By Courtney Emken
co-written by Bart Emken, CPDT-KA, Jen Larson, KPA-CTP, and Amanda Ott.
It’s been over 20 years since DogBoy’s Dog Ranch first opened its gates to the Greater Austin canine community. In that time, we’ve made amazing stories, met some awesome dogs, and built our entire lives around loving dogs. It’s truly been a privilege to watch so many dogs grow and deepen their relationship with their owners.
However, not all the changes we’ve witnessed have been totally positive. We’re writing this article to both raise awareness and start a discussion about how Austin’s landscape of dogs has changed, and what that means for trainers, owners, and dogs alike.
How And Why The Landscape Of Dogs Has Changed
When we first started this business, there were plenty of challenges on our hands. The spay/neuter initiative was not nearly as strong as it is now, and we had a real struggle communicating its importance to owners. But despite these issues, we had few problems with the dogs themselves (for the most part). We could easily:
- Let unfamiliar dogs play together
- Do group training sessions and create playgroups with 15-20 dogs
- Control scuffles and keep the dogs calm
However, in the last several years we’ve seen an increase in the number of difficult dogs. These are dogs who:
- Are harder to handle
- Need more training
- Are less socialized
In response, we’ve had to reduce group numbers to avoid over-arousal and potential accidents. But we still feel as if there’s a general lack of awareness and knowledge about why this is happening, and what we can do about it as owners and trainers.
Like anything complicated, there isn’t any one reason or answer as to why this shift in canine behavior has occurred. However, there are several key factors that we’ve seen contributing to the changing landscape, such as:
Now let’s be clear. We are not in favor of euthanizing dogs due to pet overpopulation. We just feel that all of these factors have combined to form a large population of behaviorally challenging dogs. Many of them weren’t raised with the same level of attention or care as previous generations have been. While it’s wonderful that Austinites are adopting these dogs, shelter pets tend to require more maintenance and are more likely to have significant behavioral issues.
In the past, difficult dogs were often euthanized, but now they’re being adopted out regularly. We’re not saying that this is a bad thing – it’s actually great news for dogs and dog lovers. We all just need to be understanding, and have patience when dealing with these dogs who have greater needs.
What The Changing Landscape Of Dogs Means For Owners
All dog owners will have to grapple with the changing landscape of dogs, whether their dogs are perfectly mannered or not. There are certain behaviors we’ll have to adopt in order to keep our pets safe and avoid dog-on-dog conflicts/accidents.
First, maintain constant awareness of your dog’s interactions. Make sure you’ve always got one eye on them when in public, especially at dog parks. Watch their body language and the signals that other dogs are sending. Be ready to remove your dog from any potentially dangerous situation at a moment’s notice.
While it’s good to be a conscientious dog owner, you don’t have to assume that every shelter dog is abused. Many of these dogs are sweet, gentle dogs who assimilate well into their new surroundings. However, there are now many dogs in the Austin area that may have some leftover behavioral baggage stemming from their upbringing.
Don’t get us wrong, we still want people to spay/neuter their pets, and to adopt from shelters. Just know that going this route may be challenging – and consider that a positive thing. It gives you a lot to work on with your dog, and your bond will grow if you’re actively helping them resolve some of the issues that they come home with.
When bringing a shelter dog home, give them a good 4-6 weeks to get used to their new digs. Much of their true personality won’t come out until they’ve gotten comfortable with you and their new home. For this reason, it is wise to WAIT before jumping into daycare, boarding or other major changes. If you need to travel during this time, consider a pet sitter so the consistency of being home is there.
There’s also plenty of community resources available to help owners with reactive dogs. You can reach out to local trainers and rescues who’ll be happy to offer assistance and help. Just be sure that you’re using positive reinforcement, otherwise you’ll cause damage to an already vulnerable dog. Using aversive methods like an e-collar will erode any trust you are trying to build.
If you’re having difficulty training a shelter dog, or want to talk about how you’ve seen the landscape of dogs changing, please contact us today. We want to help everyone we can adapt to the new landscape and keep our canine community strong.
Dog by Jon Olav Einkenes
Dogs Playing by smerikal
Two Dogs by Tim