It’s a sad reality that pet ownership often becomes a less-than-lifelong commitment for some owners.
Bringing an animal home can be a euphoric experience — but one that can sour.
Excessive barking, chewing valuables or a change in the owner’s circumstances can make keeping a pet untenable.
The problem of unwanted pets is particularly severe at this time of year as the transient Top End population moves on, leaving furry friends stranded.
New year spike in surrendered pets
Darwin’s Top End Rehoming Group is currently dealing with three times as many unwanted cats and dogs than usual.
“I think a lot of it is people going away for holidays and they haven’t organised anything for their pets,” said Katrina Stafford, one of the small group of volunteers trying to find them new homes.
“They’re moving, so new jobs, new lives and some people can’t or don’t take their pets with them.”
Whatever the reason, the decision to rehome a pet can be disruptive for the animal long after it finds a new owner, according to dog trainer Hannah Ruess.
Ms Ruess, who specialises in creating good relationships between pets and their owners, said it was often a difficult task that could be thought of like dating.
Good relationships start in the home
Be it dating or rehoming a dog, getting to know one another is crucial.
Dogs can carry all kind of traits and experiences as they move between homes, and their age and breed are also a significant factor.
But mischievous behaviour is generally a sign that the dog’s needs — social interaction, exercise or mental stimulation — still aren’t being met or understood by its new owner, Ms Ruess said
“What is the foundation of a good relationship? It’s trust.”
She said building that trust began in the place you’re expecting your new pet to live.
“The first step is that you’re really allowing them to settle into your home, so make it as calm and safe as possible.
“Take some time, possibly even stay for a couple of days at home, so you really get to know the animal and the animal has the chance to know you and your lifestyle as well.
“Come to settle into a little routine with them, and then you set each other up to succeed.”
Rules, routines, rewards
If a rescue dog is behaving poorly because of a lack of stability, then correcting those behaviours is a matter of laying down rules and routines, according to RSPCA Darwin’s Shae Khreish.
Bringing home a rescue dog
- Spend time getting to know your dog, even if that means taking time off work
- Lay down rules and be consistent enforcing them
- Reward good behaviour
- Recognise that getting a new pet settled takes time
Source: RSPCA/Pawsitive K9 Behaviour
“It is often a big challenge for a dog going into a new home, especially coming out of a shelter environment, where it’s quite stressful and they’ve been through quite a traumatic process,” she said.
“The dog’s coming from an environment where it hasn’t really had anyone telling it what to do, so you really need to be patient and understand that the dog doesn’t even know what you want from it yet.”
Setting and reinforcing rules is a process that can take weeks, but sometimes months. Reward-based training also helps.
“Consistency is the key,” Ms Ruess said.
“If we want to change something or we want to be successful in something, and it doesn’t matter what part of life we’re looking at, it always helps to be consistent.
“That’s the same with animals.
“Watch what that animal likes and what it dislikes, and ask how you can change your environment to calm them down.”
Is this working out?
Is there a chance that, like any date, things just might not work out?
“I think so,” Ms Ruess said.
But changing owners is detrimental for pets so it’s always worth consulting a professional first.
“There might be some cases where it really doesn’t work out and then it might be better that these people let that animal go,” she said.
“But just because it doesn’t work out in three weeks doesn’t mean it can’t work.”
Like many relationships, it’s a process of meeting the other party halfway.
“It really comes down to your own willingness to be educated about that animal, to learn as much as possible,” Ms Ruess said.
“A good relationship takes time.”
Topics: animals, animal-behaviour, volunteers, human-interest, people, darwin-0800
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