This guest blog is written by Mary Angilly, a force-free certified dog trainer and behavior consultant based out of Boulder County Colorado, specializing in fear, reactivity, and aggression. When she isn't training, you can find her out on the trails, skiing, climbing, or hiking with her two adopted senior dogs, Buster and Banchan.
While this essay is focused on canines, it’s imperative to take into account the many other companion animals we share our lives with. Each of these beings has intrinsic value and equal efforts should be made to ensure good welfare and wellbeing for these individuals.
This essay was written in an effort to further expand upon my recent collaboration with Marc Bekoff in Psychology Today, “There’s No Room for Tough Love with Dogs”.
While welcoming a dog into your home should mean forever, there are indeed scenarios in which rehoming is the best option for both human(s) and dog(s).
As mentioned in my essay with Marc, for any reader who is considering this with their own dog, I encourage you to do some serious introspection and ask yourself these questions:
Is your current situation sustainable for a period of time? Is everyone (your dog and other pets and family members) currently safe?
What do you like about your dog?
I sometimes hear clients respond to this with “nothing” or “not much.” This is a telling question and can shed light on the bond between human and dog.
What were you looking for when you decided to get a dog?
What is your current dog like and what is their ideal home?
What would it take to bridge this gap?
Are you (financially, emotionally, and physically) able to work on this?
Unfortunately, there is no panacea for knowing exactly when it’s time, and a myriad of factors and nuances must be considered, so I always recommend discussing your personal situation with a professional in the field. If your local humane society, rescue, veterinarian, or area dog trainer/behavior consultant is reputable and knowledgeable, consider reaching out to them to aid you in your decision-making process.
You might also evaluate whether there are options to help you keep your dog in your home. As mentioned in my essay with Marc, many humane societies can directly provide safety net and financial assistance (for your dog’s food, veterinary care, etc.), access to resources to address behavior issues, temporary housing, and much more.
If you do decide to rehome your dog, how should you go about doing this?
First consider where you got your dog from. Many reputable rescues, shelters, and breeders will take their dogs back in the event you cannot keep them. This should be in the adoption contract or paperwork you signed at the time of getting your dog.
Rehoming directly to family members or friends who are able and willing to care for your dog is generally the next best option. This will keep your dog from entering the shelter or rescue system, which will likely be less stressful and may even allow you to keep in touch with whomever you rehome your dog to.
Another option is to rehome your dog to a shelter or rescue. You’ll have to do your due diligence to find trustworthy and responsible organizations. Here are some things to look for if choosing the shelter or rescue route:
What is the average length of stay for a dog at the organizations you’re considering?
Are there nearby breed-specific rescues that may be able to assist?
What is the live release rate at the organization(s) you’re considering?
Can you safely keep your dog in your home until they find their next home?
It’s important to recognize that many shelter and rescue organizations are inundated right now and summer months tend to be particularly busy. Kennel-style settings (at shelters or rescues), while a necessary “evil,” can be extremely stressful for even the most resilient, confident dog. Though the staff and volunteers at so many of these organizations care deeply about animal welfare, the fact of the matter is that dogs going into these situations are not in a home (unless they go to a foster-based rescue). If everyone is safe and it’s at all possible to take the extra time and effort to keep your dog in your home until they can go directly to their next home (if you have a good option), that is most certainly the ideal situation.
Some rescue and shelter organizations are willing to offer “courtesy posts” on their own websites, meaning the dog stays in their current home, but an organization puts a post about the dog on their website, which allows for more eyes on the dog, if you will, and therefore, more potential appropriate matches.
Lastly, in some scenarios, humane euthanasia is the most compassionate option available to your dog. Generally these cases involve severe physical, medical, or behavioral concerns. For these scenarios, it’s essential to cover all information with a professional, such as a veterinary behaviorist, who will have both medical and behavioral knowledge. (Note: For anyone who has lost a pet due to euthanasia for behavioral reasons, the Losing Lulu Facebook Group is a wonderful resource.)
What if your dog is reactive or aggressive?
If your dog is reactive, or aggressive, it can make rehoming a lot more complex. Certain factors should be more closely scrutinized, such as:
What is the dog triggered by?
How frequent and severe the are the behaviors?
Is the behavior is getting worse, and what has been tried so far to help the dog with these issues?
This is not all inclusive and I strongly recommend that you set up a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist and/or certified professional dog trainer/behavior consultant to discuss the nuances of your individual situation before deciding how to move forward.
Choosing to welcome a dog into your home is a big decision and should be treated as such, and it’s imperative that we increase our dog fluency to better make these decisions on behalf of and with our companion animals.