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  • Writer's picturePositive Paws

Time Magazine Talks to a  Dog-Rehab Expert 

This article is an excerpt from a book Time magazine did in 2018 - How Dogs Think-Inside The Canine Mind. At that time they spoke to Ethan Gurney who was a dog handler  and veterinary technician with Best Friends Animal  Society, a nonprofit working to end the killing of dogs and  cats in our United States shelters by 2025. I, myself, have  volunteered for Best Friends and have been following them since my advocacy for animals started in 2009. Along with  the Bullhead Animal Resource Center (B.A.R.C. formerly  known as the BHC animal shelter), Positive Paws BHC and  others have joined the Best Friends Network partners.  Together we are finding ways to change and save lives.  Always learning. 

What are the most common types of dogs you see? Strays? Fighting dogs?

The dogs that come to Best  Friends come from all sorts of situations. We get dogs who need more help before they are ready to be adopted,  whether it is behavioral issues or medical issues. If they  don’t get adopted, they have a home for life at Best  Friends. 

What are the first steps in drawing out a traumatized  dog?

Go slow and take cues from what the dog’s behavior is telling you. Do they let us touch them, or do we just need  to just sit with them and talk to them? In some cases, we know exactly how they were traumatized. But sometimes,  while we can clearly see their shut down or offering to bite because they appear frightened, we may not actually know  what caused the trauma. They don’t come with a file full of records. 

Once you’ve earned the dog’s trust, what comes next?  How long does an entire rehab protocol take?

After  they are used to us, we start gradually introducing them to real-life situations like riding in the car, learning to walk on a leash and learning to rely on their handler when a stranger approaches. We get them used to going to the vet’s office, to the sound of a doorbell or a vacuum cleaner. All dogs  move at their own pace. 

Are there any dogs that you can tell are simply beyond being re-socialized? If so, what happens to them?

There are some dogs who never completely get over  whatever happened to them. But that in no way means they can’t have quality of life or that they can’t be adopted. We make sure the dogs in our care get plenty of enrichment and long walks, learning new skills, etc. Still, there are a few  for whom the best answer is a sanctuary setting.  Ultimately you have to think about protecting the dog and protecting people too. 

People often think of pit bulls as especially problematic. Is there any breed you do see more than others?

No.  We accept dogs of all breeds and mixes. We look to the  behavior and personality to better understand them as individuals, and our care plan for each dog is tailored to  that particular dog’s needs and challenges. That’s not  breed-specific. 

My hope is this article has given you some insight on how  one of the largest sanctuaries in the country goes about  rehabilitating dogs that have been through trauma. If you  can, get the book. It is really good reading for those with  dogs in their world in any capacity. It’s always good to keep learning about our canine friends. Thank you. 

Gail Moscato 


Positive Paws BHC 


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