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Bringing home a dog from a shelter is always an exciting day. After all, you want that dog to be your close companion for many years to come. But sadly, for some adopted shelter dogs and owners, the relationship doesn't last.
A 2013 study by the American Humane Association found that one in ten pets adopted from a shelter were no longer in the home six months later. The study said the issues surrounding returning a rescue dog are complicated and that "given the complexity of the situation and relationships, it may be unlikely that there is one 'silver bullet' intervention that is likely to markedly increase retention."
Common Reasons Why Dogs Are Returned
The report did find that potential pet parents who were rigid in their expectations of their new pup were more likely to be responsible for returning a rescue dog. Common issues associated with return included those related to time commitment, health and behavioral issues. More specifically:
- Unexpected costs
- Human health issues
- Destructive behaviors (for example, soiling in the house, chewing furniture)
- Aggression (with children, other family members or pets)
How to Avoid Returning a Dog to the Shelter
The AHA study found, perhaps surprisingly, that there was no difference in return rates among owners who had done a lot of research on a pet before adopting and those who made a spur-of-the-moment decision. But the study did find that people who asked for help before returning the pet were more likely to keep the pet than those who had not sought advice from a vet, friends, family or the shelter.
So how can you make sure you don't have to go through the painful process of returning a dog to the shelter? Make sure you research more than what breed of dog you want. Think about how you will react to problematic situations that may arise and how you picture him fitting in with your existing family. Some things to consider:
- Make sure you can afford a dog. Statistics from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine found the average first-year cost for a dog was $3,085. That figure includes supplies, food, vet costs and one serious illness, but it does not include training classes.
- Human health issues. Animals can cause allergies or share parasites like hookworms and tapeworms. Make sure your existing family members don't have allergies and can comfortably live with a pet. It's also a good idea to visit a vet to give your new dog a clean bill of health as soon as you're able to get an appointment. If you discovered too late that someone in your home is allergic to your new pooch, talk to your physician about how to reduce the reaction. It is also helpful to have all family members there at the time of adoption to help reduce the risk of unexpected allergies creeping up after adoption or to visit friends with dogs to ensure that your family is allergy-free.
- Destructive behaviors and disobedience. Crate training your new family member can be super helpful for those days when you're away from home. By getting him used to the crate, you can reduce or eliminate behaviors such as chewing or soiling around the house. Training classes are also highly recommended as a way to bond with your new dog and for both of you to learn important skills and good behavior. Dogs are pack members and they are just looking for the leader of their pack. Teaching them what good behaviors are and rewarding them for it will go a long way in helping avoid the common destructive tendencies.
- Barking and hyperactivity. Separation anxiety can cause a dog to bark nonstop or lead to hyperactivity. To help combat this, make sure to give him plenty of love and attention when you are home, and take him out for a long walk or a good play session at the dog park. This will not only tire him out at the end of the day, but the extra attention will help diminish his fears or separation. Barking for those that live in an apartment complex or other multi-family dwelling causes the issue of not wanting to disturb the neighbors. Keep this in mind before adopting a dog. Learn about different dog breeds that are less prone to barking to help you find a better fit for your living situation.
- It is also good to note that many people return their canine friend to shelters because they didn't first clear getting a pet with their landlord . Some rental agreements may state that pets are not allowed, or they require a pet fee. Whether it is against your rental agreement or the cost of paying a pet fee is too great, you should check with your landlord ahead of time to make certain that there are no issues with you adopting a dog.
- Aggression. Most shelters will check for aggression before adopting out a dog, but the evaluation isn't always foolproof. Your first responsibility as a pet parent is to make sure children, family, friends, strangers and other animals are not victims of aggression by your new dog. You can lessen the risk by knowing your dog's triggers for the aggressive behavior, but if you fear that you have adopted an aggressive dog, you should immediately separate him from anyone who could be vulnerable to an attack. Consult a vet and professional behavior expert for help. Aggression is often the result of an environmental factor such as poor parenting from a previous owner. Proper behavioral training can help alleviate many causes of aggression in dogs.
By doing your homework and understanding that there might be potential issues and behavioral problems as your new dog settles into your home, you can reduce the likelihood that you will make the heartbreaking decision to return your pet to a shelter. Remember that you aren't the only one that is heartbroken when you have to return your pup to the shelter. It is just as hard, or even harder on the dog. Careful consideration ahead of time can ensure that the two of you live happily together for many years to come.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, PA. Her family was adopted by a shelter cat named Olive.