Animal Welfare – An Open Letter to Shelters & Rescue Organizations – Humane Treatment –Transparency About Behavior – No Hassle Returns

< A version of this article was published in the May 2019 issue of Downeast Dog News>

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I unequivocally believe in the mission of animal rescue; it has provided me with seven dogs and six cats that became great companions.

Having served on the board of a humane society for 15 years, I know that caring for and rehoming pets and funding those efforts is a challenging job.

I have worked with thousands of clients, and over half have had rescue pets. In most cases, they became treasured family members. However, I also know that despite an adopter’s best intentions and efforts a pet may not be an appropriate fit for their home and may even present a danger to people, others pets, or themselves. It is in the best interest of the animal, the adopter, and the rescuing organization that this happens as seldom as possible. Here are three steps that I believe are fundamental to making this happen.

Humane Treatment of The Pets Being Rescued

A shelter may place a pet with behavioral challenges because; 1) they never witnessed any problem behavior while the pet was in their care, 2) they lacked  knowledge about behavior and were not experienced identifying behavior issues, or 3) they created aggression and fear with the use of aversive tools to “cure” these pets.  Certified Animal Behavior Consultant (CABC) Steve Dale recently addressed this last issue in a blog post entitled At What Cost Is Saving Dogs Acceptable1 ( FMI ). Dale asserts that some shelters have the attitude that their priority is to save every dog, no matter what, even if it involves using severe punishment such as shock collars. Dale believes that is unacceptable, and I concur, as does the Pet Professional Guild2 ( FMI ) and the American Animal Hospital Association3 ( FMI ).

When I recommend a shelter or rescue, I expect three things:

  1. They are a member of the Pet Professional Guild. Membership in the PPG only costs a shelter or rescue $35/year. A small investment to demonstrate their commitment to “No, Pain, No Force, and No Fear,” and inconsequential considering the wealth of information available to them as part of their membership.
  2. They have policies in place, ensuring that they follow the PPG Guiding Principles and the AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines.
  3. They have signed the Shock-Free Coalition Pledge.

Transparency About Behavioral Issues

In her blog post The Changing Role & Responsibility of Rescues & Shelters4 ( FMI ), Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Debbie Jacobs addresses the fact that many dogs end up in shelters with severe behavioral issues. She notes that in most cases shelters do not have the resources to successfully rehabilitate these dogs “efficiently and humanelynor do most adopters. When most people adopt a pet they are not looking for a project in behavior modification; they merely want a companion.

This week I had two different clients that adopted dogs from two different rescues. In the first case, the shelter minimized the potential difficulty of the adopter dealing with the dog’s separation anxiety. They got the dog home and quickly discovered she could not be left home alone without having an extreme panic attack, barking, defecating, and urinating throughout the house. This dog was suffering, and these people wanted to help, but they had to leave the dog alone part of the day because they had to work. Separation anxiety seldom resolves easily and rarely without professional help. That help and medication can be quite costly. The shelter should have recognized this home was not the right fit for this dog. Instead, their error further traumatized the dog and caused some severe emotional distress for the dog’s adopters who now felt as if they had failed. The only failure here was the shelter.

In the second case, my client adopted two dogs whom they were told were “strongly bonded” and had no issues. When they got the dogs home, the dogs were constantly fighting. The aggression was serious enough that my client’s veterinarian advised against keeping the dogs. The rescues owner said: “One of the dogs is a bit bossy, just let them work it out.” Aggression is a severe issue and does not fix itself. My clients made a difficult emotional decision to return these dogs. While they felt terrible, they knew they there were not equipped to deal with this level of inter-dog aggression. They wanted two dogs they could care for, not two dogs that wanted to hurt one another.

What MUST A Shelter/Rescue Do?

Be Humane! ALWAYS! – Develop policies and procedures that comply with the AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines  ( ) and the PPG Guiding Principles ( ) and then train your staff and volunteers and make sure that they are all following these policies. While you are at it, sign the Shock-Free Coalition Pledge ( )

Be Honest and Transparent About Any Behavioral Issues – Behavioral issues such as separation anxiety, aggression, and resource guarding can present a danger to the animal, the adopter, and the public. If you have a pet in your shelter with these issues, you have a responsibility to be completely honest with all potential adopters. Always err on the side of public safety. If an adopter is at all hesitant, do NOT push the adoption so you can get one more pet out the door. I know many people who have had this experience and because of it will NEVER adopt from a rescue again.

Happily Accept All Returns with NO Shaming! – Not all placements are going to work. When someone brings a pet back, accept it cheerfully without trying to guilt or shame the adopter. Surrendering a pet was not an easy decision for them so please show them as much compassion as you would show the pet.

When advising clients on choosing a breeder most pet care professionals I know suggest one of the criteria of a good breeder is one that will take back any puppy they have sold, at any time, for any reason. Shelters and rescues need to step up and be held to the same standard.

Recommended References

1 At What Cost Is Savings Dog Acceptable

2 Pet Professional Guild (PPG) – Position Statement – The Use of Shock in Animal Training

3 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) – 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines  –

4 The Changing Role & Responsibility of Rescues & Shelters

Articles on Don’s Blog
( )

Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do? – WWM – APR2017 –

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars

Electric Shock Collars: Unreasonable Expectations and Misleading Advertising – WWM JUN2018

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Started Training Dogs – Gus, the Dominance Myth, An Alpha Roll, and a Damaged Relationship – WWM-SEP2018

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Selected My First Dog – Aversives are Unnecessary and Counter-Productive When Training A Dog – Part 1 – WWM-JAN2019

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Selected My First Dog – Aversives are Unnecessary and Counter-Productive When Training A Dog – Part 2 – WWM-FEB2019 –

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show
( )

Podcast – The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars

Podcast – The Woof Meow Show: The Pet Professional Guild and the Shock-Free Coalition with Niki Tudge

Web Sites

Pet Professional Guild – Join Today –

Pet Professional Guild – Find A Professional  –

The Shock-Free Coalition

Take the Shock-Free Pledge

Shock-Free Pledge Signatures –

Charity Navigator

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( ) in Bangor, ME where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at, the Apple Podcast app, and at Don’s blog:  The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

©2-May-19, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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Podcast – Pets in the News No. 2

< Updated 16APR19 >

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In this episode of The Woof Meow Show from April 13th, 2019, Kate and Don discuss recent information about pets published on the internet. Articles they address are:

You can hear The Woof Meow Show on Z62 Retro Radio, AM620, and WKIT HD3 at 9 AM on Saturday. If you are not near a radio, listen on your computer at or your smartphone or tablet with the free WZON 620 AM app. A podcast of the show is typically posted immediately after the show. You can download this show and others at, at Don’s blog and the Apple iTunes store.

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©15APR19, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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What You Need to Know About Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer”

What You Need to Know About Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer”

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A compilation of comments on Cesar Millan appearing in the media published on the Green Acres Kennel Shop website in January of 2007

C’mon, Pooch, Get With the Program

Dr. Dodman [veterinary behaviorist and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University] said: ”My college [American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB)] thinks it [The Dog Whisperer – Cesar Millan] is a travesty. We’ve written to National Geographic Channel and told them they have put dog training back 20 years.”

The New York Times – C’mon, Pooch, Get With the Program, By Anna Bahney February 23, 2006

A ‘tough love’ dog whisperer spurs some yelps

To call his operation a psychology center is a total paradox,” says veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and author of “Dogs Behaving Badly” (Bantam, $14). “I think, like a bullfighter, he understands how to approach and work around a dog, but thereafter he stops. He doesn’t understand separation anxiety. I doubt he knows what obsessive-compulsive behavior is. Basically, with a smile, he’s going to war with these dogs.”

Dodman says Millan relies on two musty tools popularized a half-century ago by heavy-handed military dog trainers and considered out of vogue amid the current emphasis on reward-based training. One is “positive punishment,” where an aversive action – “poking and jabbing and pulling and prodding” – is applied to get the dog to stop a behavior. The other is “flooding,” in which the dog is “basically drowning” in something it doesn’t like, sort of “Fear Factor” for Fido.

Imagine,” says Dodman, “if there was a new Dr. Phil for children, and he said, ‘If your kid is playing too many video games, get a big paddle and whack him on the head.’ People would be incensed.” – A ‘tough love’ dog whisperer spurs some yelps, Cesar Millan has plenty of believers, including celebs, but veterinarians snarl over tactics, By Denise Flaim, May 17, 2006

Jean Donaldson on “The Dog Whisperer”

Practices such as physically confronting aggressive dogs and using of choke collars for fearful dogs are outrageous by even the most diluted dog training standards. A profession that has been making steady gains in its professionalism, technical sophistication and humane standards has been greatly set back. I have long been deeply troubled by the popularity of Mr. Millan as so many will emulate him. To co-opt a word like ‘whispering’ for arcane, violent and technically unsound practice is unconscionable.”

—Jean Donaldson, Director, SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, San Francisco.

‘Dog Whisperer’ Training Approach More Harmful Than Helpful

The training tactics featured on Cesar Millan’s “The Dog Whisperer” program are inhumane, outdated and improper” according to a letter sent yesterday to the National Geographic Channel by American Humane the oldest national organization protecting children and animals.

Several instances of cruel and dangerous treatment – promoted by Millan as acceptable training methods – were documented by American Humane, including one in which a dog was partially asphyxiated in an episode. “In this instance, the fractious dog was pinned to the ground by its neck after first being “hung” by a collar incrementally tightened by Millan. Millan’s goal – of subduing a fractious animal – was accomplished by partially cutting off the blood supply to its brain.”

As a forerunner in the movement towards humane dog training, we find the excessively rough handling of animals on the show and inhumane training methods to be potentially harmful for the animals and the people on the show,” said the letter’s author, Bill Torgerson, DVM, MBA, who is vice president of Animal Protection Services for American Humane. “It also does a disservice to all the show’s viewers by espousing an inaccurate message about what constitutes effective training and appropriate treatment of animals.”

– – ‘Dog Whisperer’ Training Approach More Harmful Than Helpful – September 6, 2006

Steve Dale on “The Dog Whisperer”

I have serious concerns because his [Millan’s] methods are often intimidating rather than motivating. On TV, the dogs often comply but often they’re being forced to – you can tell by their body language: tail down, mouth closed, ears back, eyes dilated.”

For me, Millan makes too many dog-to-wolf parallels, particularly that we have to dominate a dog like an alpha wolf. Although there are many similarities, dogs are simply not wolves any more than we are chimpanzees.”

Millan has himself told me his training methods aren’t replicable. The cable channel that airs his show, the National Geographic channel, apparently agrees (or its lawyers tell it to) with pop-up warnings ‘not to try this at home.‘”

“I argue that motivating leadership is far more effective than leading through intimidation.”

– Pet World, By Steve Dale December 7, 2006

Don’t Whisper – We Favor behavioral science over showmanship

I Don’t like Millan’s techniques. Many are antiquated and dangerous, for dogs and owners, in my view and that of many of behavior experts I respect (such as Drs. Ian Dunbar, Patricia McConnell, and Nicholas Dodman, as well as our own training expert, Pat Miller).”

Modern behavioral scientists understand that there is lots more to canine interaction than constant displays of dominance and submission, and that humans are probably at their lest effective as trainers when they try to ‘act like a dominant dog.'”

Millan’s ideal is a dog who exhibits ‘calm submission’ to its owner. In contrast, most pet dog owners I know, myself included, want an affectionate, trusting, respectful coexistence with our dogs, not wary subservience… The most effective way to accomplish this, with the least fallout or dangerous side effects, is with the dog-friendly behavior modification techniques we regularly detail in WDJ.”

– The Whole Dog Journal, By Nancy Kerns, December 2006

No. 039 Misguided Expert of the Year – The Dog Whisperer Should Just Shut Up

My position is, Millan is a poseur,” Claudia Kawczynska, editor in chief of The Bark magazine, says of the ex-dog groomer. “He is a hairdresser, not the real guy in terms of being an expert. He doesn’t have credentials. And it is shocking to me how easily people are ready to fall for it… He is doing a disservice to the real experts in the filed…He gives quick fixes, but they are not going to be a solution for most families with problem dogs.”

– Esquire – No. 039 Misguided Expert of the Year – The Dog Whisperer Should Just Shut Up, by Curtis Pesmen, October 2006

©JAN2007, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved