Dog Rehoming: When Is It the Right Decision?

There are a number of sad but legitimate reasons for giving a dog up. If it must be done, protect everyone involved by taking these steps.


Ask any animal shelter or rescue group, and they will tell you that people surrender their dogs for a myriad of reasons. More common ones include: Moving, can’t keep; landlord won’t allow; not enough time; and can’t afford.

Although those are the reasons commonly given, the underlying cause far more often in those cases is that something interfered with the development of the all-important bond between dog and human that ensures the dog a lifelong, loving home. Every day, thousands of dog lovers move and take their dogs with them, find a new place to live where dogs are allowed, rearrange busy schedules to make time for their dogs, and reprioritize budgets to cover their dog-care expenses.

Animal protection and rescue workers often become cynical about and unsympathetic toward those who give up their dogs. Many of us who love our dogs find it difficult to imagine any legitimate reason for rehoming a dog. While it’s true that many dogs are given up for seemingly frivolous reasons, there are times when it is the right thing to do, including the following.

What are valid reasons for rehoming a dog?

1. Two (or more) dogs in the family are seriously fighting.

Although it’s not uncommon for two dogs in a family to have occasional squabbles, there are also times when knock-down-drag-out battles – or even rough play – can put one or more canine family members at risk of serious injury or even death (not to mention the risk of injury to the humans who have to intervene in the dog fights). This can be especially life-threatening when a size differential almost guarantees that a smaller dog will be injured – or killed – by a larger dog who plays too roughly or has mayhem in mind. Plus there is the risk of predatory drift, where the larger dog sees a significantly smaller playmate dash across the yard and his brain kicks into “Squirrel!” mode. He perceives his smaller canine companion as “prey” instead of “playmate,” and tragedy strikes.

dogs fighting in the house
Many of us who love our dogs find it difficult to imagine any legitimate reason for rehoming a dog, but there are times when it is the right thing to do © Martina Osmy

Whether due to size difference or not, conflict and potential injury between canine family members calls for careful management protocols, implementation of a behavior modification program to reduce or remove tension when possible, and if necessary, rehoming of one dog to prevent tragedy. If modification isn’t successful and management isn’t realistic, it is only fair to give both dogs a chance at long and happy lives by rehoming one. (I usually recommend rehoming the easier of the two dogs rather than the more problematic one, because it’s much more difficult to rehome a dog with problematic behavior; you are probably that dog’s best option.)

2. The dog is a danger to someone in the household, or to the community.

This often entails aggressive behavior, but not always. Sometimes an aging dog-lover makes the mistake of replacing her beloved senior dog who recently passed away with a puppy of the same breed, forgetting that she was 15 years younger the last time she had a bouncing adolescent canine underfoot. If the human’s dexterity and balance is beginning to fail her, and/or if she is physically unable to meet the dog’s activity needs, rehoming may be the best option.

While daycare, pet walkers, and sympathetic family members and friends may be able to help with some of the exercise, the dog might still present too great a threat to the owner’s safety. If that’s the case, rehoming is the right choice.

A rowdy dog may also present some physical risk to small children in the home. Good management can often minimize the danger while the child grows and the dog matures and learns his good manners behaviors. Aggression, however, is another matter.

Aggression alone is not necessarily a reason to give up your dog. It is irresponsible parenting and dog-caretaking, however, to keep a dog who shows a willingness to bite kids in a home with children. Dogs who live in homes with small children must adore them, or the child’s safety is at significant risk. Anything less than “adore” means the dog should be rehomed, or at least sent off to stay with relatives until the child is old enough to no longer be at risk, and/or the dog has learned to love children. It’s a lot easier to rehome a dog before he bites a child.

should i rehome my dog?
There are valid reasons for rehoming a dog.

A dog with aggressive behaviors presents a risk to the community if the human is unwilling or unable to take necessary management steps to keep the community (and the dog) safe. While this can be due to a lack of concern on the human’s part, it can also be a result of denial and/or lack of education. When aggressive behaviors have been identified in a dog, it is critically important that the caretakers prevent the dog from having any opportunity to bite, and seek assistance from a qualified positive behavior professional for help in managing and modifying the behavior.

3. An unavoidable change in life circumstances precludes keeping the dog.

Stuff happens. You may have the strongest commitment in the world to your dog, and if life circumstances change and you can truly no longer care for him, then rehoming is the responsible decision. I’m not talking about simple priority choices (“We can’t afford the dog’s ACL surgery because we want to go to Europe this summer”); I’m talking about unavoidable life events such as heart attacks, strokes, foreclosure, moving to a long-term care facility, and other life-shattering occurrences. Sometimes, tragically, you really can’t care for your beloved canine any longer.

4. The dog has a health or behavior problem that is beyond the means of the owner to resolve.

Quality of life is an important consideration for dog and humans. If you really can’t afford the care your dog needs, you either provide it anyway, perhaps at the cost of your own health or diet, or you don’t provide it and your dog suffers. You can choose to make sacrifices in order to provide for your beloved dog, but there may come a legitimate time when the sacrifice is too great, or the challenge too difficult. Some medical procedures now available for dogs cost tens of thousands of dollars. Just because we can try to fix something and prolong life, doesn’t always mean we should. A loving caretaker may be completely willing to work with her difficult dog’s behaviors, but physically unable to do so. In those cases, rehoming a dog or even euthanasia may well be the best choice.

Aggression, severe separation anxiety,  and a variety of canine obsessive-compulsive disorders can be extremely difficult behavior challenges. While these sometimes respond to treatment, often with the help of behavior modification drugs, they don’t always, and quality of life can be greatly damaged for both dog and human.

For more information on how to treat separation anxiety, see “Surviving Severe Separation Anxiety.”

5. Wrong dog for the situation.

Sometimes, humans acquire a dog for a specific purpose – to be a service dog, do narcotics detection, or to fulfill some other working or competition goals. Sometimes the chosen dog turns out to be totally unsuited for the desired purpose, and the human doesn’t have the luxury of keeping the newly acquired dog while seeking another one who is more suited for the training goal. In such cases, it may be absolutely necessary, or at least fully justifiable, to return or rehome a dog in order to allow the person to seek and select a more appropriate candidate.

senior dog and senior man
Sometimes, rehoming a dog may be absolutely necessary, or at least fully justifiable.

Options for rehoming a dog

  1. Return her to the breeder, shelter, or rescue group you acquired her from. Responsible breeders and adoption organizations contractually require this, although some may allow you to rehome to someone you know that they pre-approve.

Caveats: If the place where you got your dog was less than reputable (for example, with overcrowded, poor conditions) you won’t want to return the dog there. If you got her from a pet store or puppy mill (oh dear), returning is not an option.

2.  Place her with a trusted friend or family member. Well-loved, well-behaved, healthy dogs usually have a circle of admirers who would jump at the chance to adopt.

Caveats: Even your best friend or favorite relative may decline to take on a dog with major health or behavior challenges. You must be honest about these challenges.

  1. Advertise for someone to adopt her. People sometimes have success with rehoming dogs by advertising on Craigslist or with fliers posted on the bulletin board at local pet supply stores or veterinary offices. Social media can be a huge help, too; put together some good pictures and complete description of your dog (and the reasons you have to rehome her) and ask your friends to share. You never know, a friend of a friend may have a perfect spot for the dog.

Caveats: Try to allow for plenty of time (weeks or even months) to network in search of a perfect new owner for your dog. It’s not easy to screen potential adopters – you risk placing your dog with someone who won’t provide the kind of loving care you want for her, despite their assurances (this goes triple if she has health or behavior issues). There have been recent Use Caution: There are numerous news stories about dogs placed in new homes free of charge by owners, shelters, and rescue groups, only to have to purported adopters “flip” (sell) the free dogs, or worse

  1. Take her to a good shelter or rescue. There are thousands of excellent dog adoption services around the country. Many provide medical treatment for at least some of the dogs in their care that the person surrendering the dog couldn’t afford. The best have behavior departments or working relationships with qualified professionals to modify difficult behaviors in order to make dogs more likely to succeed in their next, hopefully final, homes. Not everything is fixable, and responsible groups still have to make difficult euthanasia decisions, but your dog might be one they can help.

Caveats: Be sure you research these groups diligently. Visit the facility to see that it’s clean and well run. If you can’t visit, don’t leave your dog there. If they won’t give you straight answers about their willingness to treat medical issues or modify difficult behaviors, don’t leave your dog there. If your dog isn’t adopted, she may suffer in a cage at a “no-kill” shelter for the rest of her life, or worse, in the hands of a hoarder posing as a shelter or rescue. Again, you must be brutally honest about your dog’s health or behavior problems.

  1. Have her euthanized. As painful as this, it may be the kindest thing you can do if your dog has significant health and/or behavior issues. It may not be realistic to ask someone else to care for such a dog, and she could be abused or neglected in the process. Dying peacefully in the arms of someone who loves her is better than dying neglected in someone’s backyard, or after spending weeks, months, or years in the stressful environment of a shelter.

When I have a client considering this option because of difficult canine behaviors, I gently suggest that euthanasia is not an inappropriate choice for a loved dog if the client is unable to do the things necessary to restore her dog to physical health, or to manage and/or modify behaviors. I don’t tell her she should make that choice, but I let her know I’ll support her if she does.

Examples of responsible dog rehomes

Here are some examples from my world, of times when rehoming was necessary, responsible and appropriate. Names are changed to protect the privacy of my clients in all except the first example:

Caretaker health issues

More than a decade ago, my then-45-year-old brother had a series of major strokes from which he would never fully recover. He was placed in a long-term care facility where pets were allowed, but only if the resident could care for them, which my brother was unable to do. When my sisters and I visited Bill, he kept asking for his two well-loved Pomeranians. It broke my heart.

happy pomeranian


I tracked them down – they had been sent to a Pomeranian rescue group – and convinced the rescue (via a significant donation) to let me rehome the dogs with one of the staff at the facility. For many years she brought the dogs with her to work and Bill was able to keep them in his life. Although his dogs are gone now, other staff members continue to visit him with their dogs, knowing how much it means to him.

Wrong dog for the job

A good friend recently purchased an Australian Shepherd puppy from a breeder she thought she had carefully researched. Julie already had two adult dogs with behavioral issues that she had worked long and hard with, one adopted from a “no-kill” facility to save him from spending the rest of his life there. Although she’s been successful enough with her behavior modification work that she is able to compete with her two dogs in agility and rally obedience, she had her heart set on starting with a properly raised and socialized puppy who could grow up to be a really solid dog.

Imagine her dismay when the 10-week-old pup turned out to have significant fear behaviors – far greater than one should expect if he was simply going through a developmental fear period. After much soul-searching, she returned the pup to the breeder. Her decision to do so was sealed when, upon contacting the breeder to let her know of the pup’s behavior, the breeder advised her that she was trying to socialize him “too early.” This is a nonsensical excuse; it’s never too early for appropriate, carefully managed socializing (the critical socialization period is from 3 weeks to 14 weeks), and truly good breeders go to great lengths to provide this early socialization foundation.

Putting others at risk in the home

A client brought her just-adopted adolescent Border Collie-mix to see me because the young dog was acting very fearful of men. Linda had adopted Freddie (names changed) less than a month prior, and he already had seven biting incidents, including one bite that had broken skin. She has two small children in her home, but so far the dog had been relaxed and appropriate with kids. Freddie was a delightful dog with many good attributes, and Linda was committed to keeping him, if at all possible. We worked out a behavior modification program, and this exceptionally knowledgeable client went home, fully committed to working through her dog’s behavioral issues.

A week later during a stressful day in the home, Freddie bit one of the kids – twice. Although neither bite required medical attention, it was clear that he wasn’t safe in a home with children. Despite his bite history, the client was, fortunately, able to place Freddie in a dog-savvy home with no children.

Putting others at risk in society

A young couple adopted a dog a year ago from a “no-kill” group – a dog who, in my opinion, should not have been made available for adoption without first undergoing significant behavior modification. The couple, who were my clients, simply wanted a canine companion they could enjoy and share with friends and family. The Lab/Pit-mix they adopted was so defensively aggressive they were unable to have visitors at their home. If they tried to put him away in a “safe room” so they could enjoy their friends and family, the dog shrieked and became destructive – to his environment if he was left free in the room, and to himself if he was crated. After 10 months of dedicated behavior modification work, including medication for the dog, they sadly decided that neither they nor their dog was enjoying an acceptable quality of life, and chose to have him euthanized.

These rehomers are exceptional

Let me assure you that in my behavior practice these cases are the exception, not the rule. I am fortunate to be blessed with clients who are far above average in the commitment they make to their dogs. Their decisions to rehome are difficult, and invariably made only after much thought, discussion and angst. They are never made lightly by my clients, and never without considerable pain.

Rehoming a dog is a difficult decision

A client sent me an e-mail recently to tell me that she has been unable to implement our agreed-upon behavior modification program due to the full-time responsibility of caring for an elderly parent. Barb* said she is looking to rehome her dog. Bailey*, an otherwise delightful one-year-old Labrador Retriever, has mild-to-moderate dog-reactive behavior and separation distress, as well as the high energy level typical of an adolescent Lab. Barb has been bringing him to Peaceable Paws since puppy class. I was saddened to hear she was giving him up. It’s always sad for a dog, and the humans who know him, when the promise of a lifelong loving home falls through. (*Their names have been changed.)

Any one of these decisions can be irrevocable. Before giving  your dog up, be sure you’ve thought it through carefully and truly exhausted all your options for fulfilling the commitment you made to your dog when you adopted her. You don’t want this to be a decision you regret for the rest of your life – and hers.

I received another e-mail from Barb this morning. A family decision to place the parent in a long-term care facility has given Barb new resources, new energy, and a renewed commitment to work with Bailey. For now, he’s staying in his home. Cross your fingers.


Previous article(Holistic Remedies #2) Holistic Remedies – Using Herbs in the Kitchen
Next article(Aggression #1) Modifying Aggressive Dog Behavior
Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.


  1. Gccf Registered Sphynx Kittens Available

    Fully vaccinated and vet checked red Boy
    Microchipped and fully socialised
    Very affectionate and used to other cats and dogs
    Raised in my family home
    Will come with generous kitten pack and five weeks free insurance… CALL OR TEXT (469) 616 3796

  2. Hi I have a bejon boy 5yrs old he is constantly in pain with his ears I have taken him to the vets umpteen times and he’s ok for a couple of weeks and then goes back to what it was I can’t cope with him as I am 70 this year and have 2more dogs as well but they are well so could you please find him a new home for me he is very placid .

  3. I have a Springer labodar which belonged to my mum but she sadly passed away unexpectedly. I have had him living with me for a week but can no longer have him living here with me as my landlord won’t have no pets but he has given me 2 weeks to find him a home. He is very gentle and loving and I would like him to go to a loving home.

  4. Hi I have a 9 month a husky his names shadow we have just moved into a new house and the owner has just decided to tell us there is a no pets rule he’s a grate dog grate with kids and other dogs he’s gets really excited when he sees other dogs and needs long walks he’s on raw food really gutted to have to do this kids are upset but we have no choice just need him to go to a good home someone who loves walks

  5. I have a dog I got him two years ago and now he’s four but I don’t know if I should keep him because he seems depressed. I’m a college student and I got him when I was in highschool. I feel like I’m too busy to give him what he needs. I don’t have a fenced yard for him to run ( he’s a jack russell) and honestly I may have gotten him on an impulse without doing research. What should I do?

    • I have 4 dogs cane corso Italian mastiffs not able to keep them my landlord says they’re too many abs they can’t stay so I’m forced to rehome them. This is a very difficult time because they are all so lovely well behaved dogs that are all so very special in their own way. I know they all deserve good homes so please If anyone is looking please email me or text me 647-490-9280

    • Why not ask a family member to look after your dog I gave my dog up because I was bizzie all the time had not much time for him now got all the time in the world and miss him so much don’t give him up as you might regret it in time like I have In the future regards Wendy

  6. I have this beautiful pitbull Labrador dog that someone a bandit when they moved out they do not take her with them so I went to head and she was in got her fatter and I’m doing my best to try to find her a good home I already have two dogs and one cat and I live in a one bedroom apartment and there is no way I can keep her I am looking to see if some money if you wants her her name is diamond she’s very young I don’t know what to do with her I don’t want her to get a take her to a shelter and then the kill her I don’t want that I just want to rehome her he has that right she’s a beautiful dog she listens she’s just great .

  7. Juno 2 yr old pit bull, spayed, chipped and up to date in shots needs a new home. Our ex-daughter in law abandoned her with us. We work long hours and have an autistic grandson who visits every weekend. Our grandson is a “runner” and when he gets out so does Juno. Obviously we go for our grandson first but it is dangerous for Juno as well. She is sweet but nervous and does not go to everyone easily. Please help us rehome her rather than put her down. We have tried for a year and it is not working!

  8. Hi thanks for article I’d greatly appreciate some guidance. I had a home with a garden and was forced to downsize. Live in an apartment with a balcony now and there’s a dog toilet out there for the dog she uses it well as long as the door is open 24/7. Otherwise she goes where she pleases. She even pooped under the covers in my bed. She’s 10 month old min pin with no health issues. She has submissive peeing issues and is frightened of other dogs so the dog park is a no go. So is the beach because when she sees the other dogs she runs away and leaves me stranded. She was kicked out of puppy socialization class.

    My partner and I woke up in turn twice a night for four months while we were crate training her and she would still go inside the crate and push it out.

    She elects to soil the floor if it’s too chilly out for her to go outside (I live in Southern Cali/ it’s a hot desert)

    I bought her diapers so I could leave the door closed to have the ac on to dry the floors I just rug doctored and I came home and she had taken it off and both peed on the couch which took me 2 hours to clean and pooped on the floor.

    I made her sleep on balcony last night, don’t worry it’s warm and she has a super nice crate that’s fabric with a cozy bed and a lot of fleece blankets.

    I know this sounds awful but it has been such a nightmare owning this dog due to her behavior when I walk her/ bring her in the car/ stop looking at her for five minutes.

    I feel like I have postpartum depression and I no longer love my dog.

    Hope I don’t offend please be kind I’m trying my best but I screwed up when I got this breed.

    • This happens all the time, to good people, with good intent when bringing a puppy home for the first time. It sounds like your dog is living “frightened” all the time. Bringing it to a shelter, will only make that worse…which means someone else in the future will be faced with the same issues you’re having. Please consider #5 above.

      My daughter rescued a dog at the shelter, the day it was to be euthanized. The dog loved her and she loved the dog. But her dog bit people when he got scared, including her boyfriend, her father multiple times, her grandmother and visitors. When she checked with the shelter, she leared he’d be sent back 3 times…for those same issues…loved the owner, hated everyone else.

      At some point, someone has to take responsibility and break the cycle…do the right thing. IF, someone like you, who was willing to try, is having a hard time making it work, what real hope do you see for it in the future? No one wants to buy a broken dog. That’s just the reality of life. Please consider #5 above.

  9. I have a little dog mixed breed Boston and wiener. We thought the dog would be good for our family but she doesn’t do great being alone and with young kids. She would do great with someone who is at home and can cuddle her.

  10. Our 7 year old border collie doesn’t like other dogs, or our daughter who is four. She growls at my daughter and moves away if my daughter gets too close. Because my daughter has only had this experience, she is not a big animal lover. We thought we would get her a puppy so she would have an animal that really loved her. We brought the puppy home six days ago and they fell in love. Our older dog was grumpy with the puppy but eventually came around and after a few days (yesterday morning) wanted to play with the puppy a little bit. We were sitting on the couch and they were no more than a foot away from us. Suddenly the puppy moved quickly and our older border collie grabbed her by the head and shook her violently, breaking her neck. I have never been so upset in my life. We are absolutely devastated and cannot calm down or find any solace. We only had our beautiful little puppy for five days. I’m utterly heartbroken.

    Now we are wondering if she can be trusted around our daughter. Any help or advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

    • I am so so sorry for your loss and for the anxiety witnessing this must have caused you. I have, unfortunately experienced this years ago, when my husband was in the military and we were stationed overseas. We kept our dog because he was our guard dog AND he instinctively protected our baby (he would sleep by his swing, and when people would try to come near the baby, without getting up, he’d growl…when the people would back away, he’d go back to sleep). But HAD he ever growled AT our baby, I would have put my dog to sleep. Dogs are pack animals…they vie for ranking within the pack. I would never allow any dog, that felt it could outrank and/or growl at a child, access to my children. I know dog lovers out there will argue that I should have found it a home, or parents that could train that out of him…but the bottom line is, if I can’t trust my dog with my loved ones, I surely won’t dump him on an unknowing family. I would bring him to a vet, and while telling him I love him and thank him for the wonderful memories, have him peacefully put to sleep.

  11. I have a 14.5 mini aussie that I adopted last April. I just recently heard the terms fear or pain biter in regards to dogs and I believe my mini has such a thing. When I first got her I could not get too close to her to be affectionate as she would try and nip at me. She was ok if it was on her terms, limited time and no confining her with a hug. I learned to keep my distant and hoped for her to eventually soften to me. Things went ok. I’d had her three months and she was licking herself in a few spots which were getting red and irritated but as soon as I wanted to look at them closely she gave me that warning growl and teeth. She’s not a relaxed sort of dog, I’d say she’s more anxious and nervous. To this day I cannot get close to any part of her body if it is sore. She’s a ball obsessed dog and I found that that is what she lives for, she is happiest when fetching or finding her balls. She recently is showing cognitive decline or that is was what I thought was going on. Her sight is poor her hearing not as sharp and even her smell isn’t what it was. But she was just diagnosed with glaucoma in her left eye and she wouldn’t let me put drops in her eye, I even tried a muzzle but she wriggled and growled so much it was a mute point, I still couldn’t get the drops in. I’m trying food treats but she’s too smart as once she knows I’m tricking her she doesn’t even want the treat. So now the vet is recommending removal of her eye. I’m wondering if both will need to be removed as she doesn’t see much out of her right eye either and I don’t want her to have to go through yet another surgery again later as she is an old dog. I’m concerned about a couple of things. Will the surgery enhance her quality of life? No more chasing balls. More anxious and nervous as she has no sight. Right now she tends to sleep most of the day and when she’s awake she almost always seems confused as she walks around the house. She gets up at least three to four times a night with a sudden jump up and walks out of the bedroom stops then walks back to bed. Sometimes it seems she’s better than other times. Will I be able to care for her after surgery if medication has to be administered? Will she truly be happy to lay around and sleep all day after surgery. Some friends are suggesting I have her euthanized, and I’m torn in both directions. If I knew she’d enjoy life after surgery I’d be all in, but it’s the doubts that keep me on the fence. She truly lived for her balls and throwing, and wasn’t or isn’t too much on dog walks, mainly too because she suffer from arthritis from all that ball fetching I’m sure. I’ve been crying so much this last week feeling sad for her and not knowing what to do and what she’d prefer, though I know if she could go chase that ball right now she would. Any thoughts to try and get me out of this sadness? Her surgery is scheduled for the first week of October and I just don’t know how I can even make it that long!