As we’ve discussed many times here, there are a lot of misconceptions about shelter dogs, a big one being that they are somehow “damaged” and unadoptable. But, really, most of the time the reasons that a dog winds up in a shelter come down to human failure.
Dogs end up in shelters because we don’t properly train them, or we aren’t prepared ourselves, economically or personally, to take on the responsibility. If any damage has been done to those dogs, it’s been done by people.
Of course, once a dog is in a shelter, its misbehavior can become worse, and it’s a terrible Catch-22: This makes the dog less adoptable, so the dog is treated as such, which makes him even less adoptable, etc. But what is the ultimate cause of this vicious cycle?
It is a loss of trust. If the dog has been given up by her family, she has already learned to be leery of humans. Her own pack betrayed her and dumped her. Loss of true socialization opportunities in a shelter can also make this mistrust worse, especially if the staff is overworked and don’t have proper time to spend with each dog.
I want you to think of a time when you lost trust in a friend or loved one. Chances are that it happened because they either didn’t fulfill an obligation or they lied to you. Whether emotionally or physically, they abandoned you. In short, when they were supposed to be there for you, they weren’t.
Fortunately, as intellectual beings, we can understand mitigating circumstances, so if a friend stands you up for a lunch date you’re not going to completely lose trust if it happened because their car broke down or because they honestly forgot. But if they make dates and break them without any discernable reason and it becomes a pattern, then it’s hard to maintain trust.
Sound familiar when it comes to our dogs?
It may seem different on the surface because you can’t actually tell your dog, “We have a play date at 2 p.m. tomorrow,” and have it mean anything to him. Dogs don’t have a sense of future time and commitment like that. But what they do have is a sense of routine, along with certain very real physical needs, and when you’re inconsistent in keeping that routine and fulfilling those needs, then you are making and breaking dates with your dog.
Now think about how you’ve dealt with humans who’ve lost your trust in the past. Maybe you tried to talk the situation out and give them another chance. That’s certainly understandable if it’s someone you really care about. There’s something worth saving there. But maybe it got to a point beyond saving, in which case you probably walked away.
In your dog’s case, it’s going to take an awful lot to make them walk away from their pack leader, so they’re going to keep giving you another chance and, as some humans in unhealthy relationships do, they may even blame themselves, in a sense, for what you are doing wrong. A dog won’t do that intellectually, but they can certainly feel as if you’re treating them the way you are because they failed you.
When we adopt a dog, we make a promise to fulfill her needs and create consistency and balance for the rest of her life. This means that we need to exercise her, teach her the rules and enforce them consistently, and provide food, water, shelter, and medical care. Beyond that, we need to provide ourselves — our time and attention.
If having a dog sounds a little like a human relationship, guess what? It is. It can be the most fulfilling one you’ll ever have, but it takes just as much effort. The difference is that a dog will never intentionally do anything to lose your trust. And if a dog does get to that point, it’s at the tail end of a lot of things that you have done wrong.
Just like with human relationships, maintaining trust requires communication and commitment. When it comes to dogs, yours are one hundred percent committed to you, and they are also the most honest communicators you’ll ever meet. We owe it to them to return the favor.
You would never want to lose the trust of a person you loved, right? Then take care to never do anything to lose that of your dog, who loves you as much as humanly possible.
Stay calm, and be trustworthy!