Those Lovely, Ill-Mannered, Untrained Shelter Dogs


So, my last blog upset a few people who thought my description of many shelter dogs as ill-mannered and untrained was derogatory and unfair.  I found it very sad that these people felt such simple truths were so damning.  Personally, I think the dog-adopting public is much more capable of handling and understanding the truth than some would imagine.

In fact, as some critics pointed out, most dog owners are already living with well-loved, ill-mannered and untrained dogs.  So why would they run away from adoption just because we’re honest about what kinds of dogs make up a good part of that population?  The point is, after all, that the dogs in the shelter are no different than any other dogs.  Except for those who severely missed out on early socialization and have therefore become aggressive, the rest of them just need the same manners training that any pet dog would need.

By being honest about where these dogs are behaviorally, we have two opportunities to educate the public.  We can educate them about prevention by explaining that these dogs are only ill-mannered and untrained because no one has taken the time to teach them.  We can also educate them on the responsibility they have as adopters to make up for that lack of education.

If we pretend that any dog a person adopts is perfectly wonderful to live with and needs nothing more than love, we set up the public and the dogs for failure.  How in the world can a new dog owner figure out why the dog they adopted keeps peeing on the carpet, jumping up on visitors and digging in the trash when they are giving it all the love they have?  When they return this dog, we tend to chastise them for not trying hard enough.  No one learns anything and nothing has been accomplished.

Wouldn’t it be better to be honest and tell the adopters up front that this dog has some deficits in their training?  What’s wrong with being honest about the fact that the dog was brought to the shelter because he peed on the carpet, jumped on visitors and dug through the trash?  If we’re honest, we can inform the potential adopter of how easy it would have been to teach this dog proper manners as a puppy and how they can do it now that he’s an adolescent. 

We can arm them with the tools they need and a plan.  We can give them realistic expectations and help them make informed decisions BEFORE they adopt, instead of luring them into a fairytale that is going to annoy them at best, and break their hearts at worst.

I can’t find a way to move away from the statement that the majority of dogs in shelters and rescue come in ill-mannered and untrained without also moving away from reality.  I simply don’t see this as the dramatically damning statement that some others do.  I think most potential adopters expect this to be true and would appreciate honest help in making choices rather than sugar-coating and trickery.