Pet Over-population: A New Way to Help

You have already spayed/neutered your pets or if they are still intact, you manage them so they don’t produce unplanned litters.

You hear all the pleas from the rescues and shelters begging everyone to adopt more pets, but you rely on your boundaries and the plans you’ve made to be sure you can provide properly for the pets you already have.

[A small tan dog lying with her front paws crossed on a colorful blanket, partially inside a cardboard box lying on its side, on newspaper in a metal cage.]

What now? What else can you do?

Learn behavior science.  Ask the questions and explore the answers.  Find out what you don’t know you don’t know.  Understand the species that live with you and consider the structure of the society everyone shares. 

Communication leads to success

Your parents taught you manners, which you probably saw as a suppressive domination technique when you were a teenager.  But once you entered the adult world, you began to understand how asking politely, thanking people, and holding the door for someone carrying a load built a system that worked for everyone.  Good manners give humans a way to communicate and understand the needs of others so everyone wins. 

It’s similar with pets, but pets are not humans.  Each species has an evolutionary background and each individual’s development and experience have built who they are.  They’re not humans so you must learn to communicate in a different way.  You don’t have to know the history of your pet, you just need to be able to read the body language and facial expressions you observe in response to whatever is going on.

Behavior science helps you learn how to use your responses to reinforce what you want to see more of in your pet.  This is true whether you have a horse, goat, chicken, dog, cat, lizard, snake, or fish.  It’s communication, training, and team-building.

Penelope, a previously stressed-out shelter dog, and her new mom understand that it takes not only love, but behavior science to raise a dog who can function in human society. [Picture of tan dog with black eyes and nose and woman with black sunglasses.]

What does this have to do with pet over-population?

Being an example and sharing the facts of behavior science, teasing out the persistent myths about pet training that are woven into daily human folklore, impacts other pet owners.  Referring to behavior science allows you to acknowledge the great things people are doing with their pets and to ask questions that may inspire them to want to know more.  Demonstrating how you explore the possibilities of training with your own pet shows others how they can connect more deeply with their own pets.  They will be encouraged to use behavior science because they see the results in not only your pet’s behavior but in the joy in your life with your pet. 

When people understand what is possible, they tend to want those possibilities for not only themselves, but for all humans and pets.  When that desire surfaces, it comes with the understanding that building a powerful relationship with a pet takes time and energy but offers plenty of rewards along the way.   

[Three black kittens in a cat bed on newspaper inside a metal cage.]

Choices and teamwork

Training is not necessarily about barking commands at dogs and having them snap to attention like soldiers, although this too can be done through positive reinforcement training if that’s what you want.  Training, at its foundation, is about raising a pet who chooses behaviors to get the things they want and need in ways that work for them and their owners, as well as the rest of society.  Watch a well-structured team at work; verbal communications are matter-of-fact, facial expressions are observed on both ends of the leash, and both partners respond to body language.  You might not even notice all the exchanges that are going on, but you’ll likely notice the smooth operation of the team. 

Quality of life for pets of every species is important.  Behavior science offers that as well as a powerful way to interact with other humans.  Can it end war and build a better human society?  Maybe.  It’s worth a try.

Working at the dog’s level, allowing them to have some control over their environment and make the choice to interact, is a basic tenet of behavior science. [Picture of black and white dog on yellow plaid blanket in kennel, placing her paw in a human’s hand.]

How can you learn?

Check out to learn about the pioneers who discovered and began applying behavior science to animal training, and some current trainers who use and teach it.  Of course, The Mannerly Dog has options for your learning.  Explore the website and follow some links.

Find a trainer who gives the credit away to the teacher they learned from.  Follow that chain back to Skinner and Pavlov, and you’re golden.   (Not to toot my own horn, but I’m one of those trainers. I stand on the shoulders of giants like the Baileys and Brelands, who learned from Skinner.) You don’t have to read all the research, but you do have to check what you hear and read; those persistent myths are everywhere because no one regulates animal training.  You have to learn it yourself.  Read facts about your species’ biology and life history.  Read facts about behavior science.  Apply them to your pet with the help of a professional who first, won’t do any harm and second, understands how behavior science can modify and build behaviors through positive reinforcement.

[A brown dog, tongue out, looking out through a chain-link fence.]

The value of pets

When pets have a high value based on a societal understanding of the possibilities to be gained from relationships with them, they will no longer be considered chattel, no matter what the laws say.  Change comes from inside the human population; laws follow later.  The pet over-population problem suggests the monetary value of pets which morphs into no value as soon as supply exceeds demand.  Hence, “free adoptions” at shelters, pets on the street, and constant, desperate pleas for more homes for pets. 

[A small black and tan dog on a colorful blanket on a couch, wearing a red, heart-shaped tag that reads, “Amor”.]

An understanding of the value of a pet to a family starts with an understanding of species and behavior science, leads to realistic expectations of pets and humans, and can result in lives making much more sense.  The value built into pets based on who they really are can translate to pet adoption/acquisition being taken very seriously and all owners advocating for their pets in every way. 

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