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When Animals Behave Like Animals

Study examines causes of behavior-related pet relinquishments

Study examines causes of behavior-related pet relinquishments

Need some data to help support your shelter's push for training and socialization programs? You'll find it in the latest study from the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, "Behavioral Reasons for Relinquishment of Dogs and Cats to 12 Shelters" (Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, Vol. 3, No. 2).

Using statistics from the council's 1998 "Regional Shelter Survey"of 12 shelters around the country, researchers sought to learn what factors lead to behavior-related relinquishments. Factors examined included owner demographics, owner knowledge, household characteristics, animal characteristics, and sources where pets were obtained.

Previous examinations of the Regional Shelter Survey data have found that even when relinquishers cite lifestyle or health factors ("moving to apartment that doesn't take pets"or "son is allergic,"for example), behavior issues may also have played a significant role in their decisions to give up their pets. Respondents to the survey could list up to five reasons for relinquishment, and at least one behavior issue was recorded for 40 percent of dogs and 28 percent of cats.

In "Behavioral Reasons for Relinquishment,"researchers examined factors associated not only with relinquishments related primarily to behavior issues, but also with relinquishments related mostly to non-behavior issues and relinquishments that involve a combination of the two. These were some of their findings:

  • In cases of cat and dog relinquishments related to both behavior and non-behavior issues, house-soiling was the most common behavior issue cited.
  • For cat relinquishments in which owners listed only behavior reasons, house-soiling topped the list.
  • Dog owners who mentioned only behavior issues at the time of relinquishment listed biting most frequently, followed by aggression, a propensity to "escape," and destructive behavior.
  • The number of other pets owned was significant: People with at least one other dog or cat at home were more likely to cite behavior issues as reasons for surrendering a pet. Those who had added a dog to their households within the previous year were also more likely to surrender their animals for behavior reasons.
  • Dogs obtained at no cost were less likely to be relinquished for behavior reasons than dogs whose owners had paid for them; the "free" dogs, however, were more likely to be relinquished for reasons unrelated to behavior than their more costly canine counterparts.
  • Owners surrendering dogs for behavior issues typically had owned the pets less than three months before bringing them to the shelter. Owners surrendering cats for behavior issues usually did so after having the cats for one to two years.
  • Owners who reported having taught their dogs some basic commands were less likely to surrender the animals for behavior reasons than for nonbehavior reasons. Interestingly, dogs who already knew some commands when acquired were surrendered for behavior reasons more frequently than for reasons unrelated to behavior. Study authors surmise that owners may have high expectations for a dog who is supposedly already trained, and may not attempt to solve behavior issues early enough in the relationship.

Based on the findings, the researchers made a number of conclusions that could help shelters tailor their prevention and intervention strategies for helping people and pets stay together. Because the study found that a pet owner in a single-animal household is less likely to relinquish an animal for behavior reasons, potential adopters should be made aware that adding a new pet will change the social hierarchy and potentially change their first pet's behavior.

Since many owners in the study kept dogs for less than three months before surrendering them for behavior reasons, help for the novice canine parent is crucial at the earliest stage. The window of opportunity for helping people with feline behavior foibles is a bit larger, as cat owners held onto their animals for one to two years before giving them up.


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