Surge in Dog Adoptions Means a Boost in Dog Training

By Aviva Luria / • 3/3/2021 10:00 AM EST

Bonnie Plass wants new dog owners to know that cookies cannot fix behavior problems.

The owner of That’s a Good Dog, LLC of Westbrook, Plass, is a member of a sector that has seen boom during the pandemic.

“I’m busier than ever,” she said. “I actually turn customers away because I have too much.”

The cause of the increased demand for dog trainers is the rise in dog adoptions, a phenomenon that has been observed across the country. At the same time as the demand for adoptions increased in 2020, the supply of dogs declined, according to Shelter Animals Count, a national database.

A search by Harbor News in late February for dogs available for adoption through the Connecticut Humane Society (CHS), one of the major rescue organizations, found only one: Easton, a seven-year-old mixed breed with “special needs”. “Is located on the Newington Branch. (Appointments for pet adoption must be made in advance as per the CHS website.)

The widespread, sometimes spontaneous, desire to adopt a dog during the pandemic can cause problems, according to Plass.

“A lot of people think, ‘I’m home, I can have a dog now, I can train the dog now,'” she said. “They don’t stop thinking that their family is home too.”

And the “family” often includes small children.

Dogs are “animals and they bite,” said Plass. Though cute, “do things that we don’t very much agree with – while you also have a house full of kids”.

Plass offers in-house counseling as well as behavioral training “Board and Train” in which the dog is brought home and trained in connection with its own pack.

Last summer, Plass received a call from a woman who burst into tears – the family had adopted a nine-month-old Labrador retriever who had become aggressive. There were kids in the house, busy with people coming and going, and it was too much for the puppy, she explained.

“Give me the dog,” she said to the mother. “Put a leash on it; bring it here “, to Plass home.

“I had to tell him what to do,” she explained. “You can’t take an animal into the house and you can’t tell it what the rules are.”

One mistake many new dog owners make is, according to Plass, “giving too much affection and too little direction. People don’t know animal behavior or psychology … We’re starting on the wrong foot somehow. “

Plass’ dog pack “is very good at helping dogs acclimate and play by the rules,” she said. Introducing the puppy into a pack is a socialization lesson.

After 10 days, she brings the dog back to its adoptive family and teaches people how to live with their new family member.

“I work with the owners, I work with the dogs,” she said. “Occasionally one or two customers don’t understand … it’s hard. I take the dog back, balance it more and work with the owners again.

“It doesn’t matter if I can [train the dog]because I know I can, ”she continued. “The property trains the owners.”

Getting to a happy place takes “education. Lots of education, ”she says.

“You can’t fix behaviors with biscuits all the time,” she said, adding that some desperate owners toss a biscuit one way and run the other.

“If you treat [a dog] as with humans, it will be unbalanced. You have to teach him some rules, impulse control. Dogs make bad decisions here – they lack impulse control. “

Time, patience and “a little knowledge of animal behavior” are “key ingredients in dog training,” she continued. “Let’s go over what we should do to bring this family back together.”

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