Updated: Jun 28
The decision to rehome your dog is never easy, and it can be an intimidating process - especially if your dog has behavior problems. Determining what your dog needs to be successful is vital to finding the right home.
In this post:
Determining your dog's needs.
If you are considering rehoming your dog, you and your dog are likely struggling. Maybe you don't have the time your dog needs, or maybe your dog doesn't get along with another resident animal; maybe your dog has a behavior problem that you simply can't handle, or there are circumstances outside of your control that prevent you from keeping your dog. In any case, taking time to evaluate the situation and what your dog needs to be successful is vital.
It is extremely important to disclose all known information on your dog to any potential adopters or rescue organizations so that your dog can be placed in the right home. This includes things like bite history, behavior history, and past relationships/interactions with other animals and people. Make a list of potential concerns and accommodations needed for your dog to be safe and happy.
Does your dog need to be the only animal in the home?
Think about the interactions that your dog has had with other animals.
• Has your dog met other dogs?
• Has your dog lived with other dogs?
• Have other dogs visited your home, and if so, how did your dog react?
• Has your dog visited other homes with dogs?
• How does you dog react when he sees a dog while out on a walk?
• Has your dog gone to a dog daycare, and if so, how did he do there?
• Has your dog met cats?
• Has your dog lived with cats?
• Does your dog tend to chase smaller animals?
• Has your dog ever gotten into a fight with another animal?
• Has your dog ever snapped at or bitten another animal?
• Has your dog ever killed another animal?
If your dog has a history of reactivity or aggression towards other animals, finding a home where he will be the only animal may be your safest bet. If your dog has ever killed another dog or cat, he should not be placed in a home with other animals or a home in which he will have access to other animals. Any history of reactivity or aggression must be disclosed to a potential adopter or rescue; without that information, your dog may be placed in a home in which he or another animal could get hurt. If your dog has no history at all with other animals, that should be disclosed, too.
Even dogs who have a positive history with other animals may not like a particular dog or cat - just like with people, sometimes you just don't mesh well. Any introductions to other animals during the rehoming process should be done with care. Check out this guide on dog-to-dog introductions for instructions on setting up a successful introduction.
Does your dog need to live in a home without kids?
Think about the interactions that your dog has had with kids - and any behaviors that may put kids at risk.
• Has your dog met any kids?
• Has your dog lived with kids?
• How does your dog react to kids when out on walks?
• How does your dog react when kids visit your home?
• Has your dog ever snapped at or bitten a kid?
• Does your dog display any behaviors like resource guarding (food or toy aggression), lack of impulse control (jumping, mouthing), fear of loud noises or sudden movements, or general anxiety?
Careful consideration should also be given to the individual children in a home.
• Have the kids been around dogs?
• Have the kids lived with dogs?
• Are the kids respectful of the dog's space?
Be careful not to jump to conclusions based on a child's age. A 4-year-old who has been taught to respect a dog's space may be a better fit than an 12-year-old who has never spent time around dogs. Remember, too, that homes with children often have other children visiting; if your dog struggles to accept new children entering into his home or does not do well with chaotic environments, a home without children may be the best fit, even if he gets along with the children in the home. If your dog has a history of reactivity or aggression towards kids or displays behaviors that could potentially be dangers to a child, finding a home without children or access to children is strongly recommended.
Has your dog shown aggression towards humans?
If your dog has shown aggression towards humans in any situation, special considerations will need to be taken before making the decision to rehome.
• Has your dog ever bitten anyone? If so, check out the next section and consider the circumstances around the bite.
• Has your dog ever growled when handled, over a resource, or when approached? Even if your dog has not bitten anyone, a dog who is uncomfortable in these situations may be more likely to bite in the future.
• Has your dog ever shown any aggression towards people in his own home? Towards people entering the home? If so, speak to a behavior consultant before moving any further in the decision to rehome.
• Has your dog ever made you feel unsafe? Do you feel like your dog may pose a danger to someone in the future? Even if your dog hasn't ever bitten anyone, those gut reactions should be taken seriously. Speak to a behavior consultant before moving any further in the decision to rehome.
If your dog has bitten someone, consider the following.
• How many bite incidents has your dog had? A dog with multiple bite incidents may not necessarily be more dangerous than a dog with only one bite incident, but it does give us more information on the triggers for and predictability of bites.
• How severe were the bites? The word 'bite' is used to describe a large range of incidents. Did the bite break skin? Did the recipient require medical attention or die? Refer to the Ian Dunbar Bite Scale for a standardized measure of bites (Dr. Dunbar considers dogs with level 1 and 2 bites "safe" while level 5 and 6 bites are candidates for euthanasia; like most things, real life is not quite so black-and-white, so additional considerations should be taken). In most cases, if the dog bites again in the future, it will be at the same level or higher.
• Did any of the bite incidents consist of multiple bites? Did the dog "bite and retreat" or repeatedly go in for more? A dog who bites once and then runs away may have a better prognosis than a dog who does not (but again, this should not be the only consideration).
• Where was the bite? Bites to the face, neck, or stomach are often significantly more of a risk than bites to a hand or leg, even if the level of bite was on the lower end.
• Was the dog in pain or sick? When painful or sick, the "flight" option in "fight or flight" may not be realistic for the dog. The dog may bite in situations in which he would typically walk away. If the dog is sick or painful, is it something that he can heal from, or will the disorder persist for the rest of his life? What is the likelihood that he will be in a similar amount of pain in the future?
• Was there a clear trigger for the bite? Did the dog bite for a clear reason (such as being hit, being cornered without escape, fast movement, loud noises, etc.), or was the bite "out of nowhere?" Did he display signs of discomfort prior to the bite? In some cases, a dog may learn that other signs of discomfort are unproductive and jump straight to growling or biting; dogs who suffer from a neurological disorder may also bite without predictability.
• Can triggers be avoided in the future? For example, if your dog bit a child who was running around screaming, can you prevent the dog from being around children in the future? If your dog bites when someone approaches his resting space, can you avoid ever having someone walk by? Some situations may be preventable with management; others are difficult or impossible to avoid.
If your dog has shown aggression towards humans in the past or you fear that he may show aggression in the future, we STRONGLY recommend speaking with a behavior consultant about what will be needed to keep your dog and those around him safe prior to making a decision to rehome.
What kind of environment does your dog need?
Things like energy level, traffic, and number of people in a home can make a huge difference in your dog's success.
• How does your dog react when people come to your home?
• How does your dog react to people when out on walks?
• How does your dog handle road noise or neighbors in close proximity? Could he comfortably live in an apartment or condo with shared walls and extra noise?
• Does your dog struggle with being left alone?
• Is your dog sensitive to loud noises or changes in routine?
• Has your dog ever snapped at or bitten a person, and if so, what were the circumstances?
• Does your dog display signs of fear or anxiety?
• Are there situations in which your dog has displayed reactivity or aggression?
Some dogs can handle a busy household with people coming in and out; other dogs may do better in a quiet home with just one person. Some dogs are okay being left alone during the day; other dogs need someone who is home more than not. Some dogs don't mind living in a busy city neighborhood; other dogs would prefer to live in the country. Consider your dog's individual needs and preferences when choosing a new home.
What about your home isn't the right fit for your dog?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but finding a home without those same hurdles or incompatibility is important. Sometimes, determining the root of any issues you may be experiencing is complicated. Try to think as objectively as possible about the issues you are having so that you can find a home in which your dog won't run into the same obstacles.
Should you contact a shelter or rescue?
Rehoming your dog on your own is not an easy task, but finding a shelter or rescue to help can be equally difficult.
How do you find an organization to help?
There are thousands of rescues and shelters across the country; privately run organizations, municipal organizations, breed-specific organizations, even organizations that specifically work with deaf or blind dogs. In most cases, contacting local organizations first is your best bet. Search on sites like petfinder and adoptapet to find organizations in your area. Check out their website to see if they have specific requirements or protocol for surrendering your dog. If your dog is purebred, you may be able to find a breed-specific rescue near you; some breed-specific groups will also travel or arrange transport for dogs when needed. There is also a variety of niche rescues, focusing on things like blind/deaf dogs, seniors, dogs with mobility issues, and others. If there is something 'unique' about your dog, consider looking into rescues that may specifically cater to a particular quirk.
What about sanctuaries?
While there are sanctuaries out there for dogs with behavior problems, they are few and far between, and they often do not have space available for new dogs. They may, however, be able to offer resources for rehoming your dog even if they are unable to help directly, so it doesn't hurt to reach out or browse their website.
Is the organization reputable?
So someone is willing to help. Great! But how do you know that the organization is reputable? Talk to anyone that you personally know who has interacted with the organization and get an idea of what their experience was like. Take some time to read through the organization's website and social media, paying close attention to the condition of the dogs in photos - are they healthy in appearance? Are their surroundings clean? Look for reviews on Google, Yelp, and Facebook, too. Is there feedback from other people who have surrendered their dogs? How about people who have adopted dogs from the organization?
Private organizations are largely unregulated, and well-meaning people sometimes get in over their head, leaving the animals in their care in less than ideal situations. A little research on the front end can protect your dog from entering into a bad situation.
Will your dog be able to handle the environment?
Depending on the organization, your dog may go into either a kennel or a foster home. Some kennel areas are noisy and chaotic; others are quiet and well maintained. Some foster homes have a ton of experience; others may have never dealt with any kind of behavior problems. Some organizations house hundreds of animals at a time while other may only house a half dozen. Take the time to ask some questions about the individual organization and what they offer to the dogs in their care.
Think about all of the things your dog needs to be successful in a new home. Will he receive those things in a kennel or foster home? If not, will going without those things for a period of time be detrimental to him? Could a kennel or foster home potentially worsen behavior problems, like reactivity or aggression? If the experience will be detrimental to your dog, another option may be a better choice.
Why won't anyone help?
The sad reality is that there are millions of homeless dogs around the country. Most rescues and shelters are constantly maxed out on space. Some organizations struggle to adopt out even the most adoptable dogs - young, "desirable" breeds, and without behavior issues. It's not that they don't want to help you; if they tell you no, they likely truly do not have the resources to take on another dog. If you aren't having any luck finding an organization to help, ask them if they might consider making a 'courtesy post' (with your contact information) on their website or social media page, or if they have any other resources available to help you rehome your dog on your own.
Is rehoming your dog on your own a better fit?
In some cases, rehoming your dog on your own is the quickest or least stressful option for both you and your dog. After all, you know your dog and his needs better than anyone. If you'd prefer to rehome on your own (or aren't having much luck finding a rescue or shelter to help), there are a few options for finding a new home.
Screening potential adopters.
How do you know that a potential adopter is the right fit and will treat your dog well? You may consider using a generic adoption application to screen potential adopters (check out the resources section below for some examples), but intentional conversation is one of the best ways to determine what life will be like for your dog in the person's home. Don't be afraid to ask a ton of questions!
• Do they have other animals at home? If so, have they ever brought other new animals into their home? How did their animals react?
• Do they have kids? If so, how old are they? Have they lived with other dogs or otherwise interacted with dogs?
• Have they had dogs in the past? If so, how long ago? Have they had a dog with the same behavioral problems that your dog is experiencing?
• What is their home environment like? Do they live in a house, apartment, condo? Do they have a yard, and is it fenced? If not, how to they plan to give the dog daily exercise and potty breaks?
• How long will the dog be left alone each day? Do they have a dog walker or other arrangements for the dog on longer days?
• How have they trained or disciplined their dog in the past? Are they willing to work with a Certified Professional Dog Trainer to address any behavior issues?
Ultimately, always trust your gut. If something is telling you that it isn't the right fit, whether it's weird answers to questions (or an unwillingness to answer questions), feeling like they aren't taking your dog's needs seriously, or any other 'meh' feeling you may get, politely decline and continue on your search.
Is there a friend or family member who could take your dog?
The best place to start your search is often friends and family members who already know your dog. Do you have a friend, neighbor, colleague, or family member who would be able to give your dog what he needs? Even if no one is able to take your dog themselves, they may know have a friend or family member who is looking to adopt, so it doesn't hurt to ask.
Many people worry about being judged by their friends and family for rehoming their dog, so they don't ask for help. While it's true that not everyone is going to understand your decision, try to keep in mind that you are doing what is best for you and your dog; other people's opinions don't matter.
How do you find an adopter?
If you don't know anyone who can take your dog, you'll have to start reaching out to the public. Social media is an awesome tool for this - post to facebook, instagram, twitter, reddit, nextdoor, and anywhere else that your post will be seen and shared. Remember to keep posts short and positive. Avoid language like "doesn't like...," "needs a home without...," "needs training..." While you should 100% disclose all of these things to an interested adopter, listing all of the negative traits your dog has won't catch much interest and may turn off someone who is the perfect fit for your dog because they have misinterpreted or misunderstood something that you would be able to explain in conversation. Instead, list your dog's positive qualities, then discuss any limitations in conversation with interested adopters.
Consider posting to local and community groups. Hang flyers in public places, like pet stores and coffee shops. Ask your friends and family to share your dog with their friends. The more places you can advertise, the better - just remember to take your posts and flyers down once you have found a new home.
Some shelters and rescues offer 'courtesy post' services in which they will post your dog's information on their website. Check out the resources section below for a few examples.