Marley and Training Your Dog: Know Your Limits

by Mary Haight on December 30, 2008

“Marley and Me” is to some a happy little dog movie you can take the family to, a nice bit of holiday fluff.  Puppies are always cute and these movies incite a riot of requests for the starring breed at shelters everywhere.  The other perspective is that movies like these often leave people with the impression that unruly, untrained, dogs are acceptable in the family home, or that somehow the new furry friend should just “fit in” with no help from the family. mylee_jpg

Training takes time, effort, money, and guidance from an expert with a resume and references.  It’s not something that should be ignored for the well being of the dog, the bonding that comes from understanding, and your own sanity.  For these reasons, the based-on-real-life Marley movie is the nightmare that runs through adoption counselor’s heads.  When people come to the shelter to adopt a dog that is completely opposite their lifestyle needs, and shelter personnel comply, a return is assured.  People want a Springer Spaniel because they have cute freckles and look pretty, or request another high-energy dog like a Retriever or Labrador, when the family works all day, the kids have gone away to college, and the parents are couch potatoes.  It’s a recipe for disaster.                                                   

Some city facilities put “returns” probability as high as 70%  within the first two years after adoption where no formal training has occurred, and adopters did not research breed characteristics first.  Puppies are cute for 6 months, and then, without training, getting bigger every day, dogs can become quite wild and destructive with no outlet for their natural genetic urge to hunt, retrieve, herd, guard, or whatever their breed’s purpose demands. 

The best answer is to do your homework before adopting any animal into your family.  Find out which breed you think fits your family schedule and determine who is in charge of training and what will happen if that person does not fulfill his or her job.  Choosing a furry family member is important as it will last for the life of that four-legged sweetie.   The ASPCA  has great information on behavior issues.  You can also check out Petfinder for shelters in your area, as well as information on adopting and preparing your house, your schedule, and your family members for the adjustment, and a dog and cat breed directory.  You will want to discuss your conclusions with the shelter of your choice and gather other information they have to offer.  Ask about area trainers.  If you are working with a well-run shelter, they will have a couple of suggestions with a short comment about training methods used.  HSUS has some basic positive reinforcement training information here.

Hope this helps the next time you adopt, or pass it along to someone who may need it.

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