Just the thought of having to give up my dog sends me into a major emotional spin, as I’m sure it does most other dog owners.
But many people face circumstances that make rehoming their dog one of their only options.
It is – and should be – a difficult decision to make.
In some cases, rehoming a dog can help them thrive in a new and better-suited environment and is the best option for both human and dog.
If you’re wondering whether you should find your dog a new home, it’s important to make sure you’re doing so for the right reasons. If you need to find your dog a new home, you’ll want to do so carefully and responsibly. In this article, we'll look at the common reasons people have to give up their dog, and, if you find yourself facing that decision, resources that can help.
I had the chance to sit down with certified dog trainer Elizabeth Silverstein of Telltail Dog to talk about rehoming dogs for her podcast. We discuss what's involved, how to find support for the process, and more. Listen here:
Table of Contents
Reasons Why People Give Up Their Dog
As a dog trainer and behavior consultant, I have needed to broach the subject of rehoming a dog with clients. I am lucky in that most of my clients are committed enough to not just give up on their dogs without exhausting all options – hence, why they called me.
At the start of my career, I worked at a local dog rescue and saw the heart-wrenching side of families needing to rehome a dog because of things outside their control.
But I also saw the unfortunate and downright ugly side of people dumping their dog outside our shelter in the middle of the night or giving up their dog without putting in any effort to find other solutions – easy solutions that would have required just a bit more commitment and consistency.
Because there are people out there who rehome their dog for the wrong reasons, unfortunately, those who need to rehome their dog for the right reasons are often made to feel guilty or that they’ve failed. This not only is unfair to many dog owners struggling with this decision, but it can mean that they put off this decision, often to the detriment of the dog's behavior and well-being or continuing to put humans or other pets in the home in danger.
Serious Dog Behavior Issues
Some behavior issues can be incredibly difficult to manage and treat in certain living situations. Fortunately, many behavior issues, such as destructive chewing, potty training, or boredom barking, can be fixed by increasing exercise, mental enrichment, and incorporating consistent training. There are, however, some canine behavior issues that mean rehoming is an option, such as separation anxiety and aggression.
A dog with separation anxiety may bark, whine, or howl continuously whenever they are left alone. Other symptoms include potty accidents and destructive behaviors in an effort to escape. Especially for dog owners who rent or live in an apartment, these separation anxiety symptoms often place them in conflict with neighbors who complain about the noise, and they must pay for repairs of the damage caused by their dog's chewing or potty accidents.
For owners of dogs with separation anxiety, finding ways to never leave their dog alone (which is part of preliminary separation anxiety treatment) is often impossible. Dog daycare or pet sitters are expensive. And most people need to leave their home at some point, and can't always bring their dog along. They have to go to work, in order to pay the mortgage or rent.
Even if someone is able to start treatment for their dog's separation anxiety with the help of a certified behavior consultant, treatment can take a long time – time that they may not have before their landlord or their neighbor has had enough. It is a heartbreaking situation, as being rehomed can exacerbate separation anxiety for a dog. Sometimes it is the only option. However, as long as a shelter or rescue is aware of the issue, they will do their best to find a foster or adopter who is able to both manage and address the separation anxiety.
If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, connect with a certified behavior consultant to find out what your options are. You'll also want to speak with your veterinarian about separation anxiety, as there are supplements and prescription medications that can help both in the short-term and long-term. Click here to learn more about treating canine separation anxiety.
A dog's aggressive behavior may be placing people or other pets in the home in direct danger of being injured ... or worse. It is crucial to always place safety as the top priority in dog aggression cases, even more so when there are children at risk in the home. Beyond the risk of bite injuries, an aggressive dog also means that the owner is open to liability if their dog injures anyone, both in criminal and civil court cases. And even beyond that, the stress of owning a dog with aggressive behavior can be emotionally exhausting.
Dogs who present a bite risk require strict and consistent management – which is not always easy, and not always a guarantee of preventing bites. It's easy for someone to forget to lock a gate or put the dog in a crate before visitors come over. A dog may be very determined to jump over or dig under a fence to attack a neighbor's dog.
Treatment for canine aggression is available and widely successful. Dog aggression cases are my specialty. With that being said, rehoming a dog who exhibits aggressive behavior should be a consideration in certain cases. For example, if a dog exhibits fear-based aggression towards children, being rehomed to an owner with no children is often the easiest (and safest) resolution. It also means that the dog is less stressed because their "trigger" is not always present. Less stress means that behavior modification is more likely to succeed.
If your dog is exhibiting aggressive behavior, connect with me for a virtual one-on-one behavior consultation.
Should Aggressive Dogs be Rehomed?
Since I've brought up aggression as being a legitimate reason for rehoming a dog, it's important that I include the question of whether it is ethical and safe to rehome an aggressive dog. Depending on the type of aggression, the predictability, and the intensity of dangerous behavior, rehoming can be incredibly difficult. There just aren't a whole bunch of perfect foster or adopter homes out there ready and willing to take on the risk of living with a dangerous and unpredictable dog.
This is why it's important to find the support of a certified behavior consultant who specializes in aggression, along with your veterinarian, to explore whether rehoming a dog with aggression is the right option. If it is, you'll want to connect with a rescue organization that has experience in rehabilitating and placing dogs with aggression issues.
I want to emphasize that certain aggression cases are treatable or easier to match to the right home environment. You'll need to be upfront about the dog's behavior so they are set up for success and you don't set up anyone else to be in danger. Doing so reduces your liability if the dog does cause injury in the future. Misrepresenting a dog's temperament and history can put you in legal trouble if they are adopted out and then cause harm. It's also just the right thing to do.
You may find that no-kill shelters do not accept dogs with certain types of bite histories. They understand how difficult it will be to find them a home, may be unable to take on the potential liability issues, and may not have the resources to house that dog indefinitely and still maintain quality of life. Well-run and humane sanctuaries are few and far between. While I wish we could save them all, it's important to understand that in some severe cases, behavioral euthanasia may be the most responsible choice.
Learn more about behavioral euthanasia for dog aggression cases here.
Moving or Lack of Dog-Friendly Housing
Dog-friendly housing can be difficult to find, especially for certain breeds or breed mixes, or large-sized dogs. Those who rent their homes often face expensive pet deposits and fees in addition to their regular rent. I rent my home, and even with two Corgis ("small" dogs who just barely meet most maximum weight restrictions) and living in what is supposedly a "dog-friendly" area, finding a rental that allows my dogs has been a challenge each time I move.
People may have to move for many different reasons, such as for employment. And in some cases, work may be taking them overseas, which involves an arduous import process (and often a very stressful experience for the dog). In some cases, it makes more sense to not bring the dog along to avoid the quarantine requirements or if the owner knows that where they are moving is not the right environment for their dog. For those serving in the military, deployment orders can mean they need to find someone to care for their dog while they are away.
If you are struggling to find pet-friendly housing, check out this information for renters with pets from the Humane Society of the United States and these tips for finding pet-friendly rentals. If you're in the military and need to find care for your pet while you are deployed, check out Pact for Animals to learn about their military fostering programs.
Pet care costs can add up quickly, and when struggling to make ends meet, many often find themselves having to choose between paying their rent or buying food for their dog. Employment circumstances can always change, so even someone who previously could afford pet supplies may find themselves in this situation.
If you are struggling to afford basic supplies for your dog, reach out to local shelters, rescues, and food banks in your area. Many food banks for people provide pet food as well. Visit this Feeding Pets of the Homeless directory to search for resources in your area. If your dog needs a special diet, ask your veterinarian whether there are acceptable alternatives to expensive prescription foods that may be more affordable.
If a dog is unexpectedly diagnosed with a medical condition or has an accident that requires extensive veterinary care, it can be difficult to come up with enough funds for both initial treatment, medication, and other long-term care.
Unfortunately, many pet owners don’t have pet insurance to help offset the cost of treatments, especially when the medical condition is chronic. All of the same advanced care, medication, and equipment used in human medicine are similarly used in veterinary medicine. Despite trying to make all aspects of care affordable, the costs add up.
If you are facing veterinary costs that you are unable to afford, there are resources available. Speak with your veterinarian about whether there are more affordable treatments or medications, or if they can negotiate a payment plan. They may accept CareCredit®, a healthcare credit card that has no or low-interest rates as long as the balance is paid within a certain timeframe.
Ask local shelters and rescues about available low-cost veterinary care programs available in your area. Some veterinary schools also have programs that may be able to assist you. Consider setting up a GoFundMe and share with your social media and other networks to raise funds.
For more resources and an interactive map to find local help with financial costs of owning and caring for your dog, visit the Humane Society's Pets for Life page.
Human Medical Issues
Human health problems can make caring for a dog difficult or overwhelming. One's own care and treatment can cause financial strain or make it hard to provide a dog with the attention, exercise, and care they need. Someone could be hospitalized long-term or may need to move into assisted care and cannot bring their dog with them.
This is always a heartbreaking position to be in, as pets can provide great comfort and reduce stress for those facing an injury or illness. But in these cases, a dog may be putting their owner at physical risk or develop behavioral issues due to a lack of exercise, attention, or stress. And for those facing a terminal diagnosis, it's important to plan ahead for the care of their dog.
If you are needing help caring for your dog, reach out to friends, family, and your local community. Ask if anyone can assist with dog walking or other care. For longer-term help, consider reaching out for a short-term foster arrangement, where your dog stays with someone else while you recover, but you still maintain legal ownership and financial responsibility for your dog. Connect with local animal shelters or rescues to inquire if they can help with this arrangement. Pact for Animals is a good resource to use if you are being hospitalized and need to find a foster for your dog.
For senior pet owners needing assistance in caring for their dog, check out your local Meals on Wheels programs. They may be able to help with providing pet supplies and transportation to the veterinary clinic when needed.
Even if you're not facing health issues now, planning ahead for the care of your dog in case you are injured, fall ill, or pass away is the best thing you can do for them. Check out our podcast to learn about how to create a pet care plan and include them in your estate planning.
Mismatching and the Inability to Meet a Dog's Needs
Matching a dog to a certain family and lifestyle is no easy task. Responsible breeders do their best to match their puppies with the appropriate family, and even then it doesn't always work out the way they expected. And less-than-reputable breeders, such as puppy mills or backyard breeders, don't know how or don't even try to match puppies to the right home.
Many rescue organizations do their best to ensure that a newly-adopted dog will fit in well with their new family, but there are a few variables that determine whether it's a successful match. Working as a dog adoption counselor at the start of my career really drove this reality home for me.
- People may not understand the time commitment of caring for and training that a dog requires.
- A dog's breed or breed mix predispositions are at odds with someone's lifestyle or experience level.
- The history of the dog may be unknown, and as they settle in, they may exhibit problematic behaviors that a family is unable to address.
I'll share one example from my experience. I was called for a training consult with a family who had recently adopted a Beagle mix puppy. They had two young children, one who was frightened of dogs. The puppy exhibited typical puppy behavior, such as nipping and jumping, which terrified their child.
After meeting with them to discuss what training entailed – separation and supervision, teaching basic skills, and providing lots of appropriate enrichment to help the puppy through their teething phase – it was obvious that all of that, on top of caring for their children and working full-time, meant raising a puppy was too much for them to handle. If they kept the dog, it wouldn't get the training it deserved and would be causing more stress for their youngest child. It was a recipe for frustration, for both the people and the puppy!
The story doesn't end there, however. When they contacted the rescue to discuss returning the dog, the rescue made them feel like they were failures and made it difficult for them to bring the puppy back. They ended up rehoming the dog to friends of theirs. I was not impressed by the rescue's reaction – one, they should have discussed puppies and children more in-depth with these adopters prior to approving the adoption in the first place. Two, they should have immediately taken that dog back based on what the family had told them, no questions asked. It was a case of a mismatch, and blaming the adopters didn't do anything to help the puppy find the right home. If anything, it discouraged that family from adopting a dog from a rescue in the future.
What to Do if You Can’t Keep Your Dog
When it comes to finding your dog a new home, it's crucial that you are honest about the reasons for doing so and about your dog's behavior, health history, and other needs. The last thing you want is for your dog to bounce from home to home because someone was not prepared to provide for these needs. Knowing your dog's history will help a shelter make the best match possible.
Write up an information sheet about your dog, including the basics like their age, breed, weight, and vaccination status, along with describing their personality, behavior, etc. This can be helpful when you're trying to find them a new home, whether you share this with a rescue or with friends and family to distribute.
Contact the Breeder
If you got your dog from a breeder, many contracts require you to notify them if you are no longer able to keep the dog. Reputable breeders will go to great lengths to keep any of their dogs out of rescues and shelters, often taking them back themselves or helping to find another home quickly. If you got your dog from a less-than-reputable breeder (such as a backyard breeder or puppy mill), they often won’t be able or willing to help you.
Find a Breed-Specific Rescue
There are many breed-specific rescue organizations that focus on finding homes for specific breeds or breed mixes. They can connect you with networks of people familiar with the breed and may be looking to adopt. To find a breed-specific rescue, check out AKC's Rescue Network.
Reach Out to Your Veterinarian, Family, and Friends
Your veterinarian may know of someone local who is looking to adopt another dog or be able to recommend a certain rescue organization they trust. Ask your friends and family if they know anyone who may be interested in adding a dog to their family. Share your information sheet and include a few photos of your dog.
Consider Home-to-Home Adoption
Some rescue organizations offer direct home-to-home adoption, facilitating the rehoming process by posting the dog on their platforms while you keep the dog in your home. Working with an organization this way helps to keep pets out of shelters and leverages large networks to find a new home more quickly than doing it on your own. Visit Home to Home to find out more.
If you rehome your dog without the help of a rescue or shelter, you'll want to ensure they go to someone you feel comfortable with and find trustworthy. Be sure to screen potential adopters of your dog. Meet them first, ideally in a neutral location, and ask lots of questions to make sure you feel comfortable about giving your dog to them. Do they have references? Are they employed and financially able to provide your dog the care they need? If they already have pets, you'll want to do a meet-and-greet to make sure they all get along. If you find the right match, have all parties involved sign and date a document transferring ownership rights, as this can help prevent future conflicts.
Surrendering Your Dog to a Shelter or Rescue
If you originally obtained your dog from a shelter or rescue, contact that organization first, if possible. Many adoption contracts require that you notify them if the adoption did not work out or you are no longer able to keep the dog.
Contact local humane societies, shelters, and other rescue organizations in your area. Take the time to review the requirements for relinquishing your dog and the policies on euthanasia at each organization. Many organizations will ask that you set up an appointment to surrender your dog to their care. There may be surrendering fees you will need to pay that help cover the cost of housing and caring for your dog.
Additional Pet Rehoming Services
What NOT to Do if You Need to Rehome Your Dog
Don't Just Drop Off Your Dog
Abandoning a dog is illegal in most areas. You should never drop off a dog (or any pet) on the side of the road, in rural or backcountry areas, or in any other public space. It is cruel to not ensure the safety and care of your dog, no matter the reason you can’t keep them. There are many resources available to try and make rehoming a dog as easy as possible.
Do not abandon your dog outside of an animal shelter or rescue. To be able to provide your dog with the care it needs, whether medical or behavioral, a shelter needs to know its background and health history. Without that, your dog has a lower chance of being placed in the right home for their needs.
Avoid the Classifieds and Online Ads
Unfortunately, there are people out there with ill intentions, who may misrepresent themselves when offering to take your dog. Do not list your dog on classified or personal ad sites, such as craigslist. Too often, dogs rehomed this way wind up as part of backyard breeding, dogfighting, or simply neglected and abused.
Will Your Dog Miss You When You Give Them Away?
Yes, your dog will miss you when you give them away. But dogs are incredibly resilient, and they live in the moment. It is normal for a dog to grieve the loss of their previous family and go through an acclimation period in their new home. While they may miss you, if they are in a caring environment and their needs are being met, they will do well.
If you're facing the decision of rehoming your dog, please know that my heart is with you. It is not easy, but there are resources available for you that may help you avoid giving up your dog or helping you find the best new home for them where they can thrive.
Do you have questions about rehoming decision and process? Let me know in the comments below.