Mismatching - Tricia Breen

When I hear someone state that one should unfailingly commit to a dog for life, I find myself in conflict with that notion. I have seen so many mismatches lately and it causes me to have so much sympathy for dog and person. There are the obvious ones: senior citizen that forgot how much work it is to have a young pup of high energy and intelligence; the dog that doesn't like kids that lands in a household with 3 kids under 5. There are some that are less obvious — a dog that is extremely responsive to dog language living with a person who doesn't seem willing or able to learn dog language; a type A dog with a type A person that results in both being overly reactive; a type B person with a type A dog that results in very slow and delayed communication; a type A person that wants a sport dog, living with a type B dog that has no interest in all that activity; an overly dependent dog with an overly dependent person; an overly dependent person with a very independent dog, and so on.

I can think of some really lovely dogs that would be so much better served by being re-homed, placed in a home that is a better fit overall. After all, we bring the dogs to our homes without asking them, without giving it a trial run to see if we are compatible. Sometimes it just doesn't seem fair to everyone to insist that it should remain that way. I understand that this is something for which everyone has different opinions. For instance, with regard to our own species, some people think that a marriage should last forever, regardless of whether or not the parties are still happy or fulfilled. You said 'til death do us part', so you should honor that until the end. But this was a choice made by both parties, both of whom have made a decision to enter into this contract. Dogs have been put into the arrangement and don't have a lot of choice but to adapt to what has been thrust upon them.

When I was involved in horses, it was not unusual for people to have a 'try out' period, to see if this was who they wanted. If not the best fit, the owner goes back to the drawing board to find the right match. I talked to someone today who has working dogs. He placed a dog with someone on a trial basis. "If it doesn't work out, if she isn't what you are looking for, send her back. I will find a better match." This seems like such a better approach to me.

Now look at a scenario where a person has decided to get a second dog. What if the first or second dog doesn't find it to be a fit, to be to their liking? What if they fight or what if one is bullied or cowed by the other? Do we insist on keeping the commitment even if the dog or dogs don't find it to be a comfortable situation? Dogs are generally the best in the world at adapting to what is presented, because they don't often have any choice. But is it okay to impose that on them? Do we insist on keeping them in our 2000 square foot house together even if they aren't content or comfortable with each other?

I have known of situations where dogs were re-homed to homes that are a better circumstance, only to see the dogs blossom. The people who have re-homed the dog are better able to lead a life that is better suited to them, the new dog guardians are happy with the dog. Seems like a win-win-win.

There are obvious problems with this conundrum. Is it fair to have dogs bounce around? Well, they are the most adaptable and flexible species that I know of. Is it not reasonable to have people put forth some effort, to compromise, attempt to meet the dog's needs? Absolutely. Someone who gives up on a dog because it wasn't house trained in two days or because it sheds, or for any number of frivolous reasons shouldn't have a dog anyway of course. But if there are some issues that might be more substantive that still require effort and dedication from the person, should the person try to figure out a solution? Absolutely. But if there is just a real issue with real conflict that seems unresolvable....?

Good dogs are suffering from a lack of needs being met with insistence on making it work, on committing to the dog.  An example: If I had not been in a position to spend a lot of time getting out to the multiple acres and lake water available to me when I had a high drive sporting dog, bred for her unending drive and obsessive work ethic, it might not have been fair for me to keep her. Because I had the resources and the ability to meet her needs, it worked. It wasn't easy, but everything lined up in a way that worked out.  If I had gotten her when I was older or when I was working 60 hours a week, it could have been a disaster for her and for me, leading to frustration for both of us. And yes, she was completely dedicated to work, and work some more. I see this more and more with breeders trying to create high drive dogs for their chosen sport. First, not everyone is as dedicated to doing sports with their dogs day in and day out, every weekend.  So where do the pups get placed? Then there is the illusion that we can control genetics. Sometimes that desired high drive tips over to no self control at all.

It is an interesting dilemma. When I was at the shelter, I rarely objected to someone returning a dog. If the dog and person didn't get along, then it wasn't good for anyone. If they weren't ready to put in the time, then it wasn't good for anyone. If two resident dogs didn't get along, then it wasn't good for anyone. We know that the more of oneself one devotes to  building the relationship, the more good it does, the more solid the bond becomes. Amazingly, many dog people have the most love for the dog that required the most effort, the dog that was the biggest problem. But when I see that people can't give that effort or time to a dog that really needs it, it makes me wish the dog could be with someone who can provide. Sometimes it is as simple as a high energy dog that needs a jogging partner, but who lives with someone that can barely make it around the block once a day. Although it is simple, it can be real, and the fallout is sometimes palpable.

There are people, very few, that I do not trust at all. My choice is to not spend any time with them. If I have to spend time with them, there is no relaxing, no level of comfort. I have the option not to spend time with them. Trust is what I feel is THE biggest thing with our dogs. I know that good dog lovers would wish that a dog they feel is neglected and/or abused should be pulled from a home. So how about a home that is perhaps less black-and-white, but where the dog is still suffering, needs unmet?  There are people with whom I feel completely relaxed, that I know I can be myself. Wouldn't it be great for dogs to have that same option?

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