it. Would you disregard someone as a possible match because they had had a divorce?

    And I love your cartoon choice – reminds me of me!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Mary, and good point. I wouldn’t want to imply that all dogs at shelters will come with so much baggage that they’ll be dreadful to live with.

      Someone posted a link to a business that was selling instant dogs- 7 month old dogs sold after being trained. They cost several thousand dollars. Usually for under $200 one can go to a shelter, do some research and come home with their own instant pet. Even if you add in the cost of training sessions they’re a good deal 😉

      The added benefit to getting a dog that needs some training is that we can learn to train them! I currently live with a household of dogs on the 2nd to 7th homes. Each one has prompted me to learn more about dogs and for the most part I’ve had a blast in the process.

      • Mary Haight on

        It was one of the commenters who made the generalization – we’ve had dogs and cat give ups from people with terminal illnesses with no one that could or would take their animals, and people who could not afford their dog or cat any longer, losing their homes, moving in with relatives…both heartbreaking circumstances.

        The “instant dog” thing is so crazy – had not heard of it! There must be a market for it given people’s belief that they have no time. They will miss out, as you mention, on the wonderful process of learning to communicate with and understand behavioral nuances and body language of your new best friend. I like that part too – best way to bond:)

  10. fearfuldogs on

    I suppose there is value in getting a dog that has been trained to live appropriately in a home and can respond to basic cues. I think the name of the business is probably more offensive to me than what they are offering. If you the money and it works out, people are probably happen with the deal. But as we know that dog behavior is not a static thing. And because using corrections is an integral part of the training, this can leave a big hole for people to fall into. Using punishment in training IMHO is far more challenging to be good at as opposed to R+.

    There have been a couple of occasions when people have adopted a dog from the shelter and for one reason or another could not take the dog home immediately so have boarded it with me. During that time I have worked with the dog on off leash walking skills, and other basic ‘living with people and other dogs’ skills. I think it was beneficial for all involved since otherwise the dogs probably would not have been allowed to walk off leash (this is a big thing for me because we live in a rural area and I think that dogs should be able to run!) and at least have a rudimentary understanding of how people operate (we say stuff, they do stuff, good stuff happens).


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