Lessons from shelter dogs

In this post I wanted to give a nod to the other dogs in my life. I started volunteering at a local animal shelter at the beginning of the year. It was something I always wanted to do, but never did (procrastination). It has changed me as a person and as a dog owner. I have learned so many things from the dogs at the shelter that has forever changed my approach toward owning dogs. 

My dog background info: The majority of my childhood I had two shih-tzus. They were easy-going and lazy. I liked all dogs, but I always said I never would own big dogs. 

Now, back to the shelter. I walked in with a friend of mine and all the dogs were BIG. I picked the smallest of the big dogs, they handed me the leash and off we went. This dog pulled me down the road so hard, I thought my feet were going to lift off the ground! After a few minutes I had to bring her back! They gave me an easier dog to walk, but even he pulled! I was not use to dogs pulling on leash. I NEVER in my left experienced it. I ended up spending a lot of time with the cats, because the dogs seemed impossible for me to handle. I must be really weak in the arms I thought because my friend was doing fine (she grew up with two labs). I continued to walk dogs, but I avoided the ones that pulled. 

One day, a shelter staffer and I were trying to get two dogs out for a walk. I was to grab one by the collar and hook him up while she got the other. As you can imagine, shelter dogs are excited to go for a walk. These were outdoor cages, so there was nothing stopping them from running. That always made me nervous, that one of the dogs would bolt before I could clip a leash on. Sure enough, the dog bolted past me and I was unable to get a hold of him. What I did not know, was that another volunteer had come back from the walking trail with a dog (he was walking behind me so I did not even know he was near). This dog and the dog that got away from me HATED each other. And of course, my dog saw his enemy and went right for him! Now we had a dog fight on our hands. These are two large male dogs. I had no idea what to do! Luckily there were two other volunteers that had just showed up and they jumped right in to break up the fight. I was scared… this dog went nuts! Then, the shelter staffer hooked the dog up to a leash, checked his body and mouth for injuries and handed him over to me. I was still shocked from the dog fight! I was worried he was an aggressive dog that I could not handle, but she assured me he was fine. Yikes! All my worry was for nothing though. Both dogs had not been neutered yet, so it was a typical male dominance fight. He was paired in a large outdoor cage with a female dog and they got along amazingly. My lessons from this event: just because a dog hates one dog, does not mean they hate all dogs and just because a dog is aggressive toward a dog does not mean they are aggressive to people.

Over time, I got better and better walking the big dogs. I learned how to handle them when they pulled and before you know it I was going to the shelter by myself and walking every dog they had on my own! 🙂 My lessons: big dogs pull when they first get out but often calm down once they start the walk, lean back with your body weight if a dog is pulling hard, pull when the dog pulls to show them you are the boss not them and the size of the dog does not dictate how much they pull. The strongest dog at the shelter is the smallest of the big dogs 😉

I think walking big dogs has been an amazing thing. It has taught me that I love big dogs too! They are just as great as small dogs, possibly even better! I even changed my future when it comes to dogs. I use to be so focused on specific breeds that I wanted to own. My future dogs would all have come from breeders as puppies. Now, my future dogs will be adults and they will be from shelters/rescues! Because of volunteering I will be saving dogs, instead of buying them 🙂

Chase is my first pure bred puppy and my last! 

By the way, that dog that nearly pulled me down the road, she is now my FAVORITE dog! The poor girl has been there for about 10 months now, just waiting to be adopted. Thankfully, this shelter is a no-kill facility and privately owned! I go to the shelter now and she is the first dog I walk and the one I look forward to the most! Instead of saying I need to go see the dogs at the shelter, I say I need to go see Marley! 🙂 Marley has trouble forming connections with people which is one of the reasons why she has been there so long (plus she pulls very hard and needs to be the only animal in the house). She knows me now because rather than bolt out of her cage without even a glance at me, she prances around and jumps up at me happily. I know a lot of people would say a dog jumping is bad, well for Marley it is good! It shows she cares more about interacting with me, than going for her walk! Which is a HUGE deal! It also helps that when I arrive at the shelter, she sees me and I do a high-pitched “MARLEYYYYYY!!!!!!”. She is probably thinking, YES the girl that always walks me is here! 

If you are thinking about volunteering at an animal shelter, do not waste any more time, go right now!

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