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Preventing the Boomerang Dog


At John Earle Dog Training, we are on a mission to save dogs. Every year, millions of healthy dogs are euthanized after being surrendered by their owners for behavior issues. When a dog barks excessively, jumps, chews, digs, or bites, sometimes the owner thinks the only option is to surrender their dog to the shelter.When a dog ends up in a shelter, it is not their fault. Shelters are filled with dogs that have housetraining, socialization, and obedience issues –all of which could have been prevented through proper training. Similarly, dogs end up in the shelter when the owners realize they cannot handle the responsibility of caring for their animal properly.

While the statistics are sobering, what will break your heart are the dogs that were adopted and then RETURNED. I call them “Boomerang” dogs. They leave… only to come right back.

I see it happen quite often: a good-hearted person goes to the shelter, falls in love with the dog, and adopts. Usually between four- to six months into the adoption, the owner realizes they can’t fix the dog’s issues. The owner is brokenhearted, but thinks their only option is to take the dog back to the shelter.Boomerang Dogs

Unfortunately, that’s when the likelihood of euthanasia goes up exponentially. The harsh reality is that for every dog that has been sent back by its new family, one more dog cannot be saved from other shelters’ euthanasia lists due to lack of space.

I want dog owners everywhere to know that there’s another way. I want every person who goes to the shelter to adopt a dog to have the tools needed to KEEP that shelter dog in your home.

Boomerang shelter dogs can be both prevented and rehabilitated.

Today I’m focusing on how to prevent Boomerang shelter dogs. Knowing what and how to provide what our dogs need from us is the first step.

What a dog needs:

  1. Structure – Dogs need a structure and framework within which to feel secure and to behave appropriately. It’s up to the owner to use obedience controls (recall, sit, down, stay, and release) and direct the dog’s actions of when to eat, sleep, and exercise. Simply knowing when he will be fed, walked and played with on a regular basis can go a long way to making him feel more relaxed and secure.
  2. Routine – String those structures together and they become routine. They occur in a specific order so the dog knows what’s coming. Routine is a key element in developing an obedient, stress-free dog.
  3. Consistency — Dogs need their owners to provide a clear framework for what is and is not allowed, and stick to it. If you deviate (make exceptions), you’ll take away his frame of reference for what is and is not allowed. In the long run, this becomes a disservice to the dog.
  4. Repeatability – Keep it up! As the owner, you make the decision to be the one in control. Being the one in control means maintaining a consistent, structured, routine for your dog.

That’s really what it comes down to. Those four things! In future blog posts I’ll go into each of those areas in more depth.

Primarily, dogs need a predictable and repeatable way for them to get their exercise, their meal, and quality time with their human.

Crating is for the dog's benefit. It's not for people.

Crating is for the dog’s benefit. It’s not for people.

Equally important as inclusion is exclusion. They need downtime, too! They can’t be “on” all the time or they’ll burn out. It’s good for the dog to put them away in a crate.

Crating a dog is for the dog’s benefit; it’s not for the human’s benefit. Winston here is a rescue, and a prime example of a reactive dog that benefits greatly from being in his crate. He used to have the run of the house, and would bark constantly out of anxiety. Now, his owner reports that he is “snug as a bug in a rug” and freely goes to his “room” for downtime.

The best way to avoid a “Boomerang” shelter dog is to think carefully before adopting.

“I was only going over to meet him, but the minute I saw him, I fell in love. I didn’t even have a chance. He came home with me the next day.”  Does this sound like you, or maybe someone you know?  It happens more than you might imagine.

Dogs are cute and are frequently purchased or adopted on impulse without ample thought going into what is involved as far as training and care. Even that good-hearted person who adopted a dog without realizing what they committed to may be among the first to abandon the animal when things get rough (e.g. excessive barking, chewing, urinating indoors, digging, biting, etc.)

If you are thinking about adding a new canine member of the family (Christmas Puppy?), you can bullet proof your purchase by letting us help you make a solid choice. John Earle Dog Training can guide you as you do your research.  We will walk you through a series of diagnostic questions that will help ensure you and your new pet have a happy life together.  It’s a little bit like “Show Me The CARFAx!” You want to know what you are getting, and we can help.

We advocate:

1. Do the research. If you are able to view the dog profiles online ahead of time, take the time to do that. Print off the dogs that you’re interested in and do some research on the primary breed:

  • What are the characteristics of the breed group classification? Personality and social type?
  • How long or short is the dog’s hair? Does it shed? Does it require professional grooming?
  • What is the breed’s exercise requirement? (A little? A lot?)
  • Make sure no one in the home is allergic to dogs!

2. Have the house ready for your new arrival. In much the same way new parents need to prepare to bring home an infant from the hospital after birth, it’s important to bring the dog in to a calm, ordered environment that is ready for them.

  • Setting up the environment – have a size-appropriate crate; pre-selected leash equipment; target bedding; food; ceramic bowls or metal (sometimes dogs have allergies to plastic).
  • Exercise — Know what activities you are going to do with the dog (play ball? tug? walking or running?) and when. Can you spend the necessary amount of time with them, and meet their mental and physical needs?

3. Call on the professionals.

  • Vet — On Day 2 with your new dog (don’t wait!), I recommend that you take her to a reputable Veterinarian for an examination and any needed health care. Pet Insurance is also strongly recommended.
  • Trainer – Again, here is where a professional can help you prep for the new arrival by consulting with you on any questions you have about items 1 and 2. A reputable dog trainer can also help you with basic training. Every dog needs to recall, sit, down, stay, and release on command.

OOPS! I’m on my way to the pet adoption event now – Is it too late?

While not ideal to adopt an animal on impulse, we can still help set you and your shelter dog up for success. If nothing else, we recommend this sequence:

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

I hope this has been helpful to provide you an overview of the tools needed to SELECT and KEEP that shelter dog in your home. The next blog will dive deeper into the importance of providing a dog with a structured environment: what does that mean and why is it important?


Remember, trained dogs have more fun.

~ John


John Earle is a recognized expert in animal behavior. He has spent his whole career developing and perfecting an innovative technique to train dogs by integrating Cognitive Behavioral Therapy into his program. John has been a devoted Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and Applied Animal Behaviorist for more than 25 years. He owns John Earle Dog Training, and also the head of behavioral services at PetCare Veterinary Hospital in Santa Rosa, CA.




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