GENTLE CANINES: Giving dogs a second chance.
Updated: Oct 1, 2019
This month, I wanted to do something different. I want to start featuring businesses that help to change pet's lives. When talking to Dee Main, the owner of Gentle Canines, I noticed that we shared the passion of giving pets a second chance. We both hate for pets to be euthanized for very treatable and manageable conditions. Sitting with her, I knew she had the biggest heart and I wanted to share more about her with you so you can also experience what she has to offer.
When Behavior Becomes Deadly
This will be a hard subject for some to read and listen to. However, it can be a matter of life and death to understand how important behavior and behavior modification is, especially for a shelter or a rescue dog.
The ASPCA states “Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats…Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats). The number of dogs and cats euthanized in U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 2.6 million in 2011.” (https://www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics) While these numbers seem bleak, there is a lot of good news from the ASPCA. “Approximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats). About 710,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners. Of those, 620,000 are dogs and only 90,000 are cats.” This means that there are a lot of lost animals being returned to their owners or finding new homes. The problem exists with the remaining numbers of animals.
While not all these animals are put down due to behavioral issues, a large number are. Separation anxiety, dog reactivity, child reactivity, leash reactivity, dog aggression, high prey drive, fear reactivity, resource guarding, illness, injury, and mental defect are all common reasons why dogs are surrendered by their owners and may end up being put on a euthanasia list. Their length of stay and age may also be factors in determining if a dog ends up on the euthanasia list of a local shelter. According to the American Humane Association, "The most common reasons why people relinquish or give away their dogs is because their place of residence does not allow pets (29%), not enough time, divorce/death and behavior issues (10% each).” (http://humanesocietycentraltexas.org/adoption-tips)
It is understandable that someone would want to abandon or re-home their pet if it displays aggressive behaviors, but, are there other options? Who should you contact? When should you seek assistance? How much can it cost? When is there no other option but to euthanize a dog? What is the difference between a behaviorist and a trainer?
Are there other options?
There are other options besides euthanizing your dog for bad behavior. This is the main reason Dee become an animal behavior modification specialist.
The first step in understanding your options is to understand what is causing your dog's behavior. This is where an animal behavioral modification specialist or your vet comes into play. Understanding that unaltered status, pain, fear, injury, medical conditions (such as seizures, arthritis, or bad eyesight), breed, and past trauma can all cause aggressive behavior allows a specialist or vet to find the cause of the bad behavior and make suggestions for correction.. Treating the root cause for behavior allows for a permanent solution to behavior problems rather than a temporary fix.
One suggested solution to avoid deadly behaviors in a dog are temperament testing done in shelter facilities. However, this has proven to be an inaccurate way of deciding how a dog will act in a home environment. Take Blue for example. “In December, workers at Animal Care Centers of New York City saw nothing remarkable on a standard behavior test of a dog named Blue but noted that he had been surrendered for biting a child. A rescue group retrieved him. Blue eventually wound up in a retraining center in Virginia. On May 31, he was finally adopted; hours later, he attacked and killed a 90-year-old woman.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/31/science/dogs-shelters-adoption-behavior-tests.html) This dog had been given a standard behavior test in a shelter and passed the test. It is obvious that his personality was not what the test revealed. “The tests are artificial and contrived,” said Dr. Gary J. Patronek, an adjunct professor at the veterinary medicine school at Tufts, who roiled the shelter world last summer when he published an analysis concluding that the tests have no more positive predictive value for aggression than a coin toss. “During the most stressful time of a dog’s life, you’re exposing it to deliberate attempts to provoke a reaction,” Dr. Patronek said. “And then the dog does something it wouldn’t do in a family situation. So, you euthanize it?” There are also times, though, when a dog such as Blue, does something in a family environment that it would not do in a shelter environment. Therefore, getting a professional behavioralist or vet to do a full assessment on your dog is vitally important.
If there exists a medical problem that can be solved by a vet, then the solution is simple in most cases. If there exists an emotional or fearful problem with your dog, these factors can require a lot more work in solving and require the help of a professional behavioralist.
Gentle Canines has the distinct honor to work closely with several rescues in the DFW area such as Doodle Dandy Rescue, Mini Mutts Transport, Canine Soulmates Rescue, Love-A-Bull Rescue, Love Pit Rescue, DASH rescue, DAS rescue, Collin County Animal Shelter, and others who have begun to understand that dogs are more adoptable into a permanent home if behavioral issues are addressed and corrected before the animal is placed. They are also learning that a behavioralist can also help them to find the correct permanent adopter home by correctly matching up the dog’s personality with the necessary needs in a new home.
This philosophy has resulted in an increase in the number of animals with behavioral issues remaining in homes into which they are adopted rather than a larger return percentage for improperly matched owners and dogs. By assessing the various behaviors of shelter or rescue dogs, an animal behavioralist can avoid situations that may be a trigger for the aggression in a dog. It is an honor to be called upon to save a dog from the euthanasia list for behaviors that can be fixed with knowledge and work.
Who should you call?
So, you have adopted or purchased a new pup, and they have behavioral issues. What do you do? The first call you make should always be to your local veterinarian to do a full assessment of the medical status of your new family addition.
Now, if you are familiar with teaching a dog basic behavior, you may be all that your dog needs for future success, but it is your dog and you must take ownership of them. Recognize that this could include taking financial responsibility for your dog and any issues that may arise from owning it. This could include costs to a rental property for carpet that sustains damage from having a dog that is not yet potty trained or damages to wooden door frames from a dog that suffers from separation anxiety. It could include costs to your yard from a dog that likes to dig holes every time they go outside. Unfortunately, it can also include the cost for medical care for a person or other animal that is bitten by your dog. Therefore, it is important that you decide if you can financially provide for the vet care and training necessary to own a dog before adopting the pet.
The next thing to think about is what if you need someone other than yourself to train or help you dog with behaviors? Who do you call?
There are a variety of trainers and trainer techniques. There are a variety of training techniques that include:
“1. Alpha Dog Or Dominance.
2. Positive Reinforcement.
3. Scientific Training.
4. Clicker Training.
5. Electronic Training.
6. Model-Rival Or Mirror Training.
7. Relationship-Based Training.”
(https://dogtime.com/reference/dog-training/50743-7-popular-dog-training-methods) The first thing to consider is what do you want from your relationship with your dog? If you want a dog that is service dog trained, going with a trainer that specializes in puppy basic behaviors with no experience in any other types of training is probably not going to work for what you need. If you want a guard dog or a watch dog, going with a trainer that does Model or mirror training is not going to be the best decision for you. The AKC has some great suggestions for choosing the right trainer for you at https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/choosing-a-dog-trainer/. These suggestions will help you choose who the right trainer is for you and your pup.
Dee has been training dogs for 30 years and has an advanced knowledge of behaviors and how to teach your dog how to behave while strengthening the bond between owner and dog through knowledge, love, practice, hands on training, positive reinforcement, and instruction. 90% of Gentle Canines’ training program is designed to teach you, the owner, how to interact properly with your dog and thereby how to get your dog to properly interact with other dogs and humans.
Finding a trainer that matches YOU and what you want from your dog is the most important step in getting the behaviors that you want from your pup. Find a trainer that mirrors the beliefs and philosophies that you have for your pet. Gentle Canines uses a balanced approach to training. That is a fancy way of saying we will address dangerous behaviors when they occur and then use lots of positive reinforcement to get a permanent change in a behavior to stick. “In its simplest form, Balanced Dog Training refers to any approach to dog training or behavior modification which involves the use of both reward-based techniques, and aversive consequences. In other words, the trainer shows the dog that their choices and behaviors can result in either pleasant or unpleasant results.” (https://connectwithyourk9.com/what-is-balanced-dog-training/)
By teaching the owners how to interact with their dog and how to protect their dogs from harm, our goal is to keep you and your animal safe and happy in your own home. By doing one-on-one training sessions in your home, we can address issues that may not occur outside of your home.
Take Charlie for example. Charlie’s owners contacted Gentle Canines because he had been with another trainer for 3 months and they were seeing not only no improvement but a worsening of his behaviors. Charlie was fine while at daycare or at the boarding facility and had no issues with other people in those locations. In his home, however, it was a completely different story. The first time Dee met Charlie, he was so terrified of a stranger in his home that he was incontinent with every bark. Poop and pee spots littered the living room and dining room the first time she met him. Dee spent 55 minutes with Charlie on a leash with him trying to bite her at any given opportunity. His behavior was so dangerous that he had to be trained with a muzzle on to prevent him from biting for the first 4 weeks of his training! With the in-home training program, Charlie was able to accept a stranger into his home without response in just 5 short sessions. (Note: his owners also dedicated many hours of practice to help him overcome his fear.) In the 5th session, Charlie was able to ride in the backseat of his owner’s car, without his muzzle on, and snuggle in Dee’s lap as they made a trip to Petsmart to allow him to show off his new socialization skills. The feeling of seeing a terrified dog calm down and become happy and well-adjusted in just 5 weeks is indescribable. The trainer that Charlie had before Gentle Canines had suggested he be humanely euthanized to protect the general public from him. Charlie's success would have been completely impossible before his training program according to his owners. It truly was a feeling we wish every person could experience!
Carlo was another dog that came to Gentle Canines after another trainer had done an assessment on him; he had bitten the other trainer 3 times during the assessment! The trainer recommended humane euthanasia for him. The first time Dee met Carlo, he was in the vet's office and had his tail tucked as far under his body as he could without doubling himself in half. He barked and lunged non-stop during their first meeting and tried to bite anyone that came near him. Carlo had been born into the foster care system to Coco, his mother, who had the same behavior issues. He had bitten several people before Gentle Canines was contacted to see if he could be saved from certain death. The other trainer had even written in the assessment that they would attest in court that he should be euthanized. 6 visits with Gentle Canines later and strangers were able to pick him up without reaction.
Not every dog can be helped, but every option should be explored before euthanasia is recommended. There are basic behavior group training sessions such as the ones offered at Petsmart, there are board and train programs where you send your dog, and there are in-home trainers such as Gentle Canines that do personalized training sessions based on the needs of the dog and the owner. Only YOU can decide what the best option is for you and your new pet. Whatever you decide, make sure that you understand what is being done with your dog and why.
When should you seek assistance?
This is a question that we get asked almost daily. If your dog is: barking at strangers and cannot be consoled, lunging at other people/dogs, leash reactive or excessively pulling on walks, growling or tense around children, eating non-food objects, uncontrollably jumping on people, stealing food from the counters or table, going through the trash, digging holes in the back yard, running out of the door and down the street, not coming when called, mouthing or nipping humans, or any other behavior you need to call a professional.
Some of these behaviors seem non-harmful, such as eating non-food items, but they can actually be deadly. Imagine a $10,000 vet bill for an emergency surgery is handed to you in the waiting room of the after-hours vet clinic. Imagine your dog running out of the door and into the path of an oncoming car, causing serious injury or death to your dog and heart break to you and your family members. Any behavior that you find could cause harm or danger to your dog should be addressed with the help of a professional.
Now, when looking for a professional: what is the difference between a trainer and a behavioralist?
The definition of a dog trainer is identified as follows: “Dog training is a career that combines knowledge of animal behavior with practical teaching skills. Patience, consistency, and excellent communication skills (both verbal and nonverbal) help a trainer to effectively teach their canine and human clients.” (https://www.thebalancecareers.com/dog-trainer-125612) An animal behaviorist is a little different. “These professionals work with clients to help manage, modify, and prevent problem behavior in pets. They’re specially trained experts in the principles of animal behavior and animal learning with a set of science-backed tools, such as behavior modification. They will help identify the cause of your dog’s problem behavior and then create a customized treatment plan, teach you how to carry it out successfully, and follow-up to help with any headaches you may be experiencing along the way. (https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/what-is-an-animal-behaviorist/)
With 30 year's experience in helping animals with a variety of behavior issues, studying years of dog psychology, anatomy and physiology of dogs, Dee is a behavioralist. She has dedicated her life and it is her passion to understanding dogs and the various causes for behaviors that are deemed concerning or dangerous to the dog or to other people. She is skilled in teaching you how to read your dog's body language and understand the triggers causing the problem behaviors to occur.
How much is all this going to cost?
The cost of training is going to depend on the trainer that you choose and the program that you choose to join. Some group training sessions can cost around $100.00 per classroom training session. Some board and train programs can run $2,000.00 for a two-week training program. Some private trainers can cost upwards of $500.00 per session.
The best advise anyone can give you is to CALL. Call the trainer and ask what their training philosophy is, what techniques do they use, what are the training options they offer, and what their cost is. Finding a skilled trainer is like most things in life, you get what you pay for. If you think that a trainer is too costly or too inexpensive, ask them how their cost is determined. If you really like a trainer that you find and cannot afford their cost, talk to them to see if they can offer a discount or if they are willing to take payments for the total cost of the training program. If you do not like their answers, call another trainer. Also remember to ask the trainer what their follow up policy is and how much any emergency "relapses" may cost. Gentle Canines prides themselves on offering a life-time assistance program with 24-hour access to the trainer in case of emergency.
Overall, the cost of training your dog to be a safe and happy pet will be far less than the costs associated with a dog that causes injury to another animal or human or perhaps the cost of an emergency vet visit. The choice is yours.
At Gentle Canines, we are here to help you navigate through whatever issues you may be facing and give you expert advice based on years of experience to help you resolve the issues you are facing with your pet. No matter what your decisions are for your pet, we at Gentle Canines are here to assist you. We wish you a happy and healthy pet and a wonderful life with your newest family member!
You can find Gentle Canines on Facebook at Gentle Canines or on the website at www.gentlecanines.com. Let us know how we can help YOU and your pup star!
I want to let you know you came to the right place for integrative and holistic health for your pet!
We are certified by the AVCA which is a top notch and rigorous certification program of 200+ hours class time followed by a written and practical board exam. We take 10 yearly hours of continuing education because we value knowing the most in order to provide the best.
When choosing adjustments for your pet, choose someone licensed, trained, and certified.