Busting the Myths about No Kill, by Dr. Ellen Jefferson

Busting the Myths about No Kill, by Dr. Ellen Jefferson

During APA!’s progress of helping Austin become a No Kill City, we encountered a number of myths. We will be talking about these myths in a series of blog posts over the coming weeks.

Myth 1: No Kill means that dangerous dogs are saved and released into the community.

First: Undesirable dog behavior is not the same thing as aggression.

The vast majority of dogs who come into the city shelter are perfectly healthy with no behavioral problems. A small number of dogs do need behavioral support and training in order to be successfully adopted into a permanent home. Many of these dogs were never taught manners and may have lived in a yard with no socialization. They may jump up, they may react to other dogs while on leash, they may bark at strangers.

APA! has instituted extensive behavior support programs to help these dogs learn the skills they need to be successful pets. We have a behavior staff that evaluates dogs prior to them coming into our care. We have a Canine Good Citizen program that prepares dogs to pass the nationally recognized test. Many dogs who complete the CGC program came to APA! with behaviors that might have been seen as aggressive by someone who doesn’t understand dog body language or triggers. But with a little work, they pick up these skills and become perfect family pets.

We have a team of volunteer behavior buddies and dog walkers, each of whom is trained on how to handle dogs with different issues: some are shy, some are nervous, some react differently on leash than off. Strategies for helping these dogs vary and our behavior programs address each of them.

APA! also has behavior consultation with adopters for our large dogs. They are shown the dogs’ complete notes and coached on ways to make the dog successful in a new home. And, we offer lifetime behavior support for any APA! dog.

Second: How to measure “aggression” in dogs

There are not many ways to measure aggression in a city’s dog population. One approach is to look at dog bite data. Bite tracking is done in many communities as a precaution against rabies. A ‘bite’ is simply a measurement of a dog’s tooth breaking skin and the saliva coming into contact with a person. The large majority of bites reported to the City of Austin are minor and accidental, as in when a puppy’s tooth breaks skin when its owner attempts to retrieve a ball from his mouth.

However, some bites are the result of aggressive behavior and these are taken seriously. The data shows that most of these aggression bites are not from rescued animals, but were owned animals that were not spayed or neutered and often have been ‘outdoor’ or under-socialized dogs.

In Austin and Travis County, the number of dog bites has increased during the past five years, partly because of dramatic population increase. However, the number of bites from shelter dogs has actually decreased.

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