What is a “Transplant Dog” you ask? I use the term to describe the thousands of dogs that were living life in a rural community and are “transplanted” via rescue or shelter transports into suburban or urban areas. This trend to rescue dogs from one area of the country, or sadly the world, and transport them to another, where “good homes” are more readily available, is creating problems for dogs and owners alike.
First, let’s look at what life in rural America looks like for these dogs.
- Most of their time is spent outdoors and in the open
- Very little time, if any, is spent in close proximity living with humans
- Dogs are free to form social groups and communicate naturally
- Dogs spend very little time on leash or are tethered much of the time
- Dogs are not taught “manners”
- Dogs can eliminate at will
- Dogs can find their own “safe” spaces
- Dogs can dig, bark, chase critters, and just “be a dog”
Fast forward to their relocation to a suburban shelter. They have been through challenges we cannot even imagine. Their “normal” world has been completely changed, since they have been “rescued.” We fail to take into consideration that they:
- Have to deal with the sounds and smells of unfamiliar dogs in often overcrowded shelters
- Have to learn to interact with unfamiliar people and often, unfamiliar dogs in the shelter/transport
- Have no meaningful outlet for enrichment or appropriate exercise
- Have supressed immune systems due to internal parasites, external parasites and vaccinations
- Have no place that they consider “safe”
- Have had multiple food and water changes
People want to do something “good” when considering where to obtain dog. The “ADOPT, don’t SHOP” movement has created a powerful message. What is unfortunate is that most owners are not prepared for the common behavioral problems that are the direct result of this “rescue” process. Behaviors such leash reactivity, destructive behavior, barking, and escape attempts just to name a few.
Owners of transplant dogs often remark that their dog was “perfect” in the beginning. They talk about how he can be wonderful at times, and like a “different dog” at others. We must understand that these dogs are trying to COPE with new stimuli daily. Life on a leash isn’t the same as life out and about. Autonomy has been taken away and they are now trying as best they can to adapt to our life. Those cars moving in the street may be “normal” to you but to a transplant dog they are way too close and moving way too fast!
Dog trainers hear “He’s a rescue” and they know the owner is dealing with one or more of the following behaviors:
- Pulling on leash
- Barking and lunging at people/other dogs
- Growling at family members
- Inappropriate elimination
- Destructive chewing
Owner’s have tried telling the dog “No.” They’ve sought advice from other less than reputable sources, namely the internet or YouTube celebrities. They try squirt bottles, training collars, leash corrections, and the problems don’t seem to get better. Many want to “send the dog away” for training, which unfortunately can further add to the dog’s stress, complicating the behavior.
Does this sound like your dog or someone’s dog you know? There is help available! You first need to understand life from the DOG’S point of view, and then begin to follow these tips.
- Forget “Obedience Training” – You’ve got a lifetime to teach basic skills. We are so culturally ingrained that a dog MUST “sit” and “stay” that we forget these are ABNORMAL behaviors for dogs. Manners are important but a dog should be a partner, not a robot.
- Build a Positive Relationship – Work on creating a relationship where your dog want to work with you, TRUSTS YOU, rather than is afraid of you. Reward behaviors you like when they occur, such as lying quietly, looking at you, or keeping all four feet on the floor.
- Provide Consistency – Teach your dog to “say please” by making eye contact before a door opens, keeping all four feet on the floor for the food bowl to be lowered, or to touch your hand with his nose to ask for petting. This helps provide a consistent outcome that the dog can have some part in.
- Provide a “Job” – Don’t expect your rural dog to be a “couch potato.” Many have the genetics for herding, chasing and killing rodents, or flushing and retrieving birds. Teach polite games of tug or fetch, provide opportunities to work for meals, use appropriate chew items, give him a “digging pit,” or allow him time to run while on a long leash.
- Let Him be a Dog! – You cannot change what is in his DNA. You cannot erase his behavioral history. You must recognize that dogs will be dogs. Transplant dogs have “emotional baggage” to overcome. Learn to work with your dog in the moment, rather than “expect” him to be “good.”
- Ditch the Walks! – That’s right, STOP TAKING HIM FOR A WALK! If he’s barking, lunging, pulling, or unruly your time is better spent teaching him skills he can use rather than continuing to create frustration for both of you. Walks are NOT the best exercise for dogs!
Transplant dogs can become adjusted to suburban life. Our “Focused Adult Dog” or “New Additions” classes can be a great start. If reactivity is a challenge, please consider our “Reactivity” webinar and our S.A.F.E. Program for Dogs classes. Mind Games can be a great way to keep him mentally and physically stimulated. You can find all of these self paced classes, and more, on our on line academy.
Recognize that your transplant dog needs to learn to trust you. He needs your help, your understanding, and your patience to succeed. We are here to support you, every step of this journey.