Returning a Rescue Dog Due to Separation Anxiety

Families have good intentions when they adopt a dog, but sometimes the dog just isn’t a good fit.

I wrote a post about returning a rescue or shelter dog, and the following is a specific example of a family that chose to return a dog due to separation anxiety.

Karen Tong said she adopted a 3-year-old chocolate Lab mix through a local rescue group and named him Sundance. They are pictured together below.

“He was a great dog and well behaved, but when we left the house, he experienced severe separation anxiety and was destructive,” she said.

She tried crating him in a metal crate, but he was able to bend the bars and escape. One day, he escaped and then clawed and chewed his way through the bedroom door.

“There was about $1,000 of damage to our home that night, including having to replace an entire bedroom of berber carpet,” she said.

returning a rescue dog

“Since we both worked full time, we realized that we didn’t have what this dog needed. We couldn’t stay home with him all the time, and we didn’t have, or want, another dog for company.”

Returning a rescue dog

Because of Sundance’s severe separation anxiety, Tong realized they didn’t have the time or resources he needed.

Sundance the rescue chocolate Lab

“We worked on it with him over a week or so, but the destruction became too much,” she said. “Once the crate couldn’t keep him safe, we were concerned about him hurting himself when we were at work.”

She ended up returning Sundance to the rescue so the group could find him a family to better suit his needs.

“We were really heartbroken and felt like total failures,” she said.

Luckily, the group was able to find Sundance a new home with another dog and a stay-at-home mom.

“He has lots of company.”

Finding the right dog

A month or so later, Tong was asked to foster another chocolate Lab through the same rescue group. He was about 6 years old. (And points to this rescue group for encouraging her to consider a different dog!)

After a month or so, she decided to make it official and adopt the dog, who she named Chip (pictured below).

“He’s still with us and is about 14-and-a-half years old now!” she said, adding that Chip was “so worth the wait.”

Advice for others in a similar situation

No matter how you obtain a dog, Tong suggests you try to get as much history about the dog as you can before adopting. She also recommends you try fostering the dog first if possible.

“But also, be realistic,” she said. “If you can’t give the dog what it needs, then it’s not fair to keep it.”

In hindsight, she said she’s glad she gave Sundance back to the rescue so the group could quickly find him the home he needed.

Chip the 14 year old Chocolate Lab

Plus, returning Sundance led her to Chip.

“I’m so glad we ended up adopting a middle-age dog who is now a relaxed, mellow senior lab,” she said. “He is the perfect pet for us.”

Have any of you ever had to return a rescue dog?

Related posts:
Questions to ask before adopting a dog

How to choose a dog from a kill shelter

Returning a foster dog

13 thoughts on “Returning a Rescue Dog Due to Separation Anxiety”

  1. Such a hard decision to make but definitely the right one. Unfortunately severe separation anxiety is not something that’s ever easily changed and it’s very stressful for owner and dog alike. I couldn’t imagine how rough it would be to have to make that decision; even if I knew in my mind it was the right one. I commend those who are able to acknowledge that not all dogs are perfectly suited to every home situation and those that are able to see that in the long run certain dogs would be better suited in another home.

  2. I hate hearing stories about false ”happy endings”(when rescue dogs are are adopted and then returned), but I’m glad this story ended well and he found a permanent home.

    I can’t help but feel that they didn’t give the dog enough time to settle into his new home. Any animal that is put into a new situation takes time to adjust. For one animal it could be a week, for others it could be a few months, but at least everyone got the the outcome they wanted- dogs included.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, good points. Of course every animal does need time to adjust, and I think we sometimes forget how much time they might need. But for me anyway, when a dog is breaking out of a crate and damaging property, that is a little more serious. I think I would’ve had to return the dog as well, unfortunately. I know because I returned a couple of foster dogs for the same reason. It was definitely a difficult choice and a lot of stress.

      1. I have a dog with severe seperation anxiety. I got her at 3 years old and have had her almost 2 years. She has eatten wood on the all the doors doors, around the mailbox. (old growth decorative wood). If she is in the back yard more than a mniute she wil eat the wood, so I have to put an iron crate to keep her safe from destroying my door. She will deficate and urinate and even eat her own and other dog’s excrement. I have thrown out several rugs and furniture coverings and she has made stains from her wastes on the wood floor. She worker her way out of 2 crates, lefft with blood gums and worn down teeth. She has attacked 3 different dog sitters and ran after the mailman. I got anther dog for her and she hates the dog, even though the other dog is so loving and friendly towards her. I am building a new house and am afrid o the destruction. The only thing that works is if I am right by her hip. I have to go through a lot to make sure she is safe if I leave, like to go grocery shopping. My other dog is just fine. I also can’t even get her to go outdoors to go to the bathroom sometimes when it rains, even holding it for days (not related to seperation anxiety, but it’s still some anxiety component involved). I bought this dog from a breeder for $800.00 who told me the dog was trained. I took her to dog training classes and repeated several of the level 1 and level 2 obedience classes, where she would shut down and start to shake. I did get her socialized to the dog park, which took months and to city noises. She is only okay when she is at the foot o my bed and following me around at the hip. As soon as she suspects a change she will start to tremble and pace and panic. It’s so sad. I don’t like crating her just to go to the store. I don’t have to do that with my other dog. My other dog is in rally obedience training. with the anxious dog, I have zero expectations, becuase it’s too stressful for her because she is so sensitive. I feel incredibly sad to return this dog. I alo feel incredibly guilty. The point is, they don’t get better when they are this severe. The only option woudl be to give antidepresants and mild sedative. I don’t want to do that. I have given her plenty of time to adjust. I’m the one that has to adjust. I know that she needs to be joined at the hip, so I give her that – but it’s unrealistic 24/7/365.

      2. Lindsay, great article! Reminds me of my own separation anxiety pet and inspired me to write about him on my own blog (I’ll link to yours.)

        Thanks so much.


  3. Mom’s first dog had severe separation anxiety. She was about 16 mo old, 100 lbs, had a litter of pups and all were dumped off at the Humane Society. She started by taking down the Christmas tree, ate through all kinds of candy, chewed up an LP collection, shredded books, it was a scene I hear. With lots of patience, rewarding and crating, they worked it out. Mom was flying at the time, so every time she got out her luggage and uniform Trine would stress, but it became routine. It often helped too when they left the tv on and lights as if they were all home together. Mom couldn’t bear to bring her back and she never regrets working through it all with Trine.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’m sure that was a very stressful time for your mom, but I know how much she loved Trine. I’m so glad everything worked out in her case.

  4. Great story!
    Dealing with separation anxiety is very stressful and expensive. “Just crate train her”/ “give her more time to adjust”/ “get another dog for company” doesn’t work with true separation anxiety.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I suppose those suggestions do work for some people, depending on the situation and the severity of the separation anxiety. But like you said, people are often given those kinds of responses as though it’s that easy. The “just get another dog” suggestion is what scares me the most! The dogs I’ve had with separation anxiety could care less that Ace was there. They wanted to be by ME or at least another person.

  5. This post reminds me of a stray I took in that had severe separation anxiety. I tried leaving her crated & uncrated. Either way she yelped & howled the entire time I was gone. I only left her twice for a couple hours but that was enough time to alert my landlord that I had 3 dogs & he was ready to evict me. Unfortunately that made me really have to speed up the process of finding her a new home but at least I was able to make sure her adopter would be informed about her issues & able to accommodate her needs. The funny think was that she was very comfortable being left alone in the car so I ended up bringing her with me every time I went out. 🙂

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      So glad you ended up finding the dog a home, but that is a perfect example. I’m sure that was stressful! In so many living situations you just can’t have a dog barking nonstop every day! That is always a concern of mine when I foster dogs because I’ve always rented apartments and townhomes. Can’t exactly have a dog barking all day.

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