Behavioral Rehabilitation

When you post photos of a dog that is clearly badly injured/neglected and in need of veterinary care – people immediately start clicking donate without question, raising thousands of dollars in a matter of hours. Yet, when it comes to dogs in need of extensive emotional and behavioral rehabilitation – it is not only challenging to raise funds, it is often criticized and questioned.

The reality is, these dogs are at just as high a risk of being euthanized for the abuse and neglect they have suffered as the dogs with broken legs or Heartworm disease – actually, they are MORE likely to be euthanized because they pose a greater liability to the shelter when released, and less rescues are able and willing to consider them good candidates for rescue.

The problem is, for dogs that have truly suffered emotional abuse and neglect that has caused fear based behavioral issues to develop – the rehabilitation for these dogs can be just as costly as hospitalization. Because a majority of Central Florida rescue organizations are foster networks (like us!), the dogs are going into volunteer foster families (like yours!) to receive training, veterinary care, and to wait for the right permanent home to adopt them. Would you know how to rehabilitate a traumatized dog with behavioral issues and fear aggression? Neither do most of our foster homes. Sometimes the issues are minor enough for just experienced support in a foster home – but, many times the most extreme cases who are being killed for their behaviors are not safe to be placed in an inexperienced home and need professional rehabilitation.

WHY is this rehabilitation so expensive? If the dogs are not capable of going into a foster home due to the severity of their behaviors, the only SAFE way to rescue and rehabilitate these dogs is to place them in a board and train program – this means the dogs LIVE at a facility full time while receiving structure and training every single day by trained professionals. Think about how much it costs you to board your dogs for a week when you travel – now think about how much it would cost to have a trainer come to your home for 2 or 3 training sessions every day that same week … Exactly. The roughly $500/week it costs us on average is actually NOT unreasonable when you consider everything we are receiving for that cost – a SAFE, secure place for an aggressive/unstable dog to live day in and day out, AND intensive training multiple times a day every single day.

The other problem is, even if you understand WHY the training is expensive – it is still met with heavy criticism every single time we try to assist a dog that is a good candidate for this rehabilitation. It is an uphill battle to prove that the dog needs our help – if the video we post of the dog’s behavior appears “fine” to the average person who does not know enough about animal behavior and body language, no one wants to donate or help the animal because it doesn’t “really need” training. Do you REALLY think we WANT to pay $500+ per week for no reason? Of course not! If we have determined that is the only way to safely rescue a dog, it is because we are having to make a difficult call for the safety of everyone involved including the foster family, their children, pets, the community AND the dog. We don’t want it to be HARDER to rescue the dog, but – sometimes that is the uphill battle we are faced with to save these dogs.

On the alternate side of the spectrum, if the videos of the dog’s behavior show CLEAR concerning behavior and aggression – then no one wants to donate because they do not understand dog behavior enough to understand that the dog is not too dangerous or too  far gone to be saved and we are not “Wasting our time” saving a dog that shouldn’t be saved. We work extremely hard with the shelters and our trainers to assess the safety of the dogs we choose to rehabilitate and the types of behaviors we are dealing with – and have successfully been a last resort for so many dogs within hours of being euthanized for their behavior – dogs who are now happy, successful members of families and society.

Just because a dog’s wounds and scars aren’t on the outside, doesn’t make them less deserving of a second chance. If you wouldn’t question our judgement on whether or not an injured or sick dog was a “smart save”, whether or not they could be rehabilitated, whether or not the vets have made the right diagnosis – please give us the same faith and support when we rescue dogs with emotional scars and behavioral needs. They might even need us more, need your support more.

Bringing Up Puppy

Everyone always says that the breed doesn’t matter – it is all in how you raise them! But, what does that really mean? Raising a puppy to be a well behaved, well socialized part of society is much more complex than most people realize. Everyone understands that puppies require housebreaking, and might chew your shoes… But, there are much more complex and fundamental needs that a puppy requires in order to truly become the perfect pooch you have always wanted.

One of the most important fundamental needs of your puppy, is exercise. This may seem simple enough – “I have a big back yard, puppy will have plenty of room to exercise!” However, if you get up and walk from your living room to your back yard – are you exercising? Your puppy isn’t going to exercise itself just because it is outdoors instead of indoors. It may sniff around and explore a little, but without interaction it will likely be bored and cry to come back in – never having exercised at all. Adopting a puppy means the commitment to provide healthy exercise and play for your puppy. Long walks, time playing fetch, etc EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Most puppies need a minimum of one hour of exercise twice a day, every day. If you adopt a high energy/high drive dog – it may need even more than that! Dogs that are not getting adequate exercise often develop a variety of behavioral issues from destructive boredom behaviors, to more serious issues like taking their pent up energy out as aggression on other animals or even people!

The second major need your puppy has, is structure and boundaries. When you bring home a baby puppy, EVERYTHING it does is cute! It is hilarious if it attacks your shoelaces as you walk by, or tries to take your sock while you are putting in on in the morning – But fast forward a few months, your puppy is suddenly 50+lbs and stealing your son’s socks every morning as he gets dressed, or tripping you trying to attack your shoelaces as you walk by. Start with consistent structure and discipline on unwanted behaviors from an early age – remembering that behaviors that are cute now, may not be so cute in the future. I also highly recommend either reading books or articles or watching YouTube videos on basic obedience training, or signing up for some obedience classes – following basic commands like sit, stay, heel, and come can truly make every dog much more manageable as they become larger and more difficult to control – especially out in public.

The third, and perhaps most important, thing that your puppy needs is SOCIALIZATION! Now, what does this mean? It means your dog needs to be consistently exposed to new people, animals, and places. You should have the time to take puppy out of your home environment at least a few times a week – go to a pet store, a public park, anywhere where there are new people, animals, sounds and smells. Dogs that are not properly socialized in the developmental period of their life (the first 18 months) can develop socialization problems that can be as minor as being fearful or anxious out in public, to as severe as fear based aggression towards people, and aggression towards other animals. A lack of socialization is the root cause of a large majority of aggression in dogs. This fundamental part of raising a puppy that becomes a well polished member of society is frequently overlooked and the price you could pay later on is the most detrimental of all.

Finally, your puppy needs intellectual challenge and stimulation. There are so many ways your dog can have healthy mental stimulation – basic obedience classes and learning new tricks and commands is one simple way to provide for this need. Additionally, you can play games with your puppy that exercise their mind – make them sit and stay or have a family member hold them and hide a treat in front of them then release them and allow them to “find” it. Once they understand the game, start hiding the treats when they are in another room and make them use their noses and brains to find them. Get creative and have fun! There are also a variety of special puzzle toys made for dogs to stimulate their minds – available at any local pet store or online.

If you made it through this article – you are probably already a notch above a majority of new puppy owners! Remember these tips and utilize them throughout your puppies development – never lose sight of their importance in raising the perfect, polite, balanced pup your family has dreamed of!

All About “Bully’s”

The “pit bull” is perhaps the most controversial dog in the United States. Some worship them, others fear them – some cities and counties have enacted actual laws prohibiting them, some police forces have hired them to serve other communities. So, what is a pit bull REALLY?

First, it is important to DEFINE the term “pit bull” which is not in fact a breed but rather a slang term like “retriever” or “spaniel” that encompasses a wide variety of breeds that all have similar appearance – whether they are a pure bred American Pit Bull Terrier, or a mix of this breed and other breeds that are also bully breeds, or even other breeds that are NOT bully breeds. FUN PITBULL FACT: Many professionals struggle to correctly identify the “pit bull” from a photo quiz online, and there have been studies showing that animal control officers frequently misidentify dogs as pit bulls, and even fail to identify dogs that ARE pit bulls. If the professionals cannot identify them correctly a large majority of the time, it is safe to assume you also mislabel and misidentify dogs you meet in your daily life as being “pit bull” dogs, as well.

So – where did these “pit bull” dogs come from? Unfortunately, the rumor that they are bred to fight other animals/other dogs, is true. Hundreds of years ago there was a popular sport called “Baiting” – this sport involved placing a large animal, usually a bull, into a ring and unleashing one or more dogs to “fight” it to the death. The dogs used in these sports were given the name “bull dogs” which is where we get the terminology of the “bully breeds” we know today. When “baiting” became outlawed, attempts to continue to sport on a small scale that drew less attention led to the development of dog fighting. Dog fights were easier to hold in small, concealed spaces than say a fight with a full grown bull. “Bull dogs” like the English Bulldog, Bullmastiff, American Bulldog and a variety of other tenacious and powerful breeds were crossed with terriers to make a smaller more agile and athletic dog to use in dog fighting- the “pit bull”. Over the years several “registered” bloodlines developed – the American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and American Staffordshire Terrier. But, a majority of “pit bull” dogs remained widely home grown and do not follow a true “bloodline”.

Unfortunately, because of this background, it does make some “pit bull” breed dogs more prone to aggression towards other animals. It is EXTREMELY important that these dogs receive proper socialization with a variety of other animals and dogs from a young age. Properly raised and well socialized, these dogs pose no threat to other animals in most cases. It is a MYTH that “pit bull” type dogs are more aggressive towards humans than other breeds! In fact, because the dog fighters needed to be able to quickly and safely break up dog fights – they deliberately looked for and bred the dogs that exhibited no human aggression, even when in the heat of a raging fight with another animal. “Pit Bull” type dogs have consistently tested higher on many temperament tests than a majority of the most friendly dog breeds – and have even out performed favorites like Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers!

Over the years as dog fighting waned – these dogs found new purpose in their relationship with humans. They are a versatile dog that has been used for herding, hunting, military and police work, and to protect settlers homesteads. They are smart, loyal, and amazing animals – like any breed, they require an owner who truly understands their temperament and is prepared to provide them with adequate socialization, structure, and exercise to make them a wonderful member of the family and society!

Don’t fear them because of their appearance – and remember, if you do hear a story about an “evil” pit bull – it was probably the product of an evil owner, who didn’t socialize (or even worse, deliberately abused or neglected) and train their bully properly!  Be kind – these dogs face the largest challenges of any breed of dog in our Country. They are outlawed in multiple large cities including Miami, Boston, and Denver – where they are not even allowed to leave their homes without a muzzle, and are frequently confiscated and euthanized as a “banned breed”. Many HOA’s, Home Owners Insurance and Landlords will not allow them. They are frequently the status symbol of choice for uneducated pet owners who do not spay and neuter and even deliberately overbreed them for money. They are euthanized at ALARMINGLY high rates in our public shelters; and, of course, they are still the dog of choice for individuals participating in illegal dog fighting. These dogs need our help – they are not villains, they are puppy breath and happy tails and big wide smiles!

Lola’s Story

Our featured adoptable dog today is Lola!

Lola was rescued from Orange County Animal Services in Orlando, FL – she was suffering with severe HW disease. This beautiful girl was a fighter and finished her HW treatment and is now strong and healthy.

Lola is literally the PERFECT dog. She gets along amazing with absolutely everyone. She loves other dogs of all sizes, and is excellent with children.

She recently participated in the Citrus Bowl Parade and was the best behaved girl at the event! She wasn’t phased by the crowds or sirens, she let crowds of children run up and hang off of her, and got along well with all of the other animals.

Lola has a perfect medium energy level – she is playful when it is play time, and calm when it is rest time. She is housebroken and has absolutely perfect manners. She is spayed, current on vaccines, is now HW negative, and has a micro chip!

For more information on adopting Lola, please email HappyTrailsAnimalRescue@yahoo.com for more information on adoption.

The Truth About Rescue

There are so many misconceptions about rescues – I would like to start this blog by clearing some of them up. Rescue is the toughest business there is; we have to be on call 24/7/365 since anything that happens with one of our dogs, is our responsibility – and we get zero pay. No matter how many lives we save, we see twice as many lost; we never feel like we are doing enough, or making a difference, and there is always someone there who wants to tell us how much better they could do things.

So, why do we do it?

We do it for dogs, like the one pictured here, who have literally lived their entire lives knowing nothing but cruelty and neglect and sadness. Souls who are powerless to control their misfortune and face a sad death having never known love. Even though we definitely cannot save them all – for that one life, we have made all of the difference in the entire world.

What we are NOT here for: to take over your responsibility as a pet owner. We are not here to take your dog Mitzy because she barks too much, sheds on the couch, or is inconvenient for you. If we took in your dogs, not only would we not be doing you a favor – we also would have to kiss another dog and explain to that animal why it died today; because your pet was more important, because you couldn’t spend a few weeks finding Mitzy a nice family yourself. So please, don’t ask a rescue to take your dog – unless it is a genuine emergency like the death of a pet owner, eviction, etc and the animal is genuinely homeless.

Please DON’T take Mitzy to the county animal control shelter, either. That is also not their responsibility, it is yours. County Animal Services is there to enforce pet laws and ordinances, to make sure that people are caring for their pets responsibly for the safety of the pet and the public. If the only dogs Animal Services received were the ones truly in urgent need – dogs that had to be confiscated due to neglect or cruelty, lost and found pets in need of reuniting with their owners, and genuine stray or urgently homeless animals – they wouldn’t end up euthanizing so many! Even if poor Mitzy is “so cute”, she could still sadly end up on the euthanasia list due to crowding; and even if she doesn’t – the other dogs who had no other option but to go to animal control because they had terrible lives, will die so that there is room for her to live.

So please, be responsible pet owners – spay and neuter to prevent continued overpopulation, make time to train, socialized and exercise your dog. If you somehow made a mistake and got a pet you are not ready for and cannot handle or properly care for or make time for –  juggle the responsibility for a few more weeks and put in the work to network your dog for a new home yourself. Don’t make your dog someone else’s responsibility.

Interested in learning more about how you can help our cause to save animals like the one photographed (Actual photo of Trooper, one of the many dogs our rescue has saved from cruelty, abuse, and death at a county kill shelter)? The biggest and most rewarding thing you can do is – FOSTER! Open your home for a few months to one of these dogs. Show them what love and regular meals and a warm bed and kind touch feels like – and save them from ending up another number on the “euthanasia list” that week. If you aren’t able to foster – consider making a donation. Any amount helps and can help us cover veterinary costs, training, food and other necessary supplies to these amazing animals! If you can’t foster or donate – VOLUNTEER! Spend time washing cars, lend us your computer prowess to answer emails or solicit donations for our raffles, help us plan an amazing event! Please email HappyTrailsAnimalRescue@Yahoo.com for more information on how to get involved and make a difference in our cause!