Behaviour problems are killing our dogs
Last year a man rang me about their Labrador, the young dog was dog reactive – fearful, lunging and being aggressive to other dogs and walks were a nightmare world filled with stress and embarrassment as they felt a need to constantly apologise for the dog’s behaviour.
I explained the program and said I would love to help. He toddled off to have a brief chat with his wife but came back and said it was too expensive.
If someone thinks it’s too expensive I leave them to it but I messaged the next day because I was concerned by things both said and unsaid and something was niggling at me to check in with them. My phone rang a couple of minutes later and it was his wife. She told me she was sat in the car in the vet’s car park about to go in and ask the vet to put her dog to sleep.
I explained again how achievable it can be with my input and time and patience on her part. After a long conversation (mostly me talking) she said she would have a think and call me back.
I waited but she never rang back again.
Her 2-year-old dog was probably put to sleep that day because it’s cheaper .. and easier. That might sound judgemental, and it is, and everyone’s battles and circumstances are not the same, I know that only too well – but they brought me into it and the emotions became mine.
This can often be an emotional job because we have so much empathy, both for the dogs and their humans. Their problems and emotions become ours too because we build relationships with dogs and owners we work with.
Now I also had guilt, that was new.
Could I have done something more to persuade her?
In reality probably not.
Having a dog put to sleep isn’t cheap, maybe half of the cost of the training? it depends on the vet. Even if I had offered to help them for free would they have had the dedication, love and patience to put the work in. Probably not.
How do I know?
Because I was more upset about the prospect of her dog being put to sleep than she was.
It upset me again writing that because I am passionate about what I do, all I want to do is help dogs and their owners and stop dogs ending up in rescue, being re-homed or worse.
The harsh reality is that sometimes we can’t help.
Figures released by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) from their “Voice of the Veterinary Profession” survey in 2015 showed that 98 per cent of vets have been asked to euthanise healthy pets, with 53 per cent saying that this is not a rare occurrence. And in nearly every case (98 per cent), “bad behaviour” on the part of the pet was the reason for the euthanasia request. Other reasons given for “healthy euthanasia” (vets could choose more than one reason given by the owners in the BVA survey) included the poor health of the owner, owners moving to accommodation that is unsuitable for their pet and legal enforcement reasons.
In 2016 33,000 calls were made to the Dogs Trust about handing over an unwanted dog. One of the most common reasons given was that a dog had one or more behaviours that the owners found it difficult to live with. UK wide research identified behaviour problems as the most common reason for dogs to be given up for rehoming. An estimated 130,000 dogs end up in UK rehoming charities each year.
Behaviour problems are the most common reason for dogs under 2 years of age to be put to sleep by vets.
So, if you get a puppy, training him is just as important as healthy food and veterinary care. It isn’t something that is an optional extra, it is a necessity.
Again: Behaviour problems are the most common reason for dogs under 2 years of age to be put to sleep by vets. It is also the most common reason adolescent dogs are given up for rehoming.
The majority of my work is helping fearful, anxious dogs become happier and more confident and give them, and their owners, a better more fulfilling life, That is why I started The Happy Dog Project.
My other love is puppy training, and it always will be because prevention is always, always better than a cure. A well-trained puppy who has a great relationship with their owner is more likely to grow up into a happy, sociable dog.
But shit happens, and with the best will in the world things can change, dogs have bad experiences that have an effect on behaviour and I’m here to help when it goes wrong. But an optimistic, happy, resilient dog has much more chance of bouncing back from bad experiences more easily.
And remember, a puppy isn’t a blank canvas when you collect your bundle of fluff. If you are getting a puppy rather than a dog from rescue then make sure you get your pup from a good breeder, preferably one who has a waiting list who thoroughly vets and interviews new potential owners before allowing them to have one of their much loved, well brought up happy puppies. Because they care.
Put puppy farms out of business, selling unhealthy, psychologically and emotionally fucked up puppies that can make life for both of you an uphill struggle. Having a happy healthy puppy can be a challenge enough without having a pup genetically wired to be anxious.
Remember, you have family, friends, your job to go out to, social events … all your dog has is you.
Be his rock, his protector his guide and his teacher.
For dog’s sake.
For your dog’s sake.
Do the best you can.