I make an effort to keep four main missions at the forefront of my actions as they pertain to this cause. I try to keep these philosophies in mind in my approach to every blog post, every rescue effort, and every canine encounter. They have been collected over a (short) lifetime of experiences with many different dogs, but have also been greatly influenced by some true canine experts.
1) My central mission is to spread awareness about the animals waiting in shelters. More specifically, I want to remind the world that those ‘unwanted’ animals are no different than the ones in our own homes; resting at our feet, watching over our children, curled up beside us on the couch, romping after tennis balls, and gobbling up the scraps beneath the dinner table. Shelter animals are every bit as deserving of the chance to prove that they could be a member of a safe and loving home. More than anything, they deserve to have a special place in someone’s heart, in their children’s best memories, and in a family.
While rescuing animals is an awe-inspiring and noble undertaking, it is also a job that puts a constant burden on the heart. While that pain may enable some of us to turn the page, turn the cheek, and turn a blind eye to the problem, I want to encourage society to use that hurt as inspiration… what are you going to do about it? How are you going to fix it? How are you going to make a difference? For most of us, if we found ourselves face to face with a starving dog, a beaten puppy, or an injured cat, we would do whatever was within our means to help them. However, it seems that we sometimes find it easier to ignore when it is simply a photo on a screen or a story in our emails. What I hope, is that someday, we will come to see those animals and imagine them as our own beloved pets. Only then will we realize that they are every bit as deserving of a second chance, a kind touch, a full tummy, and a warm bed.
2) My second mission, is that we come to judge all dogs as individuals. Whether pit bull or poodle, purebred or mutt, every dog deserves to be evaluated free of prejudice, assumptions, and stereotypes. Just as we as humans do not have the same fears, passions, and needs as our ancestors before us, our dogs’ needs and behaviors have been formed through a unique blend of experiences and socialization, as well as their breeding, training, environment, and management. The only way to truly and effectively evaluate or predict the needs and behavior of any dog, is to look to the individual dog in front of us. In addition, we must learn to listen closely as he communicates with us in his own way.
I believe that if we learn to evaluate each dog on an individual basis, it will solve many of the problems facing the canine population today, as well as the issues that plague dog owners as a whole. It will help rescues and shelters find committed, forever homes for their dogs. Setting them up for true success in families means recognizing their strengths and weaknesses in a realistic way, as opposed to putting blanket statements on any ‘type’ of dog, whether based on breed, size, or gender. This also opens up the pool of adopters, rather than restricting certain dogs only to specific types of home based on their type alone, which in turn means less dogs filling the shelters.
This theory also renders breed specific legislation to be useless and ineffective. Labeling a dog will never guarantee his or her behavior given a certain setting, and any bans that operate based upon this theory have proven to be flawed. Rather, we can urge our legislators to enact and enforce policies that hold all dog owners equally accountable for their animal’s behavior. We certainly recognize that some dogs are unfortunately dangerous to society, but we firmly believe that this should be based upon a dog’s actions, and never their breed or type, which is oftentimes only an impartial judgment.
Don’t expect a dog’s breeding to tell us who that dog is going to be. Give our dogs a chance to tell us who they are. I can promise that you will never be deceived.
While I hope that we can all learn to bring this approach to dog training and evaluations, I also vow to bring this approach to the human individuals that I encounter, both through this blog, and in my daily life. I strive to refrain from judgement or accusations, and instead work to communicate in an effort to understand the perspectives of others.
3) Finally, I want to replace the phrase,
“it’s all in our how they are raised,” with “it’s all in how they are managed.” This article sums it up much more completely than I ever could. Essentially, by claiming that a dog’s behavior is entirely influenced by their early years, we are saying that any dog with a past that is uncertain or unflattering, is a ‘lost cause’. This mentality could be a death sentence for any dog that is old or otherwise scarred. We in rescue know that a dog’s past is rarely indicative of their future. Dogs rescued from dog fighting operations or neglect cases have gone on to be therapy dogs and work with children. Others have become happy members of multi-dog households. Their past should not define their future.
Additionally, this skewed way of thinking makes owners of ‘problem’ dogs, feel as though there is no hope for their animals once they have developed serious behavioral issues. They may use this piece of advice and turn to a kill shelter or euthanasia, because they feel as though they are without alternatives. If they instead look to their management techniques as the culprit, they may be more open to the guidance from a great dog trainer who could help them to communicate more effectively with their animals, and manage them more successfully.
4) Finally, I am an advocate of force-free training. This means that I will never support, employ, or condone the use of tools such as shock collars, choke chains, or physical punishments. Force-free training is essentially just that: an approach to dog training that enhances your relationship with your dog, avoiding physical manipulation or intimidation, while reinforcing behaviors through positive association. I do not employ dominance tactics, because I believe them to be ineffective. I have found that the greatest benefit to this method is that it builds a strong bond with your dog, which then encourages their want to please you. I do not believe in coddling or anthropomorphizing our animals, but I do believe that punishment-based training and pain-inflicting tools are not only ineffective, but that they often exacerbate existing behavioral problems and create new ones.
If you relate to my missions and philosophies, I would love to hear from you. And if you respectfully disagree, I welcome your thoughtful debate 🙂