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Can Training Classes Help Adopted Dogs Stay In Their Homes?

March 12, 2023, Lauren Powell PhD

Your shelter is invited to participate in new research to prevent behavioral returns

Most shelters report return rates between 7 percent and 20 percent. That means up to one in five adopted dogs will end up back at the shelter, and we know that more animals need more space and more resources. Returning an animal can also be upsetting for owners. Some say they feel like they’ve failed the animal. And while temporary adoptions can have silver linings, such as giving animals a break from the kennels or providing insights into their behavior in the home, shelters are doing their utmost to achieve the goal of keeping as many animals in their homes as possible.

Behavioral issues are a leading reason for returns

The University of Pennsylvania and Charleston Animal Society teamed up in a new study about returns. Researchers looked at 24,000 adoption records from 2015 to 2019. Dogs were the most returned species. Medium- to large-sized adult dogs were especially vulnerable. As in past studies, behavior problems were often listed as the reason for return. About 35 percent of all returns were for behavioral incompatibilities. Another 18 percent of returns occurred because the adopted dog didn’t get along with the household pets. Once back at the shelter, dogs who were returned for behavioral issues were also more likely to be euthanized.  

The team then ran a second study about returning owners. After looking through 2,000 adopter records, the researchers found that very few returning owners came back to the shelter for another animal. Only one in 10 people! Owners who returned dogs for behavioral issues were especially unlikely to adopt again. In fact, owners with behavioral returns were four times less likely to adopt again from the shelter than people with medical returns. It’s possible that after a return, people think poorly of shelter dogs. Or maybe returners just rethink whether they’re cut out to be dog owners. Either way, behavioral returns clearly affect both adopters and shelter dogs.

New research to prevent behavioral returns

So, how can shelters avoid behavioral returns, reduce euthanasia, and better support their adopters in managing their pet’s behavioral problems? Behavior classes may be one great answer.

Many shelters provide some type of post-adoption behavioral support. Sometimes staff will guide adopters over the phone, run training classes or give one-on-one consultations. Shelters have told us that these programs work. Anecdotally, they report lower return rates among dogs who attended training.

But providing behavioral support can be costly and time-consuming for shelters. One study found that less than half of dog returners contacted the shelter’s behavior team before they returned their pet. This begs the question – will at-risk owners attend training? Is post-adoption training a good use of shelter resources?  

A new study I am involved in aims to answer these questions. We are looking for shelters that offer training classes and want to be part of the science supporting these programs.Shelters simply need to keep track of which adopted dogs attend training. The researchers will do the rest! If you want to learn more about the study, please contact me

Learn More

Dr. Powell’s research: “Characterizing unsuccessful animal adoptions”
Dr. Powell’s research: “The impact of returning a pet to the shelter on future adoptions”

Photo: Charleston Animal Society/Facebook

About Lauren Powell PhD
Lauren Powell, PhD, is an animal welfare scientist at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She has published research on animal shelters' response to COVID and behavioral returns.

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