During a Scotch Pines Dog Training class at Cascade Park in Twin Falls, Allen Starley and his boxer, Tank, practiced off-leash heeling with other dog-owner pairs. People walked up to chat with Allen and his wife, Corinne, while Tank greeted their dogs with casual sniffs.
Weeks ago, that wouldn’t have been possible. Tank showed up to the first class in early June pulling on his leash, lunging and snapping at other dogs.
Weekly sessions with Scotch Pines trainer Stephanie Lane and a one-on-one training session with Scotch Pines trainer April Stoppel Jantz helped them rehabilitate the aggressive boxer.
With the right training and consistency, most pet problems — even dog aggression — are correctable, Jantz said. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re the first or fourth owner.
Based on TwinFalls animal shelter records, between 17 and 25 percent of animals in the facility are surrendered by their owners; those numbers may be artificially low, director Debbie Blackwood said, because some owners circumvent the shelter’s $58 surrender fee by claiming the animal is a stray. Of those pets, many are dropped off because the owners are moving and can’t take animals with them.
But sometimes, the dog or cat exhibits behavioral problems that drive the owner crazy. Cats stop using litter boxes and pee on the laundry. Dogs chew on shoes or bark all night long. A cute, 30-pound puppy grows into a hyper 60-pound dog.
It’s frustrating, but almost all of those problems are fixable.
In Tank’s case, the family got the boxer as a puppy and did little to socialize or occupy him, Corinne said. The longer Tank stayed cooped up, the more aggressive toward strangers he became. He also turned destructive, chewing on parts of the house while theStarleys were away.
Lack of socialization is the biggest factor in misbehavior, Jantz said.
“They get a puppy, it’s adorable and it’s perfect and they play with it a little bit,”she said. “And they stick it in the backyard.”
Corinne started walking Tank regularly, and put him on the treadmill when the weather was bad. That helped keep him from chewing apart the house, but did nothing for his aggression. In spring, they signed him up for Scotch Pines Dog Training.
During the first class, Tank yanked on his leash and tried to attack other dogs. Lane recommended the Starleys take Tank to Boise for a one-on-one session with Jantz, who has been training dogs for 17 years.
After one hour-long session with Jantz, Tank went home showing no more signs of aggression. The Starleys now feel comfortable letting people pet their dog.
It’s always better to solve a pet’s issues instead of handing the animal over to the shelter, Blackwood said. If a dog barks incessantly or chews, that behavior will amplify when it is stressed in its new, unfamiliar home.
And there is no guarantee the surrendered animal will find a new home.
When an animal comes to the shelter, employees assess whether it is adoptable — that means healthy and socialized with minimal behavioral issues. Unadoptable pets have major behavior or health issues and are euthanized.
Most dogs who end up at the shelter are considered adoptable, Blackwood said, and of those, almost all find homes. The overall euthanasia average for dogs and cats (not including feral cats) is about 39 percent — below the national average of about 60 percent, Blackwood said. Almost all of the euthanized animals are sick or have major behavior issues.
Animals with a history of biting are considered not adoptable,Blackwood said, and are euthanized to make sure no one gets hurt.
“In this setting, there’s no way that we can adopt out a dog that shows aggression,” Blackwood said.
Another factor: Bad adoption stories spread, which makes it hard to find homes for dogs without behavior problems.
“They ruin the opportunity of all the rest of them to get adopted,”Blackwood said.
Even with the knowledge that their pet might get euthanized, some owners are unwilling to fix problem behaviors because are fed up or no longer have time to deal with the pet. Cats are most often surrendered because of litter box issues, Blackwood said; they start peeing on the carpet or kitchen floor, which often indicates a urinary tract infection or stress. The problem could be solved with a course of antibiotics or a little love, but people tire quickly of the cat urine smell.
The same is true for dogs, said shelter manager KathleenOlmstead. One family recently surrendered a dog, Baby Girl, who regularly escaped from their yard. That’s an easy fix, Olmstead said. Doggie Houdinis can be deterred by adding a higher fence, keeping the dog in an inside kennel or installing a pet hot wire. If the dog is a digger, add dung, peppers or inflated balloons to the problem spots along the fence to stop the dog from excavating. Take the dog for a walk so she isn’t as hyper and bored.
But after two or three dog-at-large citations, owners are tired of dealing with the problem and are convinced they have done everything they can, Olmstead said — even if that isn’t true.
“They don’t want to deal with it,”she said.
Baby Girl is very adoptable, Olmstead said. An owner who is willing to help curb her barking and escaping tendencies will be rewarded with a friendly, active dog. The shelter tries to match a dog’s temperament with potential adopters’ lifestyles to avoid returns.
“That’s the thing that we see a lot is certain behaviors in certain families sometimes don’t mix,”Olmstead said.
And for those who are already matched with animals with problems, a little love and a lot of patience make all the difference.
Melissa Davlin may be reached at 735-3234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.