I had officially adopted him two days prior from the shelter where I regularly volunteered.
Tater rested uneasily across the rug from Wiley, our senior German Shepherd. None of us wanted a repeat of the night before, when Wiley pinned Tater to the rug for eyeing Wiley’s precious Kong toy.
Incidents like these, coupled with the fact that our landlord did not approve of my decision, made it very clear: Adopting this dog was a HUGE mistake.
The anguish of that moment was nothing compared to the shame I felt when I called the shelter the next day.
Whether it’s due to a major case of the Puppy Blues, financial shortfalls, or housing issues, the reality is that many of us have had to rehome a dog.
So how do you know if rehoming your dog is the right decision? How do you cope with the guilt and other emotions that often accompany a decision like this? And if you must, what are your options for rehoming?
What Does “Rehoming” Mean?
“Rehoming” a dog refers to the process of finding a new home for a dog that is no longer able to stay with its current owner.
Rehoming can be done through various channels, such as friends, family, veterinarians, and animal shelters.
Is It Bad to Rehome Dogs?
Rehoming a dog can be a difficult decision, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. Let's look at it objectively: If an owner is no longer able to provide proper care for a dog, rehoming responsibly can help the dog receive the love and care they deserve.
How Do Dogs Feel About Rehoming?
You've seen the movie Homeward Bound, right? OK, not all dogs are willing to traverse a stream or save a cat from certain death. But dogs are social creatures and form strong bonds with their owners.
Rehoming a dog can be stressful and confusing for a pup, especially if they've been with the same family for a long time. While dogs don't experience these emotions exactly the same way we humans do, they may feel anxiety and confusion over the new situation. In some cases, they might show symptoms resembling human depression.
However, with proper cuddles, care, training, and attention in their new home, most dogs will be able to adjust.
Why People Rehome Dogs
Before I had to make this decision, I have to admit that I'd assumed that people often rehomed dogs because they didn't want to "deal with" the training, proper care, and midnight potty runs that come with having a pet.
Sometimes, that's the case. Other times, it's definitely not. And whatever the motivation, it's usually incredibly painful.
Here are some of the most common reasons for rehoming a dog:
Could you afford to pay an emergency vet bill today if your pet's life depended on it, or would you be forced to rehome or relinquish your beloved dog to the vet, as this dog owner did?
I had to surrender a dog once to my veterinarian. I was struggling financially, and she needed some serious medical help that I could not afford, but it was not serious enough to justify euthanasia. It still makes me sad. She was 11 at the time, and I had her since she was a puppy.
The thing is, companion dogs don't typically contribute to household income. On the contrary: They require regular vet visits, food, parasite prevention, dental care, and more to stay healthy.
We'd never advocate that a pet owner put themselves in financial jeopardy to pay an unplanned medical bill for their pet; after all, our dog insurance policies exist to help owners focus on their pet, not the cost of emergency or unexpected care.
Some dogs skate through life without any issues, living the dream. (I know someone whose dog was run over right in front of them and popped up to keep playing.)
My little 10-pound ball of problems, Lou Lou, was NOT that kind of dog. Sure, she was absolutely adorable. She also had epilepsy, luxating patellas, lots of dental extractions, Alopecia X, and finally, a mast cell tumor that required chemo treatments three hours away from home.
It's no wonder her original owner relinquished her at the vet hospital when she was tiny and the very first issues started to occur. I'm glad we got pet insurance before more issues cropped up—she was worth all of it. But it wasn't just the money that was challenging. It was also time and effort.
Sometimes you try everything you possibly can, but still can't give your pet the time they need, as this dog owner shares:
I rehomed my first dog, who was a rescue from the local humane society. He was a senior and brought in with a pretty murky history...this dog was perfect in a lot of ways, but he had SEVERE anxiety. Medication did nothing, and he was declining so rapidly that his vet actually thought he had some kind of canine dementia...I could not afford a vet behaviorist; I could not afford to have someone watch him at all times; and of course, I could not just move out of the city.
Maybe you have to move and can't find a pet-friendly apartment to rent, or you're moving abroad and don't want to put your pet through all of that change. Maybe your partner just moved in and is deathly allergic to dogs.
Whatever the reason, relocation is a pretty common reason for rehoming a pet.
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Now for the most common reason owners rehome their pet, according to the ASPCA's National Rehoming Survey: Problematic behaviors.
This includes dogs or cats that exhibited "aggressive behaviors, grew larger than expected, or had health problems the owner couldn’t handle."
To put it lightly, it can be challenging to manage behavioral problems such as excessive barking, destructive behavior, or aggression. In the case of aggression, your dog can become dangerous.
Behavioral issues aren't isolated to shelter dogs; they can emerge out of the blue in a dog you've raised from puppyhood.
I had to rehome my 2-year-old Rottweiler, Clover Lily Sassafras. We had owned her since she was a puppy, and she grew up with my other dogs. But all of a sudden, she started attacking my old beagle. Not little fights. Like she wanted to kill him. I tried to work through it; I took her to extra obedience classes, and then she went to a "board and train" program as well. And although her obedience did improve, she was still hyper-focused on the beagle. She would see him out to attack for no reason. We obviously kept them separated, but it got to the point where there was no holding her back. [Rehoming her] was heartbreaking for me, but it had to be done.
A new baby, a diagnosis, a divorce, a career change—all of these can make it harder to care for your pup.
This could partially explain why shelters have dealt with record-high post-COVID-era returns. People who were once able to care for their dog while working at home and never really had to crate train or socialize them, have started emerging in public with frustrating wild pups. And those pups often can't stay alone at home without suffering from severe separation anxiety or destroying things.
Leaving your job or paying for full-time doggy daycare isn't always feasible, as this dog owner points out:
My employer told me I could work from home full time, so I decided to get a puppy last November. Now my employer has decided to make everyone return to the office starting in July. My puppy is nowhere near ready to be left alone for 12 hours a day. I work a 10-hour day plus commuting. I looked into Doggie day care, but it would cost hundreds of dollars a month, which I cannot afford. I feel desperate and so sad.
An under-discussed yet surprisingly common motivation for rehoming is the anxiety and depression related to adopting a puppy, AKA the "Puppy Blues."
These symptoms can be worse for people who are single pup-parenting. Of all the sole caretakers in our survey who experienced anxiety or depression after adopting a puppy, roughly 30% said they were considering rehoming their puppy. (For joint caretakers, the number was just 23%.)
How to Rehome Your Dog Responsibly
Tater’s story had a happy ending: Another shelter volunteer adopted him into a previously pet-free household, where he’s being spoiled to this day.
Many of these stories end the same way: The pup finds their furever home. Unfortunately, countless other dogs wind up in the stressful shelter environment they just left.
So if you're absolutely sure it's time to rehome your dog and you want to give them the best chance at finding a good home, here's some advice:
Prepare to Keep Them Longer (If It's Safe)
I won't lie; this isn't going to be easy.
If you plan to rehome your dog through friends, family, or other outlets rather than heading back to the shelter, it can take a lot more time. But it can also be incredibly rewarding to find the right new family for your pup. Just know that your furry friend might be sticking around for weeks or months while you hunt for their furever home.
This strategy may not be feasible if the dog is aggressive towards you or others or if you're facing an emergency situation that's forcing you to rehome quickly.
Assess Your Dog's True Needs
Before rehoming your dog, it's essential to assess their needs. You're now the expert on this dog—their hangups, the weird way they won't eat their kibble unless it's in your hand—so write it down and be realistic.
If your cute little Chihuahua doesn't do well around small children, don't bend the truth so one of your parent friends will consider adopting them.
Start with your dog's actual or estimated age, breed, medical or behavioral issues, and personality quirks. You'd be surprised to find that some people are more than up for the challenge (vet techs, I'm looking at you...).
While you're at it, talk to a dog foster parent. These selfless souls do this kind of thing all the time, and they may be willing to share some tips on what you'll need to flag for new owners.
Advertise Your Dog
There are several ways you can advertise your dog to potential adopters, but be careful with this, particularly if you're rehoming a purebred dog. Plenty of people are willing to say they can take care of your French Bulldog and may turn around and sell it for profit (or worse, attempt to breed it).
The original breeder (if applicable; some make a stipulation that you return the dog if you can't keep it)
Trusted family and friends
A local shelter with connections to fosters
Reputable online pet adoption sites
There are other ways to rehome your dog—online forums, etc.—but those can be shady. Start with the above options and see where you end up. You may be surprised by the quality and quantity of candidates!
Screen Potential Adopters
While you might be feeling anxious enough to pass your dog to anyone willing to take the leash, slow down.
Ask potential adopters questions about their experience with dogs, their living situation, and their daily schedule. Find out how comfortable they are with a particular breed or mix of breeds.
How to Decide?
Breeds, Breeds, Breeds
Making a decision about the type of dog you adopt or buy is no small undertaking. There are an incredible number of breeds out there. Find out more about some of the most popular breeds' energy levels, maintenance, and more.
Find out if they have kids or other pets, and how many.
Is your dog an escape artist? Set a fence as a requirement, and avoid homes on or near traffic-filled roads.
You can also ask for references from previous pet owners or veterinarians. Make sure to meet potential adopters in person, evaluate their home environment, and observe how they interact with your dog.
It might seem silly to go through these steps, and you may not need to do all this with someone you know very well, but it's well worth the time and effort.
Otherwise, that dog could end up in a worse situation—or back on your doorstep.
Prepare Your Dog for the Move
There's no way around it: Moving your dog into a new home is stressful.
To prepare your dog for the move, make the transition as comfortable as possible. If your dog absolutely hates car rides, consider walking. Make sure to bring along their favorite toys and bedding so it's a positive experience.
During the interviewing process, hopefully you had a chance to bring your dog to the new home for a visit (or for more than one) to help them acclimate to their new surroundings and family.
Ask the new pet parent to prepare a quiet and safe space for the dog in their home, and to avoid introducing any unfamiliar people or pets right away.
Once you've found a suitable home for your dog, make sure to transfer ownership to the new owner.
Some items to check off your list:
County registration/dog license
Microchip information (ask your vet to scan if you don't remember the number)
Your pet insurance provider (if you have one)
Your dog's tags/collar
AKC Online Certificate Transfers (for purebred papered dogs)
Make especially sure your vet is aware of the change so they can continue to treat your dog with the new owner. If the new owner has a different preferred vet, call your vet and request that they send your dog's records to the new vet.
What About "Rehoming Fees" for Dogs?
You may have seen a post on social media seeking a new home for their dog and requesting a “rehoming fee” to “cover the costs of rehoming the dog."
While it could simply be a request for help to cover vet bills, food, and other costs that have caused the owner financial hardship, it could also be something less savory.
Many backyard breeders and unscrupulous owners will use “rehoming fees” to make a profit off of a dog they have (purposefully or accidentally) bred. It’s especially suspect when the owner claims the dog is purebred and is asking for steep compensation.
That said, if you’re rehoming a dog due to financial hardship and are struggling to make ends meet due to the costs you’ve incurred so far—vet bills, food, etc.—a new owner may be willing to help you make up the difference. A fee could also help ensure that the new owner is serious about taking on the responsibility of caring for a dog and will provide a safe and loving home.
Whether or not you choose to tack on a rehoming fee, it should never be the deciding factor in who gets the dog. Plenty of people with money may not actually provide your dog with a safe and loving home.
Help! I Need to Rehome My Dog Urgently
If you need to rehome your dog urgently and you're running out of options, it's still possible to find your dog a safe temporary home.
Start by calling your local nonprofit rescue organizations and animal shelters. If they can't take your dog immediately, they may know someone in their foster network who can.
Don't give up—shelters and foster homes are extremely busy. A little persistence goes a long way. Do NOT dump your pet off at a home or field in the country or in front of the gates at the shelter. Often, dumped pets escape and meet sad ends on busy roads.
The unique mixture of shame and embarrassment that comes with rehoming a dog—possibly tinged with relief, depending on your situation—is hard to describe to those who haven’t been through it.
But rehoming your dog in a responsible way is commendable. One day, hopefully, you'll be able to look back and feel proud of having given your dog their best shot at living a long and happy life.
And one last note: if you consider adopting another dog or cat in the future, look into dog insurance; it may help you avoid the painful process of rehoming a pet due to unexpected accidents or illnesses.