It’s exciting bringing a new dog home, especially if you’ve rescued one. We have all kinds of dreams and ideas of what it will be like when we get home, how the dog is going to be with the people in our lives, with other dogs, in the home.
Often times, especially in the beginning, the reality is very different from our hopes.
Patience and compassion towards your adopted dog – and a good behaviorist – can often turn a difficult rehoming into the joyful experience most of us hope to have with our four-legged family members.
Doing your homework and making sure you get the right dog for your circumstances goes a long way too. If you do need to rehome your dog, make sure to do so responsibly by taking them back to their original rescue center or to a no-kill shelter. Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your dog once they’ve been returned.
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I adopted a dog and now I regret it
You’ve made the decision to adopt a dog and you’ve brought them home. Your previous experiences with dogs will, to some degree, shape your expectations from the new dog as will any information you’ve received from the adopting rescue center/agency and your general knowledge of dog breeds.
I’ve always had Labradors and Spaniels so I know those breeds well.
Eight years ago I decided to adopt guide dogs when they retired so blind people who weren’t able to keep their dogs would know that their faithful companions would have good homes to see out their last years.
They’re great dogs – well trained, well socialized with people and other dogs, non-destructive, easy to travel with, still playful and generally a joy to have in our lives.
I also wanted to volunteer as a fosterer for a couple of rescues near me, which is how our elder dog came into our lives. Beaten, emaciated and afraid of everything, the idea was that I would rehabilitate him and the rescue would then find him a new home.
Well, that’s not exactly how it worked out. He came, he saw, he conquered (our hearts) and he never left. Being a Saluki, he was very different from any other dog I’d ever had.
Sensitive, high maintenance, independent-minded with zero recall and traumatized, he was a challenge. He chewed everything. He dug tunnels in our garden. He was afraid of some dogs and overly boisterous with others.
He ate sticks and stones for six months because it took him that long to believe he would always have food available. He was terrified of brooms, vacuum cleaners, small spaces, hallways, and all men.
At least he toileted outside, and once he’d warmed up to us he was (and still is) incredibly loving. He’s funny, naughty, and intelligent. He gets me out of the house, and he lifts my spirits when they need lifting.
Related read: Why Won’t My Dog Make Eye Contact with Me?
That’s now. For the first three months, I woke up every morning wondering what on earth I’d done taking on this dog that was so wildly different from any other dog I’d ever met or known.
Even so, I didn’t feel like I could give up on him. He’d been rehomed for a week and brought back and he was utterly bewildered, so I felt like I owed him my very best efforts.
Before you adopt
There are a few things you can do before you decide to take a dog to maximize the chances of a successful adoption.
Be honest with yourself
Look at your lifestyle and be honest about what you can and can’t accommodate. I work from home, so having dogs with separation anxiety is no problem for me. If you’re all working/at school all day, that won’t work.
Another example: everybody loves Collies. They’re beautiful, intelligent, biddable and make great family pets. But they’re notorious for needing a ton of exercise and mental stimulation and for being sensitive dogs. If you can’t cope with that, don’t get a collie or a collie-cross.
Most Greyhounds make great pets for people who want a dog that only needs a couple of shorter walks a day.
(PS – all dogs need walks, however large or small they are. It’s just a question of how much they need.)
Older dogs also make great pets and generally need less exercising than their younger compatriots. Plus they’re incredibly grateful to find loving homes and will repay your love a thousand times over.
Do your research
Have a large, boisterous family? Don’t get a delicate dog that can’t cope with that.
Don’t have a lot of desire to train a dog? Don’t get a puppy, get an adult dog who’s already been part of a family. Also, don’t get a breed that’s more “independent”.
Live in an apartment building with a lot of neighbors? Want a perfectly-obedient dog? Hate dogs that shed? Don’t get husky-types that like to sing the song of their people, will never be perfectly trained, and shed like demons.
Do you like running or hiking? Get a dog that enjoys that kind of thing.
If you’ve gone to a reputable rescue, they should be able to tell you quite a lot about the specific dog’s character and needs.
Don’t be shy to ask as many questions as you need until you’re comfortable that you have a reasonable chance of being a good match. Be honest with the rescue about what you can and can’t accommodate in a dog – it’s not an indictment of your character – we’re all different.
Visit your potential new family member more than once if you need to. Take it for walks. We drove two hours each way, six times over a four-week period before we brought our younger dog home. We walked him for hours. I wanted to be sure that he would be ok with us and with our older dog.
I’m not suggesting you need to go that far, but be sure that you take the dog out a least once before you decide to bring it home.
I adopted a dog and it’s not working out
Here are some things I should have known but had to learn from our elder boy, from months and months of research, from dog trainers, and from an online forum that saved my sanity:
Time to settle
All dogs need time to settle in when they get to a new home, even the most well-adjusted, well-loved ones. We often have unreasonable expectations that they’ll sail into our homes and be fine immediately.
The rescue we got our younger boy from suggested that we start by keeping him quiet at home for the first two weeks and giving him only short walks around the block. This was great advice, especially since we had a garden for him to toilet in.
Dogs are very sensory-oriented and they can be easily overwhelmed by newness. Our youngest, adopted at 15 months old, was no different, although he was a much better-adjusted, more confident dog than the elder.
It can get a little overwhelming for them
All the smells, sights and sounds will be different, as will the rules of the house. Even their food is likely to be different and they need time to adjust. Please don’t invite every single friend and family member around to meet Fido the first day he gets home.
Give him time to familiarise himself with his new surroundings and to start the bonding process with you.
Related read: How Do I Know if My Dog Has Bonded with Me?
I’ve seen people take their new dog from the rescue center to a pub. If that’s not setting the poor thing up for failure, I don’t know what is.
Here’s an interesting post from behaviorist Patricia B McConnell on three ways to confuse a new dog.
Online forums can be a real lifeline.
I’m a member of a group for people who have rescued Salukis and Saluki crosses. We’ve had so many people join the group shell-shocked by their new dogs. They’ve had their questions answered and been given as much support as they’ve needed to help their dogs (and themselves) settle.
Ninety-nine percent of them have gone on to have long and happy relationships with their new family members. Sometimes it’s enough to know that it’s not just you out there batting the issues you’re facing.
Give the dog a chance
Do you remember being the new person at work, at school, at the gym, etc.? Do remember how unsure and awkward you felt? For me, that feeling has always taken weeks to pass, until I reach a point where I’m comfortable with the new people and the new routine.
You may adjust faster than I do, but there’s still an adjustment period until you’re part of the “in” people.
It’s the same with dogs.
If your dog came from a rescue center, remember that they will have spent time in an environment that’s chaotic even in the very best centers. Dogs barking all around, enclosed in a cell block, limited time outdoors, with no extended human contact. After a while, even the most robust dog starts to despair.
In the same way that we need time to heal from traumas, so do dogs. And I can tell you from personal experience that even the most traumatized dogs heal, at least to some degree. Ours has become a loving, well-adjusted, still slightly naughty joy of a dog who’s still learning to trust men he hasn’t met before.
Here’s Patricia McConnell again on why rescue regrets are almost always temporary.
Work with a behaviorist
It’s always worth engaging a behaviorist when you first bring the dog home to make sure they have the best possible transition.
Even if you haven’t already done that, it’s never too late. Someone who uses positive training techniques will be able to help you address any unwanted behaviors if you’re willing to put in the work.
Not connecting with a new dog
Bonding takes time. In the same way that you don’t become instant best friends with other humans, dogs need time to bond with their new two- and four-legged family members.
Our elder boy took six months to start leaving behind his awful past and to start really bonding with us. Of course, I was part of the problem too! I was struggling with this tornado of a dog that had hit our home, and the more stressed I was, the more stressed he was.
Related read: How to Keep a Dog from Escaping the Yard
When I finally recognized it, got myself in hand and calmed down, there was a noticeable improvement in his behavior. Dogs feed off of our energy and if we’re stressed, angry or unhappy they pick up on it and act out in the only ways they can – chewing, barking, hiding.
Can you return a dog you adopted?
Any reputable rescue will offer:
- Information about the breed before you adopt the dog
- Guidance on how to help your dog settle in for the first couple of weeks
- The assistance of an in-house behaviorist/dog specialist
- A take-back policy which requires that you return the dog to the rescue rather than passing them on to someone else
You can return an adopted dog, but please think very carefully before you do that, and give the dog a fair chance to settle in first before you make any decisions. I know of too many people who have brought dogs back after a week or two, adding to the dogs’ general trauma.
Reasons to return an adopted dog
There are a few situations where returning an adopted dog may be the right thing to do.
You might be facing a serious illness and you don’t think you’ll be able to care for your beloved dog. There are charitable organizations that are able to help through that period, with dog walking, taking them to the vet, organizing the delivery of their food, etc. If you don’t think you’ll ever recover enough to care for your dog, then rehoming is an option.
You might have been patient, worked with behaviorists and trainers, and done all the right things, but you still can’t cope.
Whatever the reason you feel you need to send a dog back, please, please go to a no-kill rescue/shelter with processes in place to ensure your dog finds the right home.
Please don’t ever just dump it on the streets, in a field, out of a car window, tied to a tree in a forest, in a ditch, chained to a fence or thrown over a rescue center’s eight-foot-high wall (yes, all of these happen).
Nobody will judge you for taking your dog to a good rescue and it’s the least you owe them.
Here are less good reasons to return your dog, all drawn from true experiences rescue centres around the world have had:
- My dog is old
- My dog is sick – there are plenty of charities who can help fund treatment for sick dogs
- I want to go on vacation and I don’t have a sitter
- Now my dog’s not a puppy anymore, they’re not so cute
- I’m having a baby – dogs and babies are rarely incompatible
Depression after getting a rescue puppy
Underneath all the cuteness, puppies are darn hard work. They don’t know any of the rules, they pee in the house, they chew everything, they teethe with their needle-sharp teeth, they annoy the elderly cat, they scratch your furniture, hide your keys, and yap in excitement.
It’s as exhausting as having a young human baby. And in the same way parents of new human babies feel overwhelmed, parents of puppies can too, especially if they’re not prepared for what’s coming.
Related read: 6 Dog Breeds That Can Be Left Alone During the Day
Rescue puppies can have additional problems above that. They can come with trauma from previous experiences that you need to help them get over. They may take longer to settle with you and your family.
Here are some things you can do:
- Share your experiences with other people in similar situations. The old adage that misery loves company is very true.
- Get a behaviorist to teach you how to work with your puppy. If you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, things don’t seem so bad.
- Put someone else on puppy duty for a day or a week while you regain your composure. If your family is anything like mine, all dog-caring duties fall on one person (me). Sometimes you just need a break.
How to deal with guilt over returning a dog
So you’ve made the decision to rehome your dog and now you’re wracked with grief and guilt. Here are a few things might help.
- Know that dogs do eventually adapt and that if you rehome them responsibly, they will find another home that’s a good fit for them
- Write a letter for your dog’s new family sharing special memories and information. Give the rescue their favorite toys and ask that they be rehomed with their toys
- Take time to grieve like you would with any other loss
Sometimes what we expect and fantasize about doesn’t match the reality of bringing an adopted dog home. They need time to adjust, you need time to adjust and sometimes it can be weeks or months before you’re settled and bonded.
It may be that you need to rehome your dog for perfectly legitimate reasons, and if so, know that they will adapt and that you will need some time to get over the grief and guilt of their loss.