It’s difficult to find an accurate figure for the number of unwanted dogs that are killed in shelters each year in the USA. A quick search of the internet provides data that varies wildly from source to source. The available numbers are clouded by the agendas of the groups that supply them. However, even the most conservative estimates indicate tens of thousands of dogs are killed every year in shelters all across the fruited plains.
The word most commonly associated with this practice is “euthanasia”. The Merriam Webster English Dictionary defines euthanasia as:
the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.
Obviously, the use of the word, “euthanasia” is an inaccurate way to describe the killing of unwanted dogs in a so called “shelter”. The bitter truth is that tens of thousands of dogs are killed each year because they are unwanted, not because they are hopelessly sick or injured. This begs the question, why are these dogs unwanted?
The conversations that I have had with shelter workers and volunteers indicate the most common reason animals end up in a shelter as “unwanted” is behavioral issues that make them too difficult for their owners to keep. Among these behaviors, the most common are nuisance-barking, biting or aggression, destructive behavior and potty training problems. The common thread we see here is that most of these problems could be addressed with basic training and exercise.
The availability of training resources has never been better than it is today. There are books, DVDs, television programs, radio shows, blogs, web forums, classes and clubs in addition to behaviorists and trainers of every stripe and persuasion. So how can it be that we have tens of thousands of dogs being dumped at shelters due to behavioral issues resulting from a lack of training?
Maybe it’s not the dogs’ fault? Perhaps we need to look at the human side of the equation. Could it be that there are more people than ever acquiring dogs without sufficient understanding of the responsibilities involved in dog ownership? Perhaps you know of someone who acquired a dog because of its breed or appearance, without any regard for the animal’s needs? Or maybe you know a dog owner who has purchased every leash and collar combination known to the modern world in hopes of getting their dog to walk nicely on a lead?
Just yesterday I sent a product rep out of my shop with his tail between his legs because I told him his product was bad for dogs. The product he was trying to sell me was a brightly colored, 6’ lead made of elastic material. As the salesman was presenting the product’s features and benefits he explained how the elastic made the lead easier to hold because it reduced the shock to the wrist and elbow when the dog pulled on the lead.
I told him this was a poor solution because it enabled the dog to pull at the lead with no immediate consequence for the dog or the owner. This enables the dog to continue with his bad leash-manners and it enables the owner to continue walking his dog without expending a drop of effort toward proper training. Anyone who has trained a large dog knows this situation will eventually end with a dog that is impossible to walk on a lead.
Using this same logic we could perhaps develop a dietary supplement that would make dog poop smell like roses. Then the dog could poop in the house without any discomfort to the owner! The problem is this kind of logic always leads to bigger problems further down the road. Sooner or later somebody is going to step in it! Another example is the gentleman who came into the shop and asked if we had something he could spray on his kitchen table and counters to keep the dog from jumping on them and “counter-surfing”.
The truth is there is no such thing as aerosol spray training. Have we become a society that believes we can purchase our way out of every problem and challenge? If it was possible to buy “spray training” it would certainly make our job much easier. We could probably get rich selling such an item.
In the absence of such miracles we are left with obedience training. Perhaps the most effective way to reduce the number of dogs who get killed in shelters every year is to make every possible effort to educate the general public about the responsibilities a person needs to accept as a dog owner. Whether it’s a Great Dane or a Chihuahua, a Mastiff or a mongrel, all dogs have the same basic needs. They vary in degree, but the needs are the same. Food, water and shelter are so basic that nearly everyone understands these needs. The necessities that are more often neglected are just as important and they are Exercise, Socialization and Training.
Without these essentials, a dog is infinitely more likely to wind up in a shelter. Current statistics show over half of all dogs that wind up in shelters will be killed. As we demonstrated above, this is not euthanasia. It is killing.