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Are all shelter dogs “bad”?

It's not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think of this place as being similar to many animal shelter and rescue organizations...

Casey Lomonaco  |  Nov 30th 2010


It’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think of this place as being similar to many animal shelter and rescue organizations we find today.

I’m sure this post will result in approximately 3,798 hate mails in my inbox, because people don’t like to admit that any of the dogs we see in shelters or rescues have behavior problems. For the most part, dogs with bomb-proof recalls, polite manners, love every dog and person he meets, are good with cats, kids, and other dogs, and are ready to launch careers as therapy animals or service dogs, do not fill our shelters or rescues. This is generally because getting your dog to this level requires a substantial investment of time from the owner.

The flip side of this coin is the misconception that all dogs in shelters are “bad dogs.”

Dogs end up in shelters for lots of reasons – illness or death in the family, hard financial times, job loss, new babies, relocation, breed bans, and yes, behavior problems.

Sugarcoating the issue does not help dogs. Behavior problems which result in rehoming are wide and varied – one person may rehome a dog because it jumps on guests. Another may rehome a dog that chases a cat or eliminates inappropriately. Dogs get rehomed for fear issues, separation anxiety, barking, pulling on leash, breaking out of fences (real or “invisible”), chasing prey, slobbering or shedding too much, being “too big,” “too crazy,” or myriad other reasons.

Some people avoid shelter dogs and choose to get a puppy because they believe that raising a puppy would be easier. This is not always true. An adult shelter dog that needs some help learning to walk on a loose leash but is otherwise behaviorally well-adjusted may require substantially less training time than a puppy who needs to be socialized, learn how to walk politely, greet politely, not nip, get potty breaks at midnight and three a.m., etc. Puppies can be a shocking amount of work!

Let me say this, every dog is a project, some needing more help than others. It is a rare dog (of any age or breed) indeed that enters a new house with perfect behavior, even if the dog was well-trained in a previous residence. When a dog enters new environment, new rules often apply. Perhaps behaviors aren’t generalized well – a dog that recalls very well to the owner may likely ignore the recall cue given by a new person or stranger. A dog may be perfectly potty trained in his first home but not know that the same rules apply in a new living environment.

Every dog will need training. Puppy, rescue or shelter dog, etc.

Sometimes people have sympathy for a “project dog.” They see a dog in the shelter, fearful and trembling in the back of a kennel and understandably feel compassion for the dog, perhaps choosing him over another, more outgoing, and perhaps more suitable match out of sympathy.