I am one of those people who has a special mark — an “S” for “sucker” — tattooed on my forehead in ink only animals can read. They seem to know I will go out of my way (literally) to help get them back to their homes or to find them nice new people. Therefore, I have picked up and either reunited or re-homed more dogs than I can count.
I’ve stashed strays in my yard and my garage and my house, keeping them safe and warm and fed while I went to great lengths to find their humans and get them back home. I once bullied a small-town vet into opening her office on a Sunday to locate contact info. for the owner of a sweet lab who wandered into my yard and had a rabies tag issued by that clinic. (She was reluctant, but I simply told her that if she did make the effort, I’d be sure to tell her client how she’d gone above and beyond. And that if she left me to find the owners by other means, I’d be sure to tell them their vet couldn’t be bothered.)
So, as a serial good samaritan, I have a request of my fellow dog owners. Train your dogs!
Every dog, no matter how loved and cared for, has the potential to wander away from home and need to interact with strangers in order to get back. With just a bit of basic training, you can make this experience less stressful both for your dog and for the kind soul who takes pity on him in his time of need.
In addition, in the unhappy event your dog can’t be re-united with you, a bit of training can help make him a desirable adoptee, ensuring he gets a good second home and family.
What kind of training? Well, I suggest the following:
- Teach your dog some basic commands such as “sit” and “wait” and “off.” I basically like all dogs, but when I meet one who shows some basic manners right away, I’m more likely to take on the responsibility of caring for the dog until I find its home. I also know that there are owners out there who care enough about their dog to have spent the time to ensure their pet interacts safely with people.
- Crate and fence train your dog. Makes your life easier when you need to leave them alone (perhaps decreasing the odds of them straying in the first place) and makes the kind stranger less inclined to turn the dog back out onto the street or call animal control to confine him. If I take in a stray, I need to keep him separate from my dogs and cats, at least at first, which means crating in the house or confining to a kennel or fenced-off part of the yard when outdoors. Don’t expect a stranger to risk her own pets’ health and safety to care for your dog.
- Socialize your dog. Get him comfortable with people and teach him to interact appropriately with other dogs and cats. I can’t take in an animal who is a danger to me or my pets. If he seems aggressive (especially fear aggressive) I won’t invite him into my vehicle or my home. I’ll call animal control and have the trained professionals deal with him even though I loathe the idea of putting an already traumatized dog through the stress of being transported and locked up. (Not to mention how much it will cost you to spring your pet from dog jail.)
For most dogs, these aren’t unreasonable expectations. Take the super sweet pit and her companion clever husky who were at my house for two days last summer before their owner could be bothered to return my phone calls and come get their dogs. They were well-socialized dogs, but clearly had not a jot of training – no “sit” no “off,” no leash manners, not even the notion that jumping to grab food out of my hands was a bad idea. sigh.
Or the German Shepherd/Aussie mix puppy I picked up off the side of the road last week. He would follow me around and he kind of knew to sit when asked. Period. No leash training. Not crate or house trained. No “leave it” or “off” or “wait.” sigh.
There was absolutely no reason for this puppy to be so uneducated. He’s smart and willing and very eager to please both for praise and for treats. A very level-headed guy, he would bark and screech and paw in the crate for maybe 10 minutes, but then settle down to nap or chew on the bone I provided. After the week he lived with me, he was happily going in the crate for a food treat and the vocalizing after the door was closed was minimal. And he was about three-quarters house trained just because I started taking him outside about every half hour when I was home to get him used to peeing and pooping outside with the “big dogs.”
He learned to walk on a leash pretty well – he pulled until it hurt about three times, then happily went along with me (which was where he wanted to go, anyway.) He came when called and was on the way to learning not to jump up on me, but instead to sit for pets and praise.
The puppy was a super easy dog to train. The pit and the husky would have been, too. But, dear fellow dog owners, that’s not really the job of the nice animal lover who offers your wanderer or your rejected pet temporary shelter and care, is it?
So, please. Train your dogs!
(Read Part I about abandoned pets. Bet if you train your dog, you’ll be less likely to decide you don’t want him anymore.)