How You – Yes, You! – Can Help Solve Shelter Overpopulation

Most of us agree that prospective pet owners should try to adopt dogs from shelters whenever possible. Spay-and-neuter advocacy aims to reduce the number of...


Most of us agree that prospective pet owners should try to adopt dogs from shelters whenever possible. Spay-and-neuter advocacy aims to reduce the number of dogs who are euthanized every year. While these are steps in the right direction, neither of them attempt to solve the actual issue of overpopulation.

Behavioral issues and poor training are the reasons most dogs end up in a shelter or rescue. These can include leg humping, being badly housetrained, or displaying increased reactivity and aggression. In addition, some dogs and owners may simply be a bad match. A high-energy, high-drive dog who lives with couch potatoes and is not given a productive job may become self-employed, patrolling the yard, constantly barking, or hiring himself as the resident interior designer and eating the couch.

Id like to see a more proactive approach to the problem of shelter overpopulation. While Im all for giving dogs a second chance, how about making sure that we give them an optimal first chance? Ideally, we want dogs to spend their lives in one home with one family. Dont we want rescue to be an industry that puts itself out of business one day?

What can you do to prevent shelter overpopulation?

Train your dog
Start with early socialization — a well-taught puppy class is a must! — and continue training your dog throughout his life. Many dogs are given to shelters as adolescents, because far too many owners believe that attending a puppy class means you are done training your dog for the rest of his life.

Get help at the first sign of behavior problems
A dog that starts out barking occasionally in the yard will likely evolve into a dog that barks incessantly in the yard. It is much easier to address this problem with early intervention than it is to treat the issue once it has become well established.

Most dogs will not grow out of behavior problems; they get worse without intervention. What is easier? Quitting smoking after your first cigarette, or after decades and thousands of cigarettes? Bad habits are hard to break, and old habits are even harder to break!

Choose the right dog for you

No dog or breed is right for every family. Take a realistic look at your familys activity level, grooming preferences, training goals, budget, and lifestyle to determine which dogs would be a good match. Some breeds tend to do better with small children, and some acclimate to a couch potato lifestyle more readily than others (yeah, Im talking to you, greyhounds!).

If you dont like brushing or dont want to pay for professional grooming, an Old English Sheepdog may not be the right match. Shelties and terriers will be a poor fit if you don’t like barking. Enjoy sitting on the couch? If so, while you may like the look of a Malinois, a Pug may be a much better fit — that Mali-gator will likely drive you nuts! Want a socially gregarious pup who might make a good therapy dog? Avoid one of my favorite breeds, the Chow Chow. Like a clean house? Definitely avoid my other favorite breed, the Saint Bernard. This is all about setting yourself up for success.

Many trainers offer pet selection services and will interview you and your family and suggest one or more breeds that would be good candidates for further investigation. Do your own research — the Dogster breeds pages are a great place to start. Better yet, contact a rescue group or breed club in your area to talk with experienced handlers and meet the dogs.

Most dogs languishing in shelters are not puppies. Theyre not even strays. They usually started out in a family home that for, whatever reason, neglected their training or were otherwise a bad match.

The simplest way to solve shelter overpopulation is responsible dog ownership. If you choose the right dog and train him for a lifetime of companionship, you’ll make sure you arent contributing to the problem!

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