I was speaking to a dog rescue group recently, and we ended up discussing how dogs ended up in dog pounds or rescue centres. There are two sources.
First, some dogs are found straying the streets on their own. They're picked up by passers-by or dog wardens, ending up in the dog pound. After the statutory five days, most are passed on to dog rescue groups to be rehomed (sadly, a small number, judged to be unhomeable, are euthanased after that five day period). Where do these wandering dogs come from?
All dogs are meant to be microchipped under Irish law, meaning that they could be reunited with their owners. In the real world, many are not chipped, and their owners remain unknown. Presumably they don't care enough about their pets to mind them, and the unfortunate creatures are left making their own way in the world.
The second source of dogs that end up in pounds and rescue centres - and by far the main source - is the direct route: when people surrender their dogs. Many rescue groups report a regular seasonal surge in the post Christmas period e.g Dogs Trust report that January is always their busiest month for surrenders. The reason for this? People gradually realise that the puppy they bought on a whim as a present is not really right for them.
Whenever a surrender happens, it represents a failure. It means that the dog has not worked out in its home, and this is not a good thing for the dog. Dogs like stability, and the ideal option is that they go to a new home and stay there forever.
Typical reasons given for surrenders include renting issues, lack of time, regret at choosing a dog who is unsuitable for their lifestyle, and finally, a dog's unwanted behaviour (due to a lack of training, boredom, frustration and lack of socialisation). There are also unavoidable reasons for surrender, such as sickness, death in the family etc..
So-called "bad behaviour" is the most common issue. This, in reality, is "normal dog behaviour" which is being expressed in ways that annoy humans because dogs are not being given suitable "acceptable" ways to show the behaviour. Examples include barking excessively, chewing things, jumping up, etc. If a dog is suited to its new home, is given plenty of opportunities to express natural behaviours and is properly trained, then these problems will not develop.
So how can surrenders be avoided? The broadest answer is this: people should think more carefully about what is really involved in owning a dog before taking one on. Typical aspects that need to be considered are the four big factors:
1) Time for physical exercise
A dog needs to be walked for at least half an hour, twice daily. If you cannot make this time commitment, perhaps you are not ready for a dog. Sometimes doggy daycare or a professional dog walker can help people to meet these needs, but you need to think about it before getting a dog, not afterwards, when it's too late.
2) Time for mental stimulation
Most people now realise that dogs need to be walked. but it's less well-known that mental stimulation is equally important. A dog should not be left alone routinely for more than three hours at a stretch because the lack of mental stimulation will push them towards "bad" behaviour. Mental stimulation examples include enrichment toys, trick training, dog sports, and scent work
Training classes are always helpful, and ideally training should be an-going lifetime commitment which will lead to a better understanding and a closer bond with their dog. It's also fun. Owners should work with reputable, accredited dog trainers who practice ethical, scientific, reward based training methods. The dog training industry is unregulated in Ireland, so you need to do your research before choosing a dog trainer, to ensure that they are using best practice. You should plan to attend dog training classes in first six months as a minimum, and ideally, for life at some level
You should routinely plan to spend around 15 -20 minutes a day training your dog or working on mental stimulation.
3) Type of home
Some types of dog need more space than others e.g. a Chihuahua sized dog is more suited to an apartment than a German Shepherd type. This may seem obvious but people sometimes decide that they want a particular type of dog before they consider its needs. Other issues relating to the home environment include the people living there e.g. young children, elderly people etc. Dogs need to be matched to their social environment as well as their physical environment.
4) Your budget
It costs money to keep a pet, from their daily food ration to their veterinary bills, so you need to anticipate these before you get a dog, rather than finding at a later stage that you can no longer afford to keep them. A good rescue centre will help you estimate these costs before you take a dog on, so that you know what to expect. If you can't afford it, don't do it!
If you consider these factors carefully before taking on a dog, you are far less likely to feel that you need to surrender them at a later date.
Dogs can be great life companions, but be sure to choose a dog that suits your life.