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Returning a Rescue or Shelter Dog

Adopting a dog is a wonderful experience, but sometimes you might end up with the wrong dog.

And then what? Do you just work it out?

Do you find the rescue dog a new home yourself? Or do you return the dog to the shelter or rescue group?

In 2020, I chose to return a dog I wanted to adopt, and my heart goes out to anyone faced with this difficult decision. You can read about my experience here.

You are not alone.

It’s so hard to return a rescue dog but sometimes it’s the right choice

Returning a rescue or shelter dog

We don’t always hear about the stories of people returning their shelter dogs because these dog lovers might feel guilty or they are criticized by the shelter workers or even by friends and neighbors and family members.

But dogs get returned fairly often, and sometimes this is for the best.

If you return a dog, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a dog. It doesn’t mean the dog is a bad dog. He’s just not the right dog for you.

I’ve returned several foster dogs

In 2020, I returned a dog I had planned to adopt. I have also returned several foster dogs due to their issues with separation anxiety.

Two of them could break out of their kennels. One chewed up part of my door. Another chewed up a door knob. Others barked nonstop when left alone. OK, they pretty much screamed!

I just can’t handle that. I can’t.

Does this make me a bad dog owner? Does it mean I shouldn’t foster dogs?


It means I’m not able to accommodate a dog with separation anxiety at this time.

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Reasons people return their shelter or rescue dogs:

Returning a shelter dog

The following are just some of the reasons people decide to return their shelter or rescue dogs. These are not based off stats or studies. These are my observations and experiences.

1. Behavior issues with their rescue dog

Sometimes the reason a shelter dog needs to be returned is due to aggression. The dog is aggressive to other pets in the home or to strangers or the dog is aggressive over food.

Other behavior issues that could cause someone to return a rescue dog could be:

  • the dog cries/barks when alone
  • the dog damages property when alone
  • the dog has endless energy and runs/plays/cries all the time
  • or maybe the dog is so fearful, he can’t function in a home

Sure, these are issues you can work through but for others it’s not.

2. Health issues with the adopted dog

The dog has a medical condition the adopter wasn’t fully aware of when she got the dog and the cost or time management is beyond her limits.

Examples could be severe anxiety, diabetes, allergies, a skin condition, an ACL injury, hip dysplasia, a heart condition or cancer.

‘You should be committed to the dog no matter what’

Unfortunately, some people will say once you adopt a dog, you should be committed to that dog no matter what. And maybe that’s how some of us really are, but that’s not always responsible.

Sometimes being committed to a dog means admitting when you are not the right home for that dog.

It is not right to keep a dog that could potentially harm or kill one of your other pets.

It is not healthy to constantly worry the dog might bite your child.

It is not reasonable to keep a dog if the medicine she needs is more than you can realistically afford longterm.

Or maybe you realized your baby is actually allergic to dogs, and you didn’t know that prior to adopting a dog.

The scenarios are endless, and it’s nobody’s business to judge.

You know your situation better than anyone, and I’m sorry that some rescue and shelter volunteers are not as compassionate to people as they are to animals.

Anyone who makes the decision to go out and adopt a dog, often literally saving that dog’s life, obviously loves dogs very much.

No matter how much research you do or how many questions you ask, it is not always possible to accurately predict how a dog will act in your home.

When the shelter dog isn’t right – options to consider

Returning a shelter or rescue dog

1. Hire a good trainer and do your best to work through behavioral problems.

This may or may not be the solution for your situation, but there are some really great trainers out there who can help dog owners through a lot of issues.

Not all dog training issues can be “fixed,” however, even with the best trainer. Sometimes you have to make a decision – can I MANAGE this dog’s behavior long term?

2. Return the rescue dog to the rescue group or shelter.

This is much easier if you adopted from a rescue group or a no-kill shelter. Most of these groups have a 2 or 3 week adoption “trial” period anyway because they know it takes some time to make sure the dog is the right fit.

Most adoption organizations will take a dog back, but you may or may not get your adoption fee back. Sometimes it helps if you can agree to foster the dog temporarily while the group finds her another home.

What if you got the dog from a kill shelter?

If you adopted the dog from a shelter that kills dogs for “space” you’re probably dreading the possibility of returning the dog.

You could look into the no-kill shelters and rescues in your region to see if they can take the dog, but they are often “full.”

It helps if you can volunteer to give the group a reasonable donation to take the dog (like $200 or so) and to foster the dog temporarily.

3. Finding the rescue dog a home yourself.

This might be your best option if you got the dog form a kill shelter or from someone off of Craigslist who won’t take the dog back.

For networking, I would get some awesome pictures of the dog around kids, with other pets, with toys, out on walks and having fun. Then, network the dog with your own family and friends and through social media.

Beyond that, I would use Craigslist (read why Craigslist is a good place for re-homing dogs),post on Facebook and Facebook groups and see if you can list the dog as a “courtesy listing” on shelter and rescue sites.

That’s how I found my dog Ace! He was a “courtesy listing” with a local rescue. Meaning, he was still with his original family but they asked the rescue if it would post him on their site.

Returning a dog to the breeder

Not all adopted dogs come from rescues and shelters.

Sometimes people will adopt an adult dog through a breeder. This is what I did in 2020 when I adopted an adult weimaraner through the same breeder I got my dog Remy through.

We had sweet Raven for only a few days when I realized she was not going to work out with my family.

Raven was determined to catch and kill my cat. Not chase him and harass him, but kill him. So I chose to return her to the breeder.

Any responsible breeder will gladly take one of their dogs or puppies back at any time.

So I was thankful our situation worked out just fine. The breeder actually decided to keep Raven in her breeding program after all. So Raven is living a good life on a beautiful, large property with her original family and other dogs.

Don’t beat yourself up too much if you must return your shelter dog.

Sometimes dogs don’t work out and it’s no one’s fault. Even if you did make a few mistakes such as rushing your decision or not asking enough questions, forgive yourself.

We all make those kinds of mistakes at times. You’re still a great dog owner.

There are literally millions of dogs in need of homes. If you want to adopt a dog, there is definitely a dog for you out there.

She’d be perfect for you, and you would be perfect for her.

Have any of you had to return a dog to a rescue, shelter or previous home?

I would love to hear your stories, if you’re willing to share.

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Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training, dog exercise and feeding a healthy raw diet.

Charles Cole

Wednesday 5th of June 2024

I’m 71 years old I adopted Aries when he was 6 weeks old and weighed 8 pounds. Now he is 5 months old and weighs 40 pounds. I live in an apartment in which he tore up carpet while I went to pharmacy to pick up my prescription for diabetes. He is to aggressive barking loudly biting and scratching me I will never heal from the abuse. I’m truly scared of him and I need to someone to take him away from me. Please please help me.


Tuesday 13th of February 2024

I adopted a 1 yr old mixed breed dog 2 weeks ago and he has shown such terror at meeting new people. He has become comfortable with me and my other dog and thats wonderful but when I have a feriend or family come over he hides under hta table and his pupils are so dilated he is in total fear. No one has hurt him here at all and we are not pushing him but as I luckily have a close family and many friends who come over often I am afraid this isn't a good fit for him. Do I try longer before taking him back? I have him totally housebroke now as he came not at all trained so he will be a good fit for a single owner in a quiet home. But I have never given up on a dog before and feel guilty. I was thinking of trying for 2-3 more weeks and see if this improves but thank you for letting me know it is OK if this isn't the right home for him.


Tuesday 2nd of January 2024

My hubby and I adopted 2 6y/o GSD siblings. They are amazing, sweet, intelligent, cuddly, playful, almost perfect. Sadly they dislike our resident cat. We were going to work on this. However, I started breaking out in hives every time I am around them. It goes away after I am gone and comes back after I touch them or the things they have laid on. I have tested positive for dog allergies.

We decided we have to bring them back to the rescue we adopted them from. I feel so guilty and horrible but it is the best thing for my health.

Reading stories of others has helped me realize I'm not a horrible human for making this decision. Thank you for sharing your stories.


Sunday 3rd of December 2023

I just helped the adoption I got my dog through find her a new home. I adopted her in June of 2022. The majority of the time I had her I struggled for multiple reasons. I live in a condo so I had to take her out on a leash 3-4X a day which I knew I’d have to do in advance and thought I was capable of but it really wore on me. I also go into an office three days a week which required me to leave her home alone for 9.5 hours at a time each of those days. Lastly, I struggled with how highly aroused and energetic she would get when I attempted to have company over or when I brought her into new environments. It was stressful and not something I could handle or deal with. I know this was a training issue but I just didn’t have the capacity or skill to help her get better or to a place that was more consisted of more acceptable behavior or behavior that I was comfortable with. It was to the point where I dreaded having to take care of the responsibilities that came with being a dog owner. To add to all of this I didn’t have anyone to help me as all of my family lives far away and I have no friends so I didn’t have anyone that could watch her or come over on my office days and take her for a walk. So I knew deep down I wasn’t happy and that she wasn’t living her best life. I felt horrible about this decision and still do as I feel like I failed her and gave up on the one source of companionship that I’ve had in my life but I knew something needed to be done. By working with the adoption agency I got her through we were able to find a family 2 hours away that got their first dog through the same adoption agency in 2020 that wanted a second dog. They have a yard and two kids. So I think what was my dog is going to a much better home and will live a much happier life. But it’s still something I’ll struggle with as I now feel extremely alone and like this is just another reason I’m not relatable to most people.

Mike L

Monday 27th of November 2023

I appreciate this post and all the comments so much. For the past 6 months I have been researching and preparing to adopt a dog (when the right fit presented itself). I finally found a match, a lovely little 1 year old lurcher with a sad background of neglect. She had been diagnosed as having Giardia which delayed taking her home for a few weeks. Finally I collected her last Sunday but I was not prepared for my reaction. Almost the moment I got her home I realized I had made a massive mistake. She cried constantly, defecated and urinated everywhere regardless of the 4+ walks she was getting a day, destroyed her metal crate to the point where the bars were bitten off and the shape of the crate warped and bent from her repeated attacks on it. She wasn't even afraid of her crate, she happily went in and out and slept in it and I fed her her meals and treats inside as well as all of her toys being stored there to ensure she associated it with good things. She just didn't ant to be out of my sight, ever. I went to the store one afternoon for 30 minutes as I needed supplies and when i returned, I could hear her howling from the street. I was filled with dread as i entered my house and saw the carnage in her crate. It was saturated in pee and the bars had been completely destroyed. I also had to spend every night on the couch as she refused to sleep unless I was with in sight. After a week of all of the above and feeling so low, exhausted and defeated, I decided to return her. I lost my £300 donation but I was so relieved that she would be going back. I donated all the food and toys I'd purchased to the shelter and never looked back. That was 3 days ago now. It's really made me appreciate how difficult owning a shelter dog can be and that I was nowhere near as ready as I thought I was.