I’ve been a professional dog walker and pet sitter for five years. I’ve volunteered in rescues for even longer. I work alongside dog owners and dog trainers and I’ve seen firsthand that dogs of all ages are capable of learning. In my line of work, I cross paths with many dogs; some have good manners and some do not.
Oftentimes, when a dog misbehaves, the owner offers up an apology. But there’s one apology that makes my skin crawl…”Sorry, he’s a rescue dog.” Those five words are my least favorite five words. When I hear that phrase, I feel frustrated and deflated. There’s part of me that would like to respond with “SO! What does that mean? Are you telling me that because he’s a rescue, you are incapable of training him so that he has good manners?”
Can an old dog learn new tricks?
Training a dog is no easy task. It requires time, patience and consistency. Sometimes it requires the help of a professional dog trainer. Training a dog with little to no former training or a dog that has had little positive interaction with people and/or other dogs, is much different than training a puppy. A puppy is a clean slate with no bad habits to address. With adult dogs, you are usually “undoing” bad behavior. So, you are trying to eliminate a bad behavior and replace it with another behavior, a good one.
Dogs can learn at all ages. I’ve taught several cues to my 11-year old rescue dog, Diesel. He’s food motivated. He wants to please me and he loves the positive praise I give when he gets it right. And frankly, I have fun teaching him new things. He’s not too old to learn, and neither is a rescue dog. It’s true that some rescue dogs suffer some hardships that other dogs don’t suffer, but that doesn’t mean rescues are incapable of changing their behavior.
The sad truth
According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are an estimated 3-4 million dogs in shelters. It’s estimated that 2.7 million of these dogs, who are healthy, that are not adopted and subsequently euthanized. In addition, only about 30 percent of pets in homes come from shelters or rescues. Thirty percent!!?? That number is way too low.
“Sorry, he’s a rescue dog.”
These five words give rescue dogs a bad reputation. Many people think that rescue dogs are damaged goods. People think that because the dog has landed into a shelter or rescue, that he must be a bad dog. They assume the dog behaved so badly that the owners gave him up to the shelter. Or, that he was so mistreated that he’s never going to be able to “get over it,” and thus isn’t fit to be a pet dog. Combine this mindset to “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” and you are contributing to the stigma of rescue dogs being a bad choice for someone looking for a dog.
Don’t be part of the problem
Next time your dog behaves badly, think about the effect those five words can have on the millions of dogs who are waiting to be adopted. Think about what message is being received when you say “Sorry, he’s a rescue dog.” Those five words could be the very words that change the mind of a potential adopter. That’s one less dog that makes it out of a shelter or a rescue.