Rehoming a Dog: When It's Time & How to Responsibly Rehome (2023)

When you bring your dog home, you plan to keep him forever.

But life situations can change dramatically and without warning. Sometimes – sadly – this leads to a situation where you are unable to keep your pet anymore and need to consider rehoming your dog.

Today we’re going to explore when it may be time to rehome a dog, and what your options are if you decide you can no longer keep your dog.

Perfect World vs Reality

But I Promised I’d Keep Him Forever (aka Rehoming Dog Guilt)

Common Reasons for Rehoming a Dog

How to Decide What’s Best for the Dog (and You)

Can You Re-Home an Aggressive Dog?

I Can’t Keep My Dog. What Are My Options?

In Conclusion: Tough Options For a Tough Situation

Perfect World vs Reality

In an ideal world, all dogs would land in the perfect homes the first time around.

They would spend their whole lives, from 8-week old puppies to 15-year-old grey muzzles, with their beloved family.

I sincerely hope that continued improvements in behavior support, pre-adoption counseling, education, and support from various nonprofits will bring us closer to that reality.

That said, there are situations where it’s actually best for both the dog and the family to rehome the dog.

  • How do you decide if you’re in that situation?
  • How do you figure out what the next best step is for your dog?

I don’t have all the answers for you, and ultimately this is often an intensely personal decision. But after years of working as an animal behavior consultant in rescues and shelters, I have a good understanding of when rehoming a dog should be a consideration.

Rehoming a Dog: When It's Time & How to Responsibly Rehome (1)

But I Promised I’d Keep Him Forever (aka Rehoming Dog Guilt)

If you’re reading this article because you’re seriously considering giving up your dog, please accept my sympathy.

This is an incredibly difficult situation to be, and I’m really sorry.

I hope that your friends and family can support you through this and will understand that this isn’t a decision you’re taking lightly.

While I absolutely applaud the push to keep all dogs in their homes, my time as a dog behavior consultant has convinced me that there are times where giving up your dog is not the worst option.

Just as some marriages endin divorce, not all dog-human relationships will survive the test of time.

This is not always a failure on your part.

Many folks end up facing guilt about rehoming their dog, but in some cases it will be best for all parties involved.

(Video) Considering Rehoming Your Dog?

Facing the fact that either your life circumstances and/or your dog’s behavior mean you might need to give him up is an incredibly brave conversation to have with yourself.

Sometimes, keeping your dog in your home is flat-out dangerous for your family. In these cases, it’s important to get your dog out of your home as soon as possible.

Common Reasons for Rehoming a Dog

A 2010 study of 12 shelters around the US found that behavioral issues are the main reason dogs are given up to shelters.

Common stated reasons for giving up a dog include:

  • The dog is aggressive towards other dogs, strangers, or family members.
  • The dog has separation anxiety and the family can’t reasonably treat it.
  • The dog has a different behavior concern, such as fearfulness, housetraining issues, or escape issues.
  • The family is moving or experiencing serious financial difficulties. In my personal experience, this is often paired with dogs that are behaviorally challenging. It’s much harder to find a friend or family member to take your dog when you’re in crisis if your dog is “a bit difficult.”
  • The dog’s energy level is a mismatch for the home, often leading to destruction issues.
  • The dog is too much work for the family given an energy mismatch, unrealistic expectations, or a shift in family schedules.
  • The dog has health issues that the family cannot afford to treat or manage.

The bottom line is that behavior issues are one of the biggest reasons that dogs end up in shelters, even if it’s the secondary factor.

How to Decide What’s Best for the Dog (and You)

There are some ethical considerations to take into account for different behavior problems.

For example, rehoming a dog with separation anxiety might make the anxiety much worse. At the same time, dogs with an energy mismatch for their home often find great homes and do very well there.

My dog Barley was given up due to his owners moving plus an energy mismatch.

He was running his owners ragged with boundless energy. I was looking for a dog that could go backpacking and trail running and compete in various dogsports.

One owner’s mismatch can be another owner’s dream fit!

Rehoming a Dog: When It's Time & How to Responsibly Rehome (2)

So remember, keeping your dog in your home isn’t always what’s best for your dog.

In Barley’s case, he’s much better cared-for and relaxed now that he gets adequate exercise for a young border collie. Keeping him in his last home wasn’t doing him any favors.

It’s not an easy thing to realize that your dog might be better off in another home.

Any time that you feel that keeping your dog is unsafe (for you, your pets, your family, or your neighbors), it’s time to really look at your further options.

It could be that you’ve got a big bulldog that loves to jump, making your two-year-old cry.

More seriously, you might have a truly aggressive and dangerous dog in your home.

Rehoming a dog with a history of significant aggression is a liability and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s hazardous for rescue and shelter workers, volunteers, and fosters – let alone the potential next owner.

The best course of action for seriously aggressive dogs might be humane euthanasia. Speak to a professional behavior consultant about your options, as there are sometimes qualified rescues and trainers that can help.

Either way, it’s time to get help from an IAABC-certified dog behavior consultant – not your local obedience trainer.

I put together a short list of questions that I use at the shelter to help owners decide for themselves what’s best for their dogs.

The Five Questions to Ask Yourself About You and Your Dog

When I’m helping a family at the shelter or in my private practice decide if it’s time to rehome their dog, we start with answering a few simple questions.

If you’re struggling with what to do with your dog, join me here:

  1. What would your ideal dog look like?
  2. What does your dog’s ideal home look like?
  3. Where’s the mismatch? Where are you falling short, and where is your dog not measuring up?
  4. What would it take to surmount these issues?
  5. Are you willing and able (emotionally, physically, financially) to work through these issues?

This might be easier to visualize through the lens of a case study.

Let’s look at the case of Barry, a two-year-old husky that I worked with while shadowing Ursa, a veteran dog behavior expert, at Canis Major Dog Training in Denver.

Ursa was called because Barry’s new family, an elderly couple, were having issues with his energy level and escape behaviors.

Let’s go through those five questions for Barry.

The family’s wants:Barry’s family stated that their ideal dog would cuddle with them and stay in their unfenced yard while they barbequed. Their dream dog was relatively low energy and easy to train. The family had owned border collies when they were much younger, and were used to dogs that were very attached to them and easily trained.

They didn’t realize that Barry was a typical husky – a bit aloof, high energy, and not always interested in training. Now well into their seventies, the couple were really struggling to control Barry on walks. They wanted a dog that would do well with minimal exercise.

Barry’s wants: Barry was a high energy and excitable husky. His ideal home probably would involve ayounger family that went for lots of runs or gave him lots of other forms of exercise.

The mismatch: Barry was simply too high energy for this family, especially given their age.

They were frustrated with his desire to roam and run away, a trait very common for huskies. The family was also frustrated at Barry’s relatively slow learning of new commands, particularly regarding house training and not jumping up.

At the same time, the family wasn’t providing Barry with enough exercise or clear direction. This caused Barry to get even more excitable and frustrated, which led to quite the downward spiral!

Steps to success: Barry really needed more exercise, and his family needed a bit of a reality check on the type of dog that they’d brought home.

Barry was not a border collie, bred for off-leash obedience and sensitivity to cues. He was a husky, bred for running and independent thinking. The family would need to work with a trainer (Ursa and me) and potentially get help exercising Barry.

(Video) Should You Rehome Your Dog? I did...

The bottom line: Ultimately, the family decided that Barry wasn’t the right fit for them. This decision came after Barry pulled the wife down twice on a walk.

While Barry did respond well in training, his progress wasn’t fast enough and his family clearly had very little left in their “emotional bank accounts.”

Barry is a great example of a positive rehoming situation because Barry is not a bad dog, nor were his owners bad people. There was a simple, but large, mismatch between the family and the dog.

While one could say that it was ill-advised for a pair of seventy-year-olds to bring home a young husky, we all make mistakes (however, problems like these can be avoided if you do your due diligence before bringing home a new dog).

The fact is, the couple owned Barry, and there were only two options from there:

  1. Keep him and work with him
  2. Return him to the shelter.

Last I heard, Barry was adopted by a young woman who competes in amateur dog sledding. I am quite sure that everyone is happier this way.

If you’re still unsure about whether or not to rehome your dog, I find it helpful to write out a pros/cons list and practice arguing each side.

If I really struggle to make a good case for one option, that’s my answer.

If you’re really stuck, you can also speak to friends, family, or dog behavior professionals for some advice.

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Can You Re-Home an Aggressive Dog?

If your dog is aggressive, the rehoming discussion gets a lot more complicated.

In some cases, keeping your dog in your home might feel impossible. At the same time, it’s hard to find a new home for a dog with a history of aggression. It’s a catch-22.

Many shelters won’t even take dogs with a history of aggression, and trying to rehome dogs with this kind of background is dangerous and could potentially make you liable for any future bite incidents, so be sure to talk with a lawyer when trying to rehome a dog with a bite history.

Rehoming a Dog: When It's Time & How to Responsibly Rehome (4)

When I’m talking to a client whose dog is aggressive, there are additional questions we go through, in addition to the ones listed earlier.

If your dog is aggressive, ask yourself:

Who is my dog aggressive towards?

How can we find a home that keeps him away from that category of people, dogs, or cats?

Dogs that are truly aggressive towards strangers will be very difficult to find new homes for, since any potential adopter is a stranger.

Has my dog caused physical damage to anyone?

Dogs with a bite history are far more challenging to rehome than any other sort of dog. There’s also a question to whether or not it’s responsible to rehome a dog who’s bitten in the past.

How often has my dog displayed aggression?

If the aggression was a one-off encounter, your dog has a better prognosis than a dog who’s displayed aggression multiple times.

Is the aggression predictable, controllable, or understandable?

For example, a dog that exclusively bites if you try to pull her out from the crate during a thunderstorm is far less dangerous than a dog that seems to bite someone “randomly” or “out of nowhere.”

Has the aggression been getting worse?

Obviously, aggression that is worsening is bad news.

Does my dog give warnings before he gets aggressive?

Dogs that don’t give fair warning before biting are far more dangerous than dogs that back away, growl, tuck their tails, or otherwise try to diffuse the situation before biting.

What have I tried so far to help my dog with his aggression?

If you’ve truly exhausted lots of options for your dog, his prognosis is worse than a dog who’s never gotten any training help.

Many times, when I’m helping someone make decisions about their aggressive dog, they’ll say something like “If only Fido could live on a farm in the country with a marathon runner who never has any guests and doesn’t have any dogs and never leaves town and…”

You get the picture.

The reality is, there simply aren’t many farms out there that don’t have other animals, guests, or children.

In cases where your dog’s aggression is significant, it’s time to speak to a veterinary behaviorist or certified behavior consultant.

The most humane option for high-risk aggressive dogs might be euthanasia. I do not say this lightly, but sometimes it’s the only responsible option with dangerous dogs.

Please get personalized help from a professional before going this route, but let’s discuss your options in more detail below.

I Can’t Keep My Dog. What Are My Options?

Bringing your dog to the shelter is not your only option. Let’s look at the most common options for a dog who can’t remain in his home.

I’m going to list your options in the order of preference in general. This ranking is not hard-and-fast. For example, euthanasia might be the only viable option available to seriously aggressive dogs if you are unable to keep the dog in your home.

Option 1: Return Your Dog to the Original Breeder, Shelter, or Rescue

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The vast majority of reputable breeders, shelters, and rescues (adopting entity) have a clause in your contract that states you must return the animal to them in the event you can’t keep your pet.

The original adopting entity of your dog may also have extra information on your dog’s past, helping pair your dog with the right family next time around.

(Video) Rehoming Pets the Responsible Way

This option is best for: dogs that came from a reputable breeder, shelter, or rescue with an adoption contract.

This option isn’t best for: dogs that don’t have a contract to fall back on.

Option 2: Friends and Family

If you adopted or purchased your dog from somewhere without a contract, your next best option is often to find friends or family who can keep your pet.

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You can carefully vet your dog’s next home and might be able to stay in contact.

When I was no longer able to keep my parrot, this is the option I went with. I still get video updates on him almost every week!

Keep in mind that pleading with your friends until they agree to keep your pet isn’t the way to go – if they don’t truly want your dog, your pet is more likely to be bounced around various homes, and that’s no fun for anyone.

Also, consider making use of your community resources!

Often, local trainers and rescues can help you search for the perfect next home for your pet. This option may be a bit slower, but can have amazing outcomes for your pooch.

This option does not include just posting your dog willy-nilly on Craigslist and Facebook groups. Rehoming a dog through Craiglist really is not a good idea or a responsible choice.

You’re far less likely to be able to ensure you’re getting a good home for your pet if you go this route.

There are some real horror stories of pets ending up in cruelty cases after being purchased online – don’t let this happen to your dog.

This option is best for: dogs who are likely to do well in a different home without much effort – either they don’t have behavior issues, or those issues are mild. This option requires finding a good home on your own, which can be a lot of work!

This option isn’t best for: dogs with significant behavioral or physical concerns.

Option 3:Surrender At Shelter and Rescue

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Shelters and rescues get quite a bad rap in some circles, but I can say from personal experience that I’ve never met anyone who cares for animals as much as animal shelter workers.

Before bringing your dog in, do your research on their average length-of-stay, resources available to dogs and adopters, and their live release rate.

During my time working for a shelter, I helped remove animals from overcrowded shelters on both ends of the spectrum.

From extreme no-kill shelters that essentially looked like a hoarding case to dramatically overworked shelters that euthanized nearly 80% of the animals that came through their doors, there are definitely shelters and rescues to avoid.

Despite the mix of shelter types, you should definitely be able to find at least a few reputable shelters or rescues near you to take your dog.

Look for breed-specific rescues, short average stays, high live release rates, and good resources. Be willing to drive to a better shelter, if you’re able.

Personally, I’d rather bring my dog to a shelter that euthanizes animals in extreme cases rather than keeping all animals alive in kennels. That’s why asking about average length-of-stay is so important!

At the same time, I would avoid bringing a dog to a shelter that euthanizes healthy animals due to time or space.

If you’re giving up your pet for physical or behavioral issues, ensure that the rescue or shelter has the resources to help.

Also, make sure that you never let cost stop you from surrendering a pet safely and responsibly. Many shelters don’t charge a fee at all for surrendering pets, and even ones that do will waive any charge if you express that you’re in financial distress.

What Kind of Shelter to Look For

We have an entire guide on how to recognize a reputable animal shelter – you should definitely check it out if you’re considering the shelter rehoming option.

So what does a good shelter look like?

Well, the shelter I worked for in Denver does not euthanize animals for time and space. They adopt or transfer out roughly 90% of all animals that come through their doors. They’ve got a full team of veterinary staff and trainers to help with all sorts of animals.

This option is best for: dogs that don’t have other options. This is also a great option for most dogs if you have a good network of rescues and shelters.

This option isn’t best for: dogs with significant behavior concerns – although some shelters and rescues are able to help with these. Also not great if you don’t have many reputable shelter or rescues nearby.

Editor’s Note

If you can’t find a good shelter or rescue, you may want to consider Rehome — a non-profit rescue organization that allows you to make a profile for your pet and get to know potential adopters. You can learn more about the program in our article about no-cost shelters.

Option 4: Euthanasia

In some cases, especially those of extreme physical or behavioral concerns, euthanasia is the most humane option available to your dog.

While I can’t make this decision for you from a blog post, I can tell you times where this is more common:

(Video) I adopted a rescue dog and it's been tough | Regret? Rehoming him?


It’s very rare for me to discuss euthanasia with clients. When I do, it’s almost always in regards to aggression.

I always recommend my clients speak to a veterinary behaviorist first, just in case I’ve missed something.

Generally, these dogs have bitten multiple people – hard.

They probably have multiple “triggers,” are large, and are difficult to predict or control.

The bottom line is that dogs with significant bite histories or serious histories of aggression are incredibly difficult to re-home.

You may be liable for damage if you fail to disclose the history, and most rescues and shelters won’t adopt out a dog with a significant history of aggression.

Some no-kill rescues may take your dog, but they might be unable to adopt your dog out. This might mean your dog spends years living in a kennel.

That’s a pretty miserable life for a dog. All open-admission shelters will take your dog, but they are likely to euthanize your dog due to its history.

If you do decide to bring your dog into a shelter, ask about his prognosis.

At the Dumb Friends League, we honestly tell people that their dog’s history of aggression was too significant for the dog to be likely to be adopted.

We offer owners the chance to decide to euthanize their animals humanely, rather than having us do it for them after the assessments were complete.

It’s not unusual to feel a lot of guilt associated with euthanizing your dog (even when you know the dog is dangerous), but in some cases, humane euthanasia might be your dog’s only option.

Severe Health Issues

I don’t have any medical training when it comes to pets, but it’s not uncommon for people to come to a shelter hoping that the shelter can fix their dog’s health issues.

They can’t afford get veterinary help for their dog, and that is a tragedy.

However, not all health issues can be fixed, even with all the money in the world. Euthanizing an animal that is suffering is not a bad decision.

Serious Anxiety

Some dogs just can’t seem to cope with the world.

They’re constantly whining, pacing, barking, digging, or whatever else. Many of these dogs can do well with behavioral medications or anxiety treatments, but not all.

If a dog is constantly under extreme emotional duress, euthanasia might be a relief.

Personally, these dogs are the hardest on me emotionally. It’s far easier for me to get behind humane euthanasia when there is a safety risk to others or the dog is in serious physical pain.

However, I’ve met several dogs in my career that did not respond to myriad interventions and the decision was made that euthanasia was the best option.

This option is best for: dogs that are unlikely to do well in another home due to serious, ongoing, or potentially dangerous behavioral or health concerns.

This option isn’t best for: dogs that are behaviorally and physically sound who are likely to find another home.

In Conclusion: Tough Options For a Tough Situation

It’s never easy to decide if it’s time to rehome your dog, but sometimes it’s the best option.

Remember that giving your dog up might actually be what’s best for you and your dog. There are options available to your dog in most cases. If you’re ever really unsure what to do next, speak to a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant for help.

Dog Rehoming FAQ

Is dog rehoming bad?

Rehoming is a difficult decision. If your dog’s behavior is putting you or your family at risk, then rehoming is the responsible choice. You and your dog may have a lifestyle mismatch or you may be no longer able to physically give your dog the care he needs. In these situations, sometimes rehoming is the best option for everyone.

What is the fastest way to rehome a dog?

Discussing your dog’s need for a new home with friends and family members is often the fastest way to rehome a dog. Also consider posting in local community groups or neighborhood Facebook groups. Dogs can spend days, weeks, or months in animal shelters, so these often aren’t the fastest places for rehoming a dog.

Should I visit my dog after rehoming?

It’s generally not recommended to visit a dog after it is rehomed, as interaction with you may confuse the dog. However, you can ask for photos and updates, and after a year or so once the dog is settled into his new home, visits may be an option.

Should I feel guilty for rehoming my dog?

You do not need to feel guilty about rehoming your dog is you have already exhausted all your other options. If you’ve worked with a trainer, discussed issues with your vet, and have sought advice from certified behavior consultants then you’ve really done everything you possible could have.

How do you tackle tough decisions like this? While we can’t help you with your decision in the comments section, we’d love for you to share your thoughts.

(Video) How to Adopt a Rescue Dog?


How do I stop feeling guilty for rehoming my dog? ›

How To Handle Dog Rehoming Guilt
  1. Accept the Situation. ...
  2. Don't Be Too Hard on Yourself. ...
  3. Remind Yourself That You Did What's Best for the Dog. ...
  4. Give Yourself Time. ...
  5. Find a Distraction. ...
  6. Find a Relevant Community. ...
  7. Pour Out Your Feelings in Words. ...
  8. Hold a Send Forth Ceremony.

Are dogs happy when rehomed? ›

How does a dog feel when rehomed? Dogs are naturally inclined to be man's best friend, so their attachment is very strong. Research has even shown that dogs dream about their owners. Being abandoned is hugely traumatic, but dogs learn to love and trust again surprisingly quickly.

How do you say goodbye to a dog when rehoming? ›

4 Tips for Coping With Rehoming Your Dog
  1. Write a letter to the dog you gave away. Take time to say goodbye to your dog. ...
  2. Read the letter my adopted dog Tiffy wrote to her previous owner. ...
  3. Know that your decision has brought happiness to another family. ...
  4. Be gentle with yourself.
4 Aug 2022

Do dogs feel sad when you give them away? ›

It's not unusual for dogs to grieve the loss of a person they've bonded with who is no longer present. While they might not understand the full extent of human absence, dogs do understand the emotional feeling of missing someone who's no longer a part of their daily lives.


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