Open-admission animal shelters take in many animals that are just plain mean and nasty. In an effort to avoid euthanizing animals, many shelters have developed behavior teams of well-educated and trained professional behaviorists who will work with an animal for sometimes several months to change aggressive and dangerous behavior. If the onsite staff cannot help an animal, then sometimes an outside professional is called upon to assist, but in 95% of the cases, the onsite staff will attain an acceptable level of success.

There is a German Shepherd dog named Bailey that was very aggressive when he entered the shelter. He would jump at the door of the kennel and growl anytime a staff member walked by. For months, the behavioral staff couldn’t look Bailey in the eye without the dog becoming highly agitated. Finally, after four months of behavioral nurturing, Bailey was getting better but needed to be with someone who understood his needs and could work with him for the long haul. Such a person was found.

The adopter took Bailey home and months later sent the shelter a video and this note:

"He is the most loving and snuggly pup EVER. It took MONTHS of me working with him every day. He no longer jumps on people. He doesn't growl or snap anymore. He knows all his basic commands in English and sign language. We recently adopted two 2-day old foster kittens. They are now 3 weeks old and he grooms them and plays with them every time they come out to eat. Thank you so much for giving Bailey a chance and for working with him on his behavior issues! It looks like he is truly thriving and has made a full 180.”

Bailey is not the only success story for behavior teams. Many animals have been rehabilitated from downright nasty to loving and friendly. Not every dog or cat can change, but if given more than just one chance, they will usually turn themselves around with the proper care and patience.

We always tell people not to judge a dog or cat based on the behavior they display in their cage. Take them out to a get-acquainted room or outside play area to see their real personality. Dogs can change their behavior with the proper humane training. None of this hitting the dog; that just makes them angrier. If you adopt a shelter animal that is having issues, before returning the animal to the shelter please consider contacting a professional trainer who knows how to deal with behavior issues. A small investment and some patience can result in a dog that licks and grooms kittens.

Remember, adopt don’t shop and please be patient with your new family member.

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Contact Barry KuKes, community outreach director for the Halifax Humane Society, at