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39 thoughts on “2020 Edition: 125 Behavior Terms for Shelter Dogs Decoded that Mask Aggression in Dogs Available for Adoption

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  1. Thank you, Colleen, for taking much time and much effort to compile this extremely exhaustive and valuable report. Virtually every segment of our society is geared to supplying dangerous canines to people who not only knowingly demand them, but who also are naive.

  2. Glad to see another shelter post. Pit bulls will always exist in some form, although hopefully we can get their numbers back down again, but the problem I see really hurting dogs and owners and society now is sheltering’s embrace of inhumane, asocial, anti-dog beliefs. Like the idea that violent dogs deserve a chance while dog adopters do not deserve honesty and safe dogs do not deserve to live without the threat of ‘best as your one and only’ dogs getting offleash at the vet’s office. I’ve seen how damaging these dishonest practices are, and at some point, I began to consider this animal cruelty.

    Red flags on that initial ad? The fact that it almost immediately mentions the limitations – not ideal to live with XYZ – is the big red flag to me. It’s a major sign today that the dog is boomeranging on the rescue and their usual zeal to adopt out is being tempered by their increasing liability as each adopter represents a potential witness that the rescue was aware of Bucky’s aggression.

    Also, the use of ‘prey drive’ phrase, surely the most deceptive, animal-hating phrase ever invented by people who supposedly care for animals.

  3. That entire description was a flashing neon sign for me but I have volunteered at a shelter for many years. The shelter I volunteered at was often criticized for their euthanasia policy and has a pitbull limit on what they will intake- obviously not an open intake city/county facility. I euthanized a 5 pound shih tzu for unpredictable aggression. I have never and will never foster any pitbulls. The general public has no idea how much is hidden from them.

  4. Thanks for this thorough compilation. It’s frightening how deliberately deceptive these ads are. Just reminds me that most pit bull advocates care only for the dogs they’re trying to “rescue” and not for other people or even other animals. They’re willing to put anyone and everything else in danger by sugar coating and adopting out these dogs. Even if a dog is placed in a no-child, no-cat, only-dog home… what happens when it escapes into a world full of children, cats and other dogs?

    The photos of the “smiling” pits must look so appealing and sweet to the casual observer who does not understand that the dog is merely panting and that their facial structure has been manipulated by breeding over the years to have accentuated musculature in the jaws (for gripping) and a wide gapping mouth (for breathing while holding a grip). When one knows THAT, the “smiles” become about as cute as a gaping shark mouth. But the general public doesn’t know this. I guarantee the photos of these same dogs with an intent hard stare or a raised lip during these photo sessions are quickly deleted from the camera’s memory card so only happy “smiling” faces remain.

    I picture these people all sitting around a board room somewhere crafting their terms like a marketing company. “What do we call it when a dog lunges at potential adopters? ‘Insano rage’ seems too harsh, and ‘killing propensity’ is just too unfriendly sounding. Adopters reacted negatively when we referred to it as ‘murder lunging.’ How about ‘poor kennel presence’ to describe this behavior? That sounds inoffensive enough, and has the added bonus of making the dog seem like a victim of its circumstances, thus creating additional sympathy. All in favor of ‘poor kennel presence’ raise your hand.”

    Poor kennel presence… indeed. A normal dog will either cower fearfully (if stressed) or come up happily to a kennel door to greet people, not lunge and snap.

  5. It is an interesting choice of comparison in calling a pit bull a hippo. Was this a Froidian slip by the pity people? To humans, the hippo is the most deadly animal in all of Africa and it does appear to be smiling. Such an interesting choice….

    Colleen, you should include something about dog mounting behavior. This is frequently on the ads and my Google search says it can be due to sexual arousal, ANXIETY, or play. I have not seen this behavior listed on any other Petfinder clicks other than the pits and their mixes. This is an especially concerning behavior since these dogs are fixed and some are even female.

    • Mounting, while sometimes used by overly excitable is done by dogs for the same reason t-boning, is…dominance.

      It’s become a bad word in dog training but the fact is that packs have hierarchies and mounting behavior can cause more fights than almost any other behavior and as such, should be discouraged in *all dogs* because the results can be bloody.

      Any breed may mount. Chihuahuas are infamous for it but nobody cares because they’re not going to cause physical damage and other dogs just stand up or swat them off. Excitable, spoiled labradors may do it although again, they generally don’t pick a fight if the other dog snarls them off.

      The problem with pitbull mounting is obvious. If it mounts a dog that *should* be above it in the pack order due to its intelligence and better behavior takes exception to being dry humped–may snarl it off and wind up being murdered by the pitbull who started the aggression by mounting, in the first place.

      Yes, females will hump. Particularly if they believe themselves to be higher up in the hierarchy. Some will even leg-lift to urinate if they have status. It’s fairly common in protection/Shutzhund trained females.

      Neutering a dog, contrary to popular opinion–won’t fix this problem. Human intervention, will.

      • This was very insightful. In the ads, the mounting is described as being forward, persistent, or excited. Never as a show of dominance.

  6. One-word summary of this post: Lying. It describes what these shelters are actually doing. And they need to be held accountable.

  7. I agree, and find it even more unethical that they are lying about the product after making an initial emotional appeal to the buyer as well as implying that to return the dog if it is not a good fit is an utter moral failure. “Can you save her? Will you be her hero? Everyone else has let this dog down… can you be her forever family?”

    I raise and sell small parrots. And I use honest language. “This bird bites and will need a confident owner.” If the person doesn’t want the bird after learning this, They DON’T NEED TO GET IT, because both bird and human will be unhappy. Of course potential death or disfigurement is not involved either.

    But these folks are just utterly, intentionally lying about these dogs, and for the same reason that many shelters no longer assign breed identification… “People won’t get it if they know X,Y and Z.” Well, if the person wouldn’t WANT it if they knew, what favor are you doing the dog or the owner by not telling them?

    And by the way, I cringe to think of the dating analogy made by one of the no-kill spokesmen. Ugh. If I am dating someone then by all means I hope they tell me they are a homicidal maniac on that first date. Preferably before! Don’t equate these dogs’ vicious propensities to little quirks and foibles like leaving the toothpaste cap off! The things they are not telling risk actual lives. It’s time they were held accountable for pushing deadly dogs onto the unsuspecting public veiled as “goofy lovebugs.”

  8. One thing that blows me away is how much money is wasted on these dogs. “Sweat Pee” (typos intentional) had surgery and was neutered when it should have been obvious since the shelters are full of physically healthy pts there is no reason to operate on new ones. Put the beast out of our misery!

    Then there is the money that individuals blow on these dumpster fire dogs. That last ad wanted $525 for that 8 year old basket case? Do people not realize that shelters will bribe you with gift cards, dog food and toilet paper to take these unwanted beast?

    Individuals spending their money on a destructive habit is one thing. The fact that much of the shelter stupidity is financed with tax payer money really gets to me. Did anyone ever ask the taxpayers if they wanted animal control (dog police) to become dog social workers and pit bull PR agents?

    • These dogs cost a lot in resources at the shelter but putting up a description meant to get pity and sucker someone into “taking a chance” also generates more money on the backend. Adoption is $525, but if you return the animal for ANY reason, your contract has in it that you must pay the shelter $500 (this is the rate in my area for a returned shelter pet). When a dog has been returned four times that is $2,000 in return fees alone and at least $2,100 (your example) in adoption fees. A garbage dog has just brought the shelter $4,100 which is much more than the actual cost (cost is low due to the amount of donations, volunteers, and minimum wage employees) of the warehousing time period. These boomerang dogs continue to be put up for “adoption” because they generate a lot of revenue. They know what they are doing when they have them up for “adoption” repeatedly. They have decided that this dog is dangerous but not dangerous enough to kill or go for the face and neck and therefore it is worth making it available.

      • I can’t even imagine the type of people being willing to sign something saying they will pay $500 if they return a dog to the shelter. What a scam! It’s bad enough when people are just verbally shamed for returning a dog… now add to that a huge amount of money and it’s no wonder people are wrangled into keeping these basket case dogs that disrupt their entire lives! Adopt-don’t-shop… but still end up paying more for a messed up shelter pit than you would for a normal breed of dog raised by ethical, conscientious breeders. Do people not realize they are still “shopping” for a dog when they get one of these rebound shelter pits, and that the ones who benefit have deep and insatiable pockets?

        Just yesterday I saw an ad on a local Craigslist page in which a person was seeking a home for the pit “mix” (obviously full pit in the posed shelter photo accompanying the ad). Here’s the text from the ad… “I have a pitt mix I recently adopted, but she isnt getting along well with my other dog so sadly I will need to rehome her. She is super sweet, but I wasnt notified until later that she has a past of aggression with other dogs, and I cannot have that in my home due to having small children. There will be a small rehoming fee to make sure she goes to a good home.”

        I wonder how many of the red flag jargon words had been used to describe this dog? I can just imagine the ad… “Meet Sugar, she’s super sweet! She has so much love to give that she wants to have you all to yourself! This cuddle bug is learning to share, can you share your home with her? Blah blah blah.”

      • Christy, you just hit the nail on the head. It’s about the money.

        When I called rescues for a dog last time they’d yammer on then offer me a dog of THEIR choice for $400 with a ten page contract. I told them that was ludicrous. Their answer was that I “wasn’t buying a dog, I was supporting their rescue efforts”.

        If it’s a crapshoot anyway, people would be better off shopping on Craigslist or if their city has a pound–go there.

    • I live in Pima County, Arizona and have since the late 1980s. At no time has the Pima Animal Care Center asked me — or any other resident — if we wanted doggie social workers and pit bull PR agents.

  9. That’s a great list of “red flag” words for people looking for a dog. This list also demonstrates why a sensible person should not take a pitbull – the people peddling them are typically not honest and use weasel words to describe their sometimes deadly behaviours.

    I had a look at the website of a local humane society, and the first dog listed was a pit bull that was “not a fan of other dogs,” and needs a “patient home,” with no kids under eight. Nice. in other words, the dog is a danger to other dogs and cannot be trusted around small children.

    • I just looked at mine and found these three:

      “She was adopted for 2 weeks and adopter said she was a very good girl but was too strong for her to leash walk. She hasn’t been around cats and is dog selective.”

      “He is energetic and a little pushy with everybody.”

      “She would best suited in a home without other animals because she is not too interested in making dog friends, and is a little too curious with cats.”

  10. Please feel free to leave more terms that you find! Just provide a link to the advertisement in your comment. A “patient home.” What does that even mean? Sounds like that dog needs a “unicorn home.”

    • Definition of “Patient home”: A person willing to put up with a bone-headed (stubborn and/or stupid) dog that refuses to learn which behaviors are unacceptable. Both positive and negative training methods have been unsuccessful so far, but we’re holding out hope that at some point in the future something will sink in and it will eventually become a pet. In the meantime, it needs an owner that is able and willing to “manage” this dangerous dog for the rest of its life.

    • I read the article about Cheddar Paws. Too bad they’re using this creative idea to peddle pits onto unsuspecting families.

      Here’s the quote about Tempest… “One sweet pit bull named Tempest lingered in foster care through Pitties Love Peace for more than 18 months. Timid, ill and unsuitable for kids, she received not one adoption application.”

      I think that these people have a misunderstanding of the word “sweet.” I see it in almost every descriptor. Sweet… agressive toward other dogs. Sweet… not suitable for children. Sweet… needs time to decompress. I want to quote Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

      • “Sweet” is definitely the most common word used in rescue listings. It is almost always followed by descriptions of behaviors that are not sweet, usually cushioned by sob stories of the dog’s elaborate tragic backstory or by gushy misleading language.

  11. Now all we need is the other-direction crossreferenced list, alphabetically by “euphemism” and pointing to what it really means.

  12. This is something that everyone needs to see. It is crazy that shelters will literally try to sell dogs that the staff can’t even safely interact with. And with pit bulls (aka the majority of shelter dogs), that means they’re holding creatures they KNOW will kill a person if given the chance. They need to be euthanized.

    It’s terrible that tax payer dollars are going toward dangerous dogs that should have long been put down. This needs to stop. Shelters need to be held accountable for keeping known aggressive dogs alive. They shouldn’t get any kind of funding to sell aggressive landsharks to the innocent and unaware public.

  13. While shelters are full of pits, they are also full of cats. How many truly sweet and gentle cats get the needle, or are turned away by shelter management, while thousands are being spent to “rehab” vicious dogs?

    • Good point. I actually think quite a few dog owners would be better off with a cat. Even a nice, friendly dog is a very high-maintenance pet. Most big breeds need more exercise and training than the average person can give. Cats require care too, but are easier to keep than most dogs.

    • Right on, Packhorse. The majority of ill-behaved dogs I see are owned by people who would be better off with a cat. If they rescue a screwed up cat–the worst that’s likely to happen is some scratching and biting as I can’t think of a cat that’s ever murdered anyone and rarely even, another animal other than a mouse/bird.

  14. Twenty-five to thirty years ago, this shit wasn’t going on. Shelters did not have to resort to creative wording, artwork, breed-specific advocacy for a single breed/class of dog, dog training, aggression screening and stratification, anthropization of a particular breed with tutus, sunglasses, other clothes, and descriptions written in the first person from the dog’s point of view. Now, so much money, effort, and time is spent on garbage pit bull types. It really is amazing how the animal welfare groups in this county have all become breed specific to the pit bull and that this is where the vast majority of resources is allocated. How did this happen? Is there any other breed or species of animal that has more advocacy groups and campaigns? Any other breed that has so many ambassadors? Any breed that has more TV shows about it? How do these shelters keep getting contracts for their municipalities to do what they are doing?

    • The money is too big to ignore. And, how do we stop the money flow?

      Well, we can stop donating to animal welfare groups. Donate to DBO instead. I can assure you that such donations are very much appreciated.

  15. Dear Doggess Colleen, you have no idea how thrilled I am you posted on this topic. This psychobabble nonsense about dogs permeates every discussion on bad dog behavior. It’s infected dog trainers who have to shill this nonsense to clients and talk bollocks. I’m so glad I’m not in that business any more because my bullsh*t detector would be running full time.

    This about money and sales pitch for dog and services for dog owners. Nothing more, nothing less.

    I have a number of pet peeves, “leash reactive” being one of them. The only “leash reactive” dog I’ve ever met was a greyhound who had been whipped…who panicked and fled to hide away whimpering (note, it did not bark or bite) every time it saw something resembling a belt/leash/whip in someone’s hand.

    It’s one of those terms that means *nothing*. Is the dog barking? Running away from something? Snarling at dogs or passers-by? Ripping a hole in the owner’s kneecap? Lunging for Granny’s throat? What *exact* behavior are we describing, there?

    “Resource guarding behaviors”–another favorite. So, what you are telling me, shelter/dog owner…is that you have failed to impress upon this dog that the world belongs to *people* and not this foul-mannered mutt who has learned that if it snarls and tantrums, whatever it wants, therefore belongs to it?

    We have a name for people who do that–bullies.

    Note on the word, “sweet”–that describes exactly, *nothing* as well. Do they mean it is gentle? Is it kind towards smaller dogs? Is it affectionate? Is it well-mannered on leash? Biddable? What *exactly* does that mean?

    I’ve been barking (pun alert) a warning about misuse of behavioral terms that are applied to human being applied to animals *for years*. In fact, I have little use for such vagaries applied to humans, as well.

    It’s simple. Describe the behavior…don’t ascribe motive or reason to it.

    You’d think that would be even simpler for a dog than a human but we’re such a dog-obsessed culture, we can’t even do that?

    • “Describe the behavior.” Yes!!! The way so many sellers describe animals is often deliberately vague in order to cover up either annoying or dangerous behaviours.

      “Resource guarding,” for instance, can be a weasel word for “will bite you if you touch its toy.” That’s not a behaviour you want in your family pet.

      And yes, “leash reactive” can mean many things. Pulling forward on the leash is a common and annoying behaviour seen in many shelter dogs but it can often be trained out without much danger, unless the dog is particularly powerful. Lunging at and biting at people while leashed is a more dangerous behaviour. I always tell people to ask about behaviours when adopting a pet, not labels. What does the dog DO when passing another animal or person when being walked? What does it DO when a person walks by when it’s eating? Can you deal with that behaviour? Is it annoying or dangerous?

    • Yes! The use of psychobabble in the dog training world is rampant. I am still in the training game by need, not choice. To speak in direct, clear and simple terms now only gets me a bad Yelp review, angry emails etc. Today’s ‘pet parent’ cannot tolerate anything but the current nonsense such as leash reactive, resource guarding, anxious, doesn’t play well with others, etc. Any trainer who uses these meaningless phrases works. Any trainer who is a straight shooter suffers.

      The blame for this can also be laid at the feet of the veterinary behaviorists, a pack of drug dealing, self congratulatory human tumors who are making things far worse. Vet behaviorists are slowly and surely making inroads in the world of solving behavior problems and mucking it all up.

      Good trainers are forced to bow to the current overly emotional ‘pet parent’ and use this childish nonsense or not pay the rent. I used to love my work as a trainer.

      • Sue, there’s very few out there who can afford not to play this silly game with dog owners so I feel for you, I really do. The ones I used to have a ton of respect for–are now using all these terms but in private convos? They’re honest.

        YouTube is enough to make you lose your lunch on a fairly regular basis. I remember watching one video where the “Behaviouralist” had been shilling the owner along for *six weeks* and still couldn’t get within a block of another dog without a major incident of snarling and barking from a thirty pound dog.

        Talk about stringing some poor schmuck along for the big bucks. I could have gotten better behavior in less than half an hour. Can’t imagine what that cost the idiot owner.

        It’s the money game. Used to be, a trainer got paid whatevs, you fixed the dog, you helped the owner handle the dog and taught them how to manage dog behavior, they paid up and everyone went on their merry way. If you were effective, people heard. If you were one of the few (and in those days it was *very few*) who would handle biting dogs–you charged for your skill, warned the owners to stick with the plan or risk euthanizing the dog and we all carried on.

        Now? Ack, I can’t imagine it. I’ve talked with enough of these nutters on the dog forums. Finally stopped talking to them because they are the absolute worst bullies on the planet.

        It also went to shite when obedience trials were all dumbed down, as well. Now it’s “performance” and nobody cares if the dog is obedient…but by God, it must LOOK HAPPY EVERYONE!!!!

        {this is me, epic-ally face-palming}

  16. This recent story near Atlanta is so heartbreaking. A 15-year-old girl with a bright future and a love for walking was brutally attacked by 2 pit bulls new to her neighborhood. The owner, a 29-year-old woman is pictured with her tats and two vicious animals. This young girl was scalped, lost an ear, tracheae was ripped open, and she’s on a ventilator. On the same page as the news story, a shelter is featured. They’re talking about a 50% increase in attacks since Covid. (All the familiar breeds are behind bars: pits and rots.) Then, the perfunctory excuse-maker is included at the end.
    https://www.wsbtv.com/news/local/barrow-county-teen-fighting-survive-after-2-pit-bulls-attacked-her/NR4JK2TMURG3NGRXDWJS3A73CY/

    • “Smith said what happened to Stinchcomb is a tragic reminder of keeping dogs leashed or appropriately confined.”

      “Smith said what happened to Stinchcomb is a tragic reminder of what happens too frequently if you buy a pitbull or power breed”

      there, fixed it for them.

      • Yep. People’s dogs escape sometimes, and normal dogs do not scalp people when they get away. They can typically be caught and taken to an animal shelter or returned to the owner.

        People often attribute these sorts of attacks to poor training, but I’ve never had to train a dog not to crush people’s tracheae. Normal dogs do not do such things, but ones bred for explosive aggression might.

  17. Our local shelter uses so many of these terms in describing…I mean lying…about their mostly pit bulls. They also say the dog is not a “city” dog, it needs to live in the country in a “stand alone” house. Some of these “big cuddly lovable lugs” need a home with “respectful” children. The child blaming has begun even before the attacker is placed.

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