Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Big Dogs Need Love, Too!

In the course of rescuing dogs of different breeds, sizes and shapes, we discovered that large dogs often spend longer than other pets in shelter or foster care. We interviewed Kara Fike, CPDT-KA, and Hannah Senadenos, CPDT-KA, owners of Underdog Academy Dog Training, to find out why — and how we can help these dogs blossom, realize their potential and find the perfect forever family. This is the second blog in our two-part series. The first is published here.

I know we’ve been talking about the challenges of adopting large dogs. How can training make a difference? 

"Training" can encompass numerous techniques to address a wide variety of issues. In our field, we commonly find owners need help on specific behavioral challenges such as fear related issues (w/ new people, other animals, environmental factors, etc.), reactivity, impulse control, rowdy or mouthy behaviors, isolation distress, resource guarding, and beyond. Some people want to incorporate foundational training for basic manners and obedience. Many who recently adopted a large dog want guidance in acclimation into the home, while others need help with managing or improving the relationship of existing pets. Large dog owners especially want their dogs to be good canine citizens as managing a large dog with behavior challenges can be difficult and less accepted in today’s society. 

The common theme in our training is establishing a communication system. Many issues stem from owners simply misinterpreting why a dog is behaving a certain way. We help owners understand what their dog is trying to communicate by educating on body language and finding individual motivators such as treats, toys, or praise. Once they better understand how their dog learns and what motivates them, they can work to resolve issues and more effectively teach them new skills. 

It's important to know that not all training is created equal. While we fully support individualizing training to a dog's specific needs and owner’s overall goals, there are several factors that can impact the success of training. Training is the most impactful when there is consistency and motivation. We guide owners on reward-based training which focuses on identifying desirable behaviors from your dog and rewarding those behaviors so they are more likely to occur. 

Do you focus on the underdog, as your name implies?  Why?

Yes! We spent many years dedicated to improving the lives of shelter animals. As animals came into our care, we saw the same behaviors emerge in different dogs from different homes, and knew it wasn't a coincidence. We quickly recognized a huge need to proactively help owners who were struggling with their pets. We developed a great passion for dogs at risk for being surrendered.  We saw underdogs. An underdog is someone you see as a longshot at being successful. The fearful, the reactive, the rowdy, and the misunderstood. It's our goal to help those dogs thrive in a home. It's our goal to help owners see the light at the end of the tunnel and learn to love their dogs for who they are, imperfect and all.

We’ve talked about some of the challenges of big dogs.  What are some of the joys?

Some of our most favorite, affectionate, goofy, intelligent, endearing dogs we have ever known in our personal and professional lives were large dogs. They are certainly more dog to love! Big dogs make great exercise and activity companions! One of our favorite hobbies is jogging with dogs, and we even trained for a half-marathon with a shelter resident shepherd named Violet. It can be very rewarding and super fun to train and do dog sports with a big pup. They are also sturdy and can make AMAZING cuddlers. Our other favorite activity is helping facilitate dog to dog relationships, and big dogs playing together is more entertaining than watching Monday night football! Beyond that, most large breed dogs are purpose-bred and come with unique qualities and astounding physical capabilities that we encourage owners to explore to really tap into their full potential. 

Blogger Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and a member of the communications team.