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When we bring a dog into our family, most of us imagine that we will have that dog for the rest of the dog’s life. While this is the ideal, it isn’t always the reality. If your life circumstances change and you’re no longer able to care for your dog, there are ethical ways to find a new home for them.

What Is Ethical Rehoming?

Ethical rehoming means recognizing that sometimes even though you might love your dog very much, you aren’t going to be the right home for them. It doesn’t mean quitting on a dog because they are a lot of work, but rather recognizing when you are not able to provide the life that dog needs and then working to ensure they are able to get that life. This is about putting your dog first — and, if you can’t meet their physical and emotional needs — finding a home that can. Just like dogs shouldn’t be purchased or rescued on impulse, it’s important to approach rehoming with the same thought and care.

Ask For Help

If you are considering rehoming your dog, it’s important to first consider whether there are ways that could make keeping them a possibility. For example, many local humane societies and local communities have pet food banks or reduced-cost veterinary care. If you have fallen on hard financial times and need support meeting your dog’s basic needs, see if there are options in your local community that can support you with getting what you and your dog need. It can be hard to ask for help, but these programs are designed to assist people with finding the support they need in order to keep their dogs.

Put the Dog’s Needs First

Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way of giving your dog the life that you planned. When I was a teenager, I became homeless and I made the life-altering decision that I needed to rehome my dogs because I didn’t have a stable place to live. I didn’t know what that would be like for my dogs and I wanted them to have a stable life—and they did. Although the decision was devastating for me, what got me through those moments was knowing that my dogs were going to be safe and have a good life. For me, this is the same benchmark that people should be considering before rehoming a dog. Ethical rehoming doesn’t mean just getting rid of a dog because they are a lot of work or inconvenient. It’s about recognizing that, even though rehoming might be heartbreaking for you, it’s what is best for your dog.

French Bulldog sitting on the couch home alone.
©LinedPhotography -

Prioritize Safety

Having a dog is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is our responsibility as their owners to not only keep our dogs safe, but also keep others safe from our dogs. In some cases, no amount of training can help a dog cope with a living situation that is too stressful. Sometimes there are things as owners we can do to change our home and lifestyle to suit our dogs and other times we can’t.

Recently, after several biting incidents at the White House, President Biden and Dr. Biden made the difficult decision to move their young rescued German Shepherd Dog, Major, to live with friends in Delaware. The decision to move Major out of the White House was made at the recommendation of trainers and veterinarians after it was determined the environment was too stressful for him. Most dogs aren’t going to have to deal with the stresses and pressures of living in the White House, but similar personality and comfort mismatches between dogs and their owners’ lifestyles can occur anywhere. Shy or anxious dogs may struggle to live safely and comfortably in a family that entertains frequently or has young children running and playing. In this case, if a bite has occurred, or if the dog is uncomfortable and giving signs that a bite could happen, it might be most ethical to consider rehoming the dog to a quieter home.

When There Is Conflict Between Pets

Another reason you may need to consider rehoming your dog is if there are ongoing conflicts between dogs or other animals in the home. In this case, it’s a good idea to work with a dog trainer who utilizes positive reinforcement approaches. But if the conflict continues, the safest option for everyone may be to discuss rehoming one of the dogs to ensure the safety of your other pets.

A couple of years ago, I brought home a foster dog that I planned to rescue, but within two weeks it was clear that she did not do well living with other animals. This created an unsafe situation for my other dog and cats. While I could have kept her contained in an area of the house away from my other animals, that didn’t feel ethical for her, my other pets, or myself. In returning her to the shelter, we were able to provide the rescue team with information about why she needed to not be in a home with other pets. Not all dogs are able to live with other dogs and cats safely. In that case, the most humane option is to make sure those dogs are in a home where they can thrive as an only dog.

Be Honest

When looking to rehome your dog, it’s very important to be fully transparent about their needs, health, and behavioral history. This will make sure that there aren’t going to be big surprises later for the new owners, and hopefully will ensure that your dog doesn’t need to be rehomed again.

Be sure new homes or rescue groups know everything you know about how your dog responds to different situations like crating, interactions with other dogs, cats, and other animals, etc. If you are rehoming a dog who has bitten a person or other animal, it’s important to be fully transparent about the dog’s bite history. Depending on the situation and severity of the bite, rescue groups may not be able to rehome the dog ethically or legally. In those cases, sometimes the only option is to talk with a veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist about behavioral euthanasia.

Happy couple enjoying time with their dog.
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Contractual Obligations

If you purchased your dog from a reputable breeder, or if you acquired them from a rescue, it’s likely you had to sign a contract that requires you to contact them before rehoming your dog. One of the benefits of purchasing a dog from a responsible breeder is that they have the best interest of their dogs at heart and will prioritize and care for those dogs for the rest of their life. If your life circumstances have changed, or you are struggling with your dog and think that rehoming might be the best option, the first step should be to contact your dog’s breeder or the rescue group where you got them. Explain what is going on and ask how your breeder can support you and your dog, including what the options are for them taking your dog back. Responsible breeders will be proactive and their priority is making sure the dogs they breed have the best life possible.

Get Support

If you are faced with the difficult reality of needing to rehome your dog, try to take as much time as you can to make sure your dog goes somewhere that will be able to meet their needs. If you don’t have a breeder who will take your dog back, contact local breed clubs in your area, or access rescue resources through your national breed club. These volunteers are experienced with your breed and may be able to step in and support you with rehoming your dog. They may be able to place your dog in a foster home or support you with vetting potential homes. If you are placing your dog in a new home, be sure to do a home check, charge an adoption fee, and check references for the new family to ensure the home will be a good fit for your dog.

Plan For the Unexpected

Even if you never intend to need to rehome your dog, be sure to make plans for them in case you are seriously injured or incapacitated. Talk with family and friends to determine if anyone in your life would be able to adopt your dog in the event you were no longer able to care for them. When you are creating a will, be sure to include your dog and specify where you want them to go in the event of your passing. In this case, you can work with an attorney in your local area to set up a legal trust to financially provide for your pet if you are not around to do so. Setting up a trust for your dog can give you peace of mind that, in the event something happens to you, they will be ethically rehomed and financially cared for.

The decision to ethically rehome a dog shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it also shouldn’t be condemned or criticized by other dog lovers. Regardless of whether your living situation has changed, or you’ve realized that your home isn’t an appropriate place for your dog, the priority should be to make sure they get to the right home where their needs can be met.

Related article: When to Consider Behavioral Euthanasia
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