Nov 052010

If you’re thinking about giving your dog away, here are several things to consider. Surrendering a dog is painful, but could be the right decision for you and your family.

We sadly gave our dog away yesterday; it was the right decision for us, but we’ve been crying ever since. The following tips will help you decide if you need to give your dog away.

But first, here’s something to consider: “There are things that we don’t want to happen but have to accept, things we don’t want to know but have to learn, and people [and dogs] we can’t live without but have to let go.” ~ Unknown.

And that’s exactly how I feel: I can’t live without my dog, but I had to let her go. One of my regrets about giving my dog away is not learning more about dogs from books such as Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.

The more you understand your dog, the better equipped you’ll be to make the seemingly impossible decision of whether you should give her away.

giving dog away

This is our dog Georgie – we rescued her a few months after we gave our first dog away.

I recently wrote How to Cope After Rehoming a Dog. I recently adopted a second dog (Tiffy), and the person who gave her away is having trouble coping with the loss. My article about rehoming a dog is actually a letter written by Tiffy to her previous owner. This is a chance for you to see what’s it like to move to a new home, from a dog’s perspective!

Should You Give Your Dog Away?

Here are my tips, based on our recent experience with adopting and surrendering a dog.

Separate emotion from the reasons you need to give your dog away

We adopted Jazz, a 75-pound one-year old black lab German Shepherd “puppy” from the West Vancouver SPCA just over a month ago. We fell in love with her almost immediately, which is why we couldn’t stop crying when we surrendered her back to the SPCA yesterday.

However, as heartbroken and guilty as we feel, we couldn’t ignore the practical reasons that compelled us to give our dog away. We are not the best family for this dog.

If you’re trying to decide if you should give your dog away, try to separate your love from what’s best for everyone…including your dog.

Make a list of pros and cons for keeping versus giving your dog away

When you make your list of reasons for keeping or not keeping your dog, assign each reason a number. For instance, one of the reasons we gave our dog away (a “con”) is that she is the size of a small pony and has the energy of seven dogs combined. Our house and yard isn’t big enough for her – and neither are our energy levels! So, this con rates a 10 on a scale of 1-10 (10 being “very important reason” and 1 being “hardly important at all”).

When you finish making your list, add up the numbers. If the cons for keeping her outweigh the pros, then maybe you should give your dog away.

Listen to your heart and head – not other people’s opinions

My husband and I were your typical confused dog owners! We didn’t know if we should keep trying to train and bond with our dog, or if we should just give her away after one month. Everyone we talked to had a different opinion: some said to give the dog away because it’s not worth the time and hassle to train her, while others said it just takes time (up to two years!) for her to mature and learn how to be obedient and part of our “pack.”

Ultimately, though, we had to make our own decision, regardless of what other dog owners or obedience trainers said.

Do what’s best for you and your family

I’m a full-time writer and blogger; you’d think I’d be the perfect owner for a big energetic dog who needs lots of time and attention! But, she was so restless and needy, I couldn’t do my job properly. Having this young black lab around all day was emotionally draining; I was constantly worried that she might need to pee, that she was bored, that she was lonely without her SPCA dog friends.

Additionally, it was physically exhausting and time consuming to take her on four walks a day, which the dog obedience trainer recommended. As painful as it was to give our dog away, it really was the best decision for us.

Find ways to cope with guilt after finding a new home for your dog

Both my husband and I feel terrible that we took Jazz back…but it helps to know that we did the best we could. Our dog will be better off in a different home with a family who can give her what she needs. We’re struggling with seriously guilty feelings after giving our dog away – and the sooner we find ways to cope with our pain, the better off we’ll be. One way to cope is to talk about it with people who understand, and to write about it.

UPDATE: we adopted a different dog (Georgie, pictured above) six months after giving Jazz away, and can’t imagine life without her! We always wanted a dog, but didn’t find the right one…until now. I describe how it all happened in Are You Ready to Get Another Dog?

Are you struggling to decide if you should give your dog away? Comments welcome below.

A reader suggested these articles, for people who are struggling with the decision to give a dog away:

Thank you for those links, Karen!

  251 Responses to “How to Decide if You Should Give Your Dog Away”

  1. Here’s some interesting research about the attachment between dogs and owners. This info may not help you decide if you should give your dog away, but it could help you see why you’re struggling with dog ownership.

    This is a press release from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.

    “What does “Fido’s” behavior say about the relationship between you and your dog?”

    For centuries, dogs have been described as man’s best friend. This bond may be linked to the behavior of your precious pooch, according to a March 2013 study by Christy L. Hoffman, PhD, assistant professor of animal behavior at Canisius College.

    The study looked at human-animal attachment among 60 dog-owning families, including parents and children. Participants completed questionnaires that asked about their attachment to their pet dogs, their levels of responsibility for the animals, such as feeding and walking them, and their general attitudes toward pets. Participants were also asked to rate their dogs on behavioral characteristics, including excitability, trainability, stranger fear and aggression, separation problems and attention-seeking behavior.

    The study revealed several findings.

    First, those individuals who had more positive feelings about pets, in general, and who took more responsibility for the care of their dogs, compared to others in their families, had higher attachments to their dogs. Hoffman also found that owners, regardless of gender, age or race, had a greater attachment to their dogs when the animals scored high on trainability and separation-related problems. In other words, if the dog is well-behaved and likes to socialize with humans, then the bond between the dog and its owner is greater.

    Lastly, the study revealed that the more dogs demonstrate attention-seeking behavior with their adult owners, the more attached these owners are likely to be with their dogs. Interestingly, however, this made no difference to the children in the study.

    “Children’s attitudes and levels of attachment toward their pets remained high, even when dogs showed low levels of attention-seeking behavior,” says Hoffman. Adult caregivers may tend to be more selective than children in the types of dogs with which they bond “due to work-related and parental responsibilities that already demand their attention,” explains Hoffman. “Thus, adults may only form emotional attachments with dogs that seek out their attention.”

    Surprisingly, Hoffman’s study did not find any differences between males and females in their associations between dog characteristics and attachment to dogs.

    About the researcher – Christy Hoffman, PhD, is an assistant professor of animal behavior at Canisius College. She collaborated on this research with researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania. Their complete findings were published in the March 2013 Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin.

  2. Dear stop yer whining,

    It sounds like you have all the answers when it comes to giving a dog away! I don’t agree with much of what you’ve said, but I have no desire to argue with you and I’m glad you shared your thoughts. I’m always open to hearing different opinions.

    In peace,

  3. I am sorry I didn’t bother reading the rest of your article after the list of flimsy reasons you provided at the start. People like you make me very angry. Deciding to keep a dog is atleast a two year process and it involves more than looking at dog pictures and videos on youtube and rehoming sites. Not to sound patronising but the first thing I did was visit dog shows, volunteer and take part in dog sitting/borrowing communities. (I live in London, UK is a country of dog lovers) I met as many owners as possible, asking them lots of questions, getting to experience it first hand. By the end of it I knew what temperament of dogs suit my lifestyle, list of free dog walkers / dog sitters, responsible vets, best dog insurance etc. even how much it were to cost if we went on holiday. When I finally found the type of pooch I wanted (temperament, age, insurance cost) I decided to take the responsibility. People like you should be given a more thorough guidance from the rehoming centre. NO ONE GETS A DOG BASED ON REASON THEREFORE SENDIN IT AWAY WITHOUT USING ONE’S EMOTION SEEMS HYPOCRITICAL. Sorry if I am judgemental but you need some tough love

  4. Dear Kayli,

    Thank you for being here; I’m so sorry have to think about giving your dog away. It’s very painful, and I know that many people can be extremely vicious and critical when they hear of people re-homing their dogs. This just adds to the already overwhelming pain.

    The saddest thing is, the pain doesn’t get easier. I still feel so bad about giving our dog Jazz away. It breaks my heart, even though I know it was the best thing for us and her! So…the ugly reality is that it’s probably the right decision, but it still hurts like hell. It’s terrible.

    I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers. I know how it feels, but I believe the best thing in the long run is to trust your gut and do what you think is best. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad — you have to do what you know is right for you, and you have to move forward.

    And, trust that your dog will find the right home. I cling to that! I believe our dog Jazz found a better home than what we could give her.

    In peace and sympathy,

  5. Thank you for this article.

    My husband and I are planning to rehome our Siberian Husky. We have had him for four years and have had behavior issues the entire time which we were able to tolerate at first (we did lots of research on huskies and understood that the quirks of the breed – or so we thought). An event occurred recently in which cemented our decision that we are not the right home for our (very much loved) friend.

    Despite doing an analysis very much like the one you suggest, I am still feeling heartbroken, guilty, sad and defeated that we weren’t able to overcome the issues (even after 4 years!). There are people on the internet that are absolutely vicious when it comes to the subject of re-homing. They clearly do not understand the torment it causes when you’re faced with this decision. It was pleasant to find support and understanding for when you’re trying to make a difficult decision that ultimately is in the best interest of everyone.

    Thank you for providing some direction in the storm of emotion that rehoming a dog can be.

    Take care,

  6. Dear Naira,

    How are you doing? Did your parents make the decision to give your dog away?

  7. I have a cocker spanial dog he is really naughty and he always do bad stuff and my parents want to get rid of it and i just cant handle he is my best friend i just cant let go im crying soo hard :(

  8. Dear Shilene,

    Thank you for being here – I’m so sorry you have to think about giving your dogs away! It’s such a difficult decision, and there are no easy answers. I can’t tell you if you’re doing the right or wrong thing by finding them a new home. It’s a decision only you and your fiance can make, and you need to follow your heart and mind.

    If you do give them away, it will hurt for a long time. You love your dogs, and you’ll grieve your loss. But, you have to remember that whatever you decide, you’re doing for the good of everyone involved. You’re making the best decision you can for the good of your family as a whole — and your family includes your dogs.

    What is the best long-term decision for your family as a whole?

  9. OK so i have a long story here.
    me and my fiance Nate have been living with my mom for 2 1/2 years now. we got these 2 dogs probably about a year 1/2 ago maybe a little longer. plus we also have my dog my mom got me when i was younger so we have 3 dogs in this house right now, the 2 younger ones are a beagle and a pugabull and my older dog is a boxer rottweiler mix (about 11 years old) she has always been a lazy calm dog. the pugabull is full of energy! and the beagle well she barks soo much!
    we first started having issue with the two smaller dogs (chole and juno) and they started fighting with each other so we had to stop leaving them out and now they are either in a room together since all the fighting happened with us around and they eat separate go out side to run around freely in our back yard and to go potty and then they go right back up in the room together. i feel like a horrible person as it is by locking them up in a room and only coming out to go potty so recently we have been looking into apartments so we can move out since we have our first child on the way in two months! we were prepared to work with them and see how it went because 3 dogs fighting i could not handle but we were ready to try 2 dogs in a new apartment, well i recently lost my job so that lowered our income and plus the town we live in only 2 places allow dogs! and one we can no longer afford and another that we would need a co signer for which we don’t have. my fiance Nate was already looking into getting rid of one dog but i keep my hopes up to keep both. but now it looks like we will have to get rid of both because of living situation.
    i would love to stay with my mom until i could get another job after the baby is born but my mom is a smoker which i will not allow my child to be around and my fiance and her do not get along and to add on to it she nags at me all the time stresses me out and we fight a lot so its really not a place i want my baby to be after being born!
    every time i think about getting rid of them i just start crying like crazy! they are my babies, the beagle is the one i am most attached to and i just cant wrap my head around getting rid of them. plus with moving into a smaller place with no back yard to run around in i just feel like they would be even more miserable or would be better off in a home where they would have the space to run around a play in!
    are we doing the wrong thing getting rid of them? i keep trying to get my hopes up that something will work out but reality of it is we only have 2 more months before the baby will be here!
    if we do have to get rid of them i know this will be the hardest thing i will have to do (so far lol) and i just don’t know how to handle it.
    i read the blog how to cope after re-homing a dog and it just made me ball for 5 mins! i just feel like i cant handle this.

  10. Emily,

    Thank you so much for the update! I’m so happy for you and your dogs, and so glad you kept her. The pain of giving a dog up is terrible, and I am super happy for you, that you found a way to make it work.

    Yay! :-)


  11. Hi Laurie,

    I posted back in June and wanted to provide an update. We ended up keeping the second dog. The first month was very difficult and stressful but it got better. We tried looking for a new home for her since I couldn’t bring myself to return her to the humane society. Around the time when I was looking for a new home, she started getting better. Each progressive day she adapted to her new home. She still needs some socialization and training. Our older dog pretty much ignores her except for the times he puts her in her place when she’s hyper. He doesn’t like playing with dogs, but he seems to tolerate her. He doesn’t avoid her like he did when we first got her. So that’s progress. I doubt they’ll ever play since the older one isn’t one to play, but we take the younger dog to the park so she can socialize with other dogs.

    Everyone said it takes time to adjust. At that time I didn’t know if I was ready to wait months for her to adjust. But she actually adjusted really fast. Her separation anxiety has gotten better and I’m very amazed at how well she is doing now. I was afraid it was going to take 6+ months for her to adjust. Through this, I’ve realized how great she is. She’s also a fast learner. We’re really lucky to have her and I’m glad I didn’t give her up. Thanks for all the advice. It was helpful to write it all out.

    Hope things are well with you. :)

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