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How to Keep Puppies or Dogs From Being Sent Back to the Shelter

Updated on January 16, 2013

Choose your rescue dog wisely!

How to reduce return rates at shelters
How to reduce return rates at shelters | Source

Why are Puppies and Dogs Returned to Shelters?

It is certainly a well-known fact that shelters and rescue groups have their hands full with unwanted puppies and dogs. Many campaigns soliciting public awareness have been started so to educate people about the problem, and hopefully, entice them to visit shelters. What is very unfortunate though is the fact that not all dogs adopted have a happy ending. Indeed, not many people other than shelter employees are aware of the fact that some puppies and dogs are returned shortly after being adopted. These return rates can be pretty significant if they are all summed up together nation-wide. But what causes people do abruptly change their mind? Following are some common reasons:

  • The dog did not get along with other pets in the household
  • The dog did not get along well with kids
  • The dog was not house-trained
  • The dog was too hyperactive/boisterous for the owner's taste
  • The dog did not listen
  • The dog acted aggressively
  • The dog caused allergies
  • The dog was not a good "fit"
  • The dog was not well- trained

While several of these issues may appear like reasonable return issues, some could have ultimately been prevented if only dog owners did a little more research or took a bit of time in allowing the dog to acclimate to the home.The secret to prevent return rates is therefore to carefully make an objective decision before heading to the shelter. It is very easy to go to the shelter and fall in love with a dog sadly pleading you to take him home, without taking other factors into consideration.

Considerations Before Adopting a Shelter Dog

Opening your heart and home to a shelter dog is a noble act of compassion and it is important to understand what the first days with your dog may entail. Keeping your expectations too high may lead to frustration. Remember: the dog you are getting has likely had a rough start in life and you should expect a few challenges. Just because a dog was surrendered by the owner due to allergies does not mean the owner was totally honest. Many times there is more than just causing a few sniffles to the previous owner. Following are some important considerations:

  • Enthusiastic Behaviors are Normal

A dog in a shelter has very likely been closed up in a kennel for quite a long time; this time-frame general varies from one shelter to another depending on their policies. Some over-crowded shelters give dogs a very brief opportunity for adoption, while others may allow more time. Most likely, however, the dog has been closed up for days or weeks with little or no opportunity to exercise. It is totally normal, therefore, for a shelter dog to be a bit on the hyper side and enthusiastic, especially during the first days of being adopted. Think of it as a person being released from prison and then being taken to Disney World the very first day: very likely he or she will be extremely stimulated by all the enticing sights and sounds!

  • Some Stress Is Expected

As much as being adopted is great news for a dog, going to a new home may also be scary. New people, new sounds and new smells can be intimidating at first. Some dogs may get stressed and react aggressively to other animals in their new home. These dogs at times just need some time to adjust. It is best not to overwhelm the dog the very first days and limit its area to a small room. A nice walk before entering the home the very first time may help the dog calm down.

The other pets of the family can wait to be introduced; allow your new dog to get used to the your other pet's smell (give a blanket used by your other dog ) and then try to introduce them on neutral grounds a few days later. If you own other dogs, taking them along for a walk with the new dog may be a good introduction. Let the dogs initially interact outdoors and not in small areas in the home, most dogs like to have their own personal space especially when crammed up in new homes.

  • Expect Some HouseTraining

A dog in the shelter is often not house trained simply because the dog was possibly kept outdoors. The shelter environment also does not help, as dogs are forced to go potty in their runs whenever the need arises. Some house trained dogs in shelters may do miserably the very first days, because they try to keep it for as long as they can. I remember a Great Dane once who had been keeping his pee for a day and a half. I took him out and that was the longest stream of urine I have ever seen! Fortunately, he was adopted the next day so he luckily never had to get used to potty in the run. It is a good idea to learn as much about house -training a dog before adopting from a shelter; the right techniques and cleaning products may help the dog a great deal. Here is a great house training program for new puppy owners.

Secret Strategies for Potty Training Your Dog

  • Invest in Some Training

It is important to allow your new dog or puppy some time to adjust to your home before training and asking some commands. When I foster dogs, I allow them several days to "detox" and act calmer before starting to train. If your dog was never trained, this may be very new to him and he may not even understand what you are asking him to do. Reward-based training methods are ideal to lure these dogs into following directions. If you have the time, obedience training with a positive reinforcement trainer can help tremendously in creating a great foundation and bond.

How to Choose Wisely

It does not hurt to involve a dog trainer when the big day comes. He or she may help you find a close to perfect match. Keep in mind, though, that a subdued attitude at the shelter may be just temporary; once home, after a few days, your dog may act much more confident than expected. Some dogs look timid at the shelter because they are noises-sensitive and all the dogs barking can cause stress. Following are some recommendation to help you make an informed choice:

  • Ask if your shelter temperament tests the dogs upon arrival.
  • Check if the shelter has a good reputation.
  • Enter the shelter with an open mind; don't let the cuteness factor exclusively affect you!
  • Ask to meet the dog that interests you in another room away from the kennels
  • Ask if the dog has been tested for resource guarding using 'Assess a Hand"
  • Ask to take a dog your are interested in out on the leash (note: pulling is normal for a shelter dog)
  • Ask if the dog in question is good with kids/other dog/cats/other pets etc
  • If shedding is an issue, ask how much this dog may shed
  • Do your home work on the breed!

Choosing a dog in a shelter takes a lot of research and understanding. Many dogs have some level of "baggage" which are issues you may have to work through. If you are looking for a perfectly trained dog you may be at the wrong place. However, the experience of adopting a dog, training it and giving it a chance at life can be remarkably rewarding. This is why people that start adopting from shelters do so again and again. Make it happen if you can, and most likely you will have a treasured companion for many years to come!

Disclaimer: Choosing your new dog requires lots of time and research for making an informed decision. If your new dog is exhibiting behavioral problems, consult with a reputable professional for expert advice. By reading this article you are accepting such disclaimer.

Read my recent story of a dog owner thinking about relinquishing her newly rescued Maltese a few weeks after adoption because of an unexpected behavior: "How to Stop a Dog From Nipping at Ankles and Pant Legs" The owner luckily decided to seek help and invest her time and energy on attempting to fix the problem. Hopefully, it will have a happy ending!

Where did you get your dog from?

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    • Clucy profile image

      Kristin Tamke 

      6 years ago from Frederick, MD

      thank you for this article. I hear all the time about people adopting then returning in a short period of time. Not giving the dog or anyone a chance to bond.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      Jkenny I feel for those dogs all dressed up especially when they do not like it;)

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      Flora Breen Robinson Thanks for sharing. I did list problem number 1 and have seen many dogs returned for not getting along with other pets. Too bad, some people rush dogs through this process that requires time at times. I own cats too and truthfully, they are much more work than my dogs because they pretty much do as they please;) I am in process of training them to sit for their meals with the dogs so they do not get in the way, have you seen my hub on training a cat to sit with dogs? they are starting to get good at it!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      Chatkat Thank you, I think a big part of the problem is not realizing that owning a dog takes a lot of work, but true dog lovers understand and reap the rewards of dog ownership every day.

    • jacqui2011 profile image


      6 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      This is a fantastic and very useful hub which everyone considering having a dog from a shelter should read. Thank you for raising awareness. I couldn't answer your poll as I am more of a cat person, but all of my cats have come from animal shelters over the years. Well done - good job. Voted up - useful and interesting.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      6 years ago from Western NC

      This is great! I'll have to refer to this when it comes time for me to get another dog. I have my hands full with a yellow-lab, but I will adopt my next dog from the shelter. Great hub.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Excellent advice. I suppose many people adopt pets not thinking about all the potential complications, and considering these things is the most important way to prevent retrenchment!

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 

      6 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Great article alexadry, very useful information for any prospective dog owner. I agree with Flora, there are too many people who see Dogs as toys, which they like to dress up like dolls. They forget that they are dealing with a living and intelligent creature. Voted up etc.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      6 years ago

      In my opinion, there are two main reasons:

      a) People who are likely to adopt probably have other pets already and those pets won't accept anyone else.

      b) The people doing the adopting are the wrong people to adopt the animals. Raising pets is a lot of work and animals have their own personality. Pets are not toys. I say pets, because this is a problem with cats too. Because cats are more independent than dogs, some people think cats can take care of themselves. Not quite.

    • Chatkath profile image


      6 years ago from California

      Great information alexadry! Anything to assist folks with selecting wisely is a huge step in the right direction! Some day I hope that all animals will have loving forever homes. Thanks for sharing!


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