Shelter dogs can be loyal companions, providing you with years of love and enjoyment. But there can also be certain risks involved when you adopt pets from animal shelters. For example, certain behavioral issues could crop up when you bring rescue dogs back home.
Often, these “problems” are just results of poor training that can be overcome easily. Thankfully, with a little research and preparation beforehand, a lot of issues can be avoided.
A Brief History of Animal Shelters
The history of animal shelters dates back to the 19th century when the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) began in 1866. The ASPCA was the first humane society in the Western Hemisphere. It was founded by Henry Bergh, a Russian diplomat, who decided to do something about the animal cruelty he witnessed while in Russia. Bergh founded the ASPCA when he returned to his home in New York City.1
The ASPCA and other organizations, including the Humane Society, were formed in order to improve animal welfare. They took in homeless animals to save them from horrible treatment inflicted by “poundmasters.” These people operated animal impoundments that were used to contain stray animals and livestock. The poundmasters were often not paid unless the owner of an impounded animal paid a “redemption fee.” When no one came forth, the poundmaster would often kill the animals.2
Animal shelters have come a long way.
Over the years, animal welfare non-profit organizations have helped to rescue millions of animals and find happy, loving homes for them. Researchers estimate there are at least 5,000 animal shelters across the United States. No-kill animal shelters, in which healthy animals are not euthanized (even when the shelter is full), are a relatively recent trend. The first no-kill shelter opened in San Francisco in 1989.3
With more than 150 years of data, researchers have a good idea of why people relinquish their pets to animal shelters. Behavior issues, such as going to the bathroom inside the home, are among the most common reasons. But there are several other factors at play. For example, many shelter dogs are relinquished due to an illness affecting their owners. Other reasons include relocation and financial issues. They are also typically outside dogs, and many never received proper house training.4
Shelter dogs are usually between the ages of 5 months and 2 years. Sadly, some older animals are also sent to the shelter by their owners because they aren’t cute or “fun” anymore. Others are given up because they were bought as a gift for a child, but no one in the family is willing or able to handle the responsibility of having a pet.
Common Behavior Problems
Again, millions of rescue dogs have found great homes over the years. More often than not, an animal is surrendered to a shelter because of problems their former owners didn’t want to deal with, like potty training or too much energy.
If you decide to adopt a pet, there may be some obstacles you’ll need to overcome. It can take some time for shelter dogs to get over some of the issues that led to them being relinquished in the first place. It also requires work on your part! But if you’re patient, the rewards can be great. Here are just a few examples:
Some rescue dogs were mistreated as puppies, and they may have had a hard time developing mentally as a result. One behavior they may exhibit is being overly protective of their food and toys. Shelter dogs can sometimes act aggressively if someone walks by while they’re eating.5 Typically, a shelter or rescue will work with that dog until the behavior is corrected, before adopting out the dog.
Lack of Socialization
Many of the behavioral issues found in shelter dogs also stem from neglect they experienced in their original homes. Puppies who don’t get a lot of socialization with humans, for example, may become fearful of people.6
Lack of Housetraining
Unfortunately, some people will adopt a pet or purchase a dog from a breeder or pet store and not take the time to perform proper housetraining. They may not be home during the day, or they just might not want to put forth the effort needed to train the dog to go to the bathroom outside. If rescue dogs don’t have this training, that can obviously cause problems when they get to their new homes.7
Things to Consider Before You Decide to Rescue a Dog
The vast majority of rescue dogs are loving companions who can’t wait to find new homes. But before you adopt a pet, there are a few things you’ll want to do first.
- You’ll want to find out the rescue animal’s medical history if possible. Does the dog have any health problems, or need any special medications?
- Get as much information as possible regarding the dog’s age, as well as the conditions in their original home. This may offer insight into behavioral issues you could face.
- Find out if the shelter offers follow up services, such as medical treatment or consultations, to help with any behavioral problems that may develop.
- You’ll also want to ask what type of return policy the shelter has, just in case things don’t work out.8
You might want to foster a dog before bringing it home permanently.
This will give you some experience in dealing with different types of dogs, so that you’ll have a better idea of what to expect. Talk to your local rescue organizations to see what kinds of foster programs they offer. Find out how long the organization will want you to foster the dog, and what will happen if something unexpected occurs and you have to return the dog to the shelter. And you’ll also want to know if you’ll be able to adopt the pet if you decide to do so.9
Tips for Success With Shelter Dogs
While it would obviously be great if there are no transition problems with your new companion, that, unfortunately, isn’t always the case. An older rescue dog, for example, might have some separation anxiety. Try being as positive as possible with the dog. Leave for a few minutes and then return, so the dog knows you’ll be back whenever you go through the front door. Talk to an animal behaviorist to see what other recommendations they may have. Also, make sure your new dog gets plenty of exercise so that they stay fit and don’t become bored.10
One Last Thing
When you adopt a pet, you’re making a great choice. There may be a few bumps along the way, but you’ll very likely find they’ll be worth it in the long run. Just remember to give your new family member a lot of love and attention – things this rescue dog has probably never experienced.
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