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.

giving my dog away“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.

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

rehoming a dog

Our dog Georgie, who we adopted after giving Jazz away.

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, 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:

I welcome your thoughts on how to decide if you should give your dog away. I know it’s not an easy decision to make, and I wish you all the best as you decide what to do.

Article Name
How to Decide if You Should Give Your Dog Away
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.

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

  1. Dear Jennifer,

    It sounds like you know you have to give your dog away, because you can’t risk the possibility that she could hurt your kids, you, or even a stranger.

    It’s a very difficult decision, but you need to do what’s right for you and your family. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you decide what steps to take. May your dog find the right home, and may you and your family be at peace with how it unfolds.


  2. Laurie,
    Thank you so much for your article. It helps to know that others are struggling with the same choices that I am.
    About 9 months ago, we rescued a Great Dane (8 months old at the time). There was the expected period of her learning our rules and her place in our family (me, my fiancé, my parents, and 2 kids). We enrolled her in training shortly after we got her, and things seemed to be headed in the right direction.
    Then last spring, we took a family trip and boarded her at a dog sitter’s house. We got a report that she was acting aggressive towards the sitter, and it seemed that a months worth of training had been undone.
    Then this summer, she injured her foot (a claw came broke off in her kennel). She has shown more aggression, even after it’s been healed… towards any new dogs at the dog park… towards strangers at the door… towards any dog she might meet on a walk… she has started snapping at me and has snarled and bared teeth at my 5 year old son. This is not an every day occurrence. She seems to have good days and bad days. If it wasn’t for the boys, I would continue to work with her. But she is a large dog, and I can’t have her endangering my kids.
    I love her and I feel as if I have failed her. But I have realized how much stress this situation has put on me, and I am sure that she feels my stress to some extent too, and I know that can’t be helping.

  3. Dear Tiffany,

    My heart breaks for you – giving your dog away is a terrible decision to have to make, and even though you know it’s the best thing for both you and your dog…it’s still heart breaking. I still feel the pain and grief of giving our dog Jazz away, and it’s been three years. :-(

    But, you have to keep reminding yourself that you did the right thing. Heidi will settle into her new home with a new owner, and she will adapt! A year ago, we adopted a second dog. Dogs are so awesome, they live in the moment and are happy to be part of any family, any home. Our second dog Tiffany is so HERE with us, even though she spent three years of her life with another family. She isn’t sad or hurt…she’s just a dog who has happily adjusted to her new home.

    Heidi will be the same way. Someone will adopt her and love her – and they’ll be grateful that you decided to give your dog away because they love her so much! I’m grateful Tiffany’s owner gave her away, because she is the light of my life.

    My prayer for you is that you forgive yourself. I pray you’re able to work through your grief and pain in a healthy way, and that you know deep in your heart and soul that giving Heidi away was the best thing you could do for her. May you find peace and freedom in this decision, and move forward with a positive sense of closure. May you heal, and know Heidi is happy in her new life. Amen.


  4. Thank you for this article. We had to send out 1 year old Rottweiler puppy back to the breeder 2 days ago. After 2 in-home trainers, a board and train session, and many vet consultations, we were unable to teach Heidi not to lunge and attempt to bite to protect us. After much discussion with the trainers, who never witnessed this behavior from Heidi, it was determined that we were not the right family for her. We would feel awful if she bit someone and had to be put to sleep. Rottweilers are rarely given second chances. She loved us very much but was so confused in our presence. We felt we had no choice but the find her a new home. The breeder is now working with her and says Heidi now understands that she is a dog, not a child. She will do great in another home, with people who are able to see her as a dog. I have been sobbing since we took her back, but my love for Heidi forced me to do what is right for her, even ir it breaks my heart.

  5. 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.

  6. 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,

  7. 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

  8. 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,

  9. 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,

  10. Dear Naira,

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

  11. 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 :(

  12. 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?

  13. 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.

  14. 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! :-)


  15. 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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