Remember, this is not an inquest. Many owners do not recognize the early warning signs of aggression in their dog. Alternately, some owners quickly form strong emotional bonds with their new dog and may be unconsciously aware of a brewing aggression problem in the dog towards the child. If this is occurring, these owners are often unwilling to acknowledge and let the problem come into focus, as it could mean having to give up the dog.
During the follow-up call, the owner may believe you are only calling to “catch” them or the dog doing something wrong, and are worried you will confiscate or recommend they give back their new dog.
While it is common or tempting to blame the owner or the child for any problems, this is not only unsupportive, but also unfair. Placing dogs with young children means placing appropriate, extremely tolerant and adoring dogs with children. You will never be able to train the children of the world how to behave differently around dogs. Your choices are to either prohibit the adoption of any of your shelter dogs and puppies to families with young children in the home, or to adopt out, to the best of your abilities, gentle, mild and appropriate child-friendly dogs and puppies. In refusing adoptions to families with young children, realize that you are not preventing them from getting a dog – you are simply sending them elsewhere – perhaps to find a dangerous dog in the classified ads or an aggressive puppy from a pet store – a dog that most likely hasn’t been behaviorally evaluated at all, may not get neutered, may never get trained. A shelter must be more than just an adoption agency. We must exist to help people become more responsible and caring pet owners and guardians; we must exist to make the best possible match between our animals and their new families. By following up, supporting and offering our expertise to new pet owners, we hopefully avoid a child being bitten.
Begin with a casual, relaxed and friendly query into how things have been going with the new dog: “Hi! How are you doing? How is __________(name of dog)? And how are things going? Does everyone in the family seem happy with him (or her)?” You want to try to set up a chatty, loose, open rapport. Invite the adopter to open up, mostly listen and encourage more talk with a sincere interest in the situation. Keep in mind that the average pet owner has no idea what the word “aggression” implies. Ask for specific descriptions of behaviors or events using common, non-professional dog behavior lingo.
If the owner reveals something or mentions something that concerns you, try not to immediately jump in with advice or worry – keep probing to get as much detail as possible. If you are, or your shelter has a competent behavior counselor, you can address some of the issues over the phone, but a face-to-face evaluation is almost always in order for aggression problems. If you are NOT a qualified behavior counselor, you must have a referral system in place, and a name and telephone number instantly available for the owner, and then you need to follow-up with either the owner or the behavior counselor to confirm professional help has been sought.
Rondout Valley Kennels, Inc.