Did you know that one in five dogs are returned to the rescue centre they came from? That’s a staggering 20% of dogs who find themselves being rehomed more than once. Suzanne Gould, owner of Edinburgh Holistic Dogs has written the following article explaining how to avoid returning your dog to a rescue centre.
Returning a dog after adoption can cause a lot of stress for the animal. All dogs want is a loving home where they feel comfortable and cared for; moving once or twice is distressing enough, let alone three times.
That’s why dog owners should do thorough research and properly prepare before adopting a dog to ensure they’re ready for the commitment. Adopting an animal is a huge decision and shouldn’t be treated like a trial run. A forever home should be just that: a dog’s happy ever after.
Of course, we all know that life doesn’t always go as planned. In some cases, dog owners simply have no choice but to surrender their pet, perhaps because their circumstances have changed and they can no longer care for them.
In most cases, however, abandonment is an outcome that can be prevented. That’s why I’m going to share all my tips and advice to help owners avoid ever needing to return their dog to a rescue centre.
Why are Dogs Returned to Dog Rescue Centres?
The most common reason for returning a dog after adopting is because the new owner is experiencing problems with their dog’s training and behaviour. Typical issues include barking at other dogs, being difficult and not listening to commands, not being able to settle down in their new home, being unmanageable… the list goes on.
When I come to work with rescue dogs, the biggest problem I see is when a dog lacks confidence in their new home and life. This is usually followed by some form of reactive behaviour, such as barking at other dogs, certain people or even at bikes. Problems like these can easily be addressed and prevented from escalating – all it takes is time, patience and putting the right training method in place.
A Dog After Adoption Is Stressed
If you’ve ever moved to a new school or changed jobs, you know that change can be difficult. Heck, when I moved to Edinburgh aged 29, I was so stressed and overwhelmed that I sat crying down the phone to my dad.
Now, imagine you are a rescue dog whose world has been turned upside down and inside out, AND he doesn’t speak your language so can’t tell you how he feels. Most likely, he has moved from a home to a rescue centre, and now he has moved again to your home – that’s a lot of change for any pup to process.
Protecting your dog from unnecessary stress is the challenge you face as a new dog owner. If you want to avoid the heartache of handing your dog back to a dog rescue centre, then you need to prepare yourself for life with your dog. Forgot any thoughts of ‘well he should be happy; I’m giving him a warm and loving home’ – dogs just don’t think like that.
Before Adopting a Dog, Do Your Research
The best way to avoid returning your dog to the rescue centre they came from is by doing your research and doing it properly. You must thoroughly prepare before you even think about introducing a dog into your life.
If you get a dog simply because you have enough time all of a sudden (yes, I’m speaking to the owners of ‘lockdown dogs’) or you’ve just fallen head over heels in love with an adorable photo you saw online, you will be setting yourself up for problems.
Research the dog rescue centre you plan to adopt from. How do they work? Can you speak to past rescuers? My biggest tip here is you SHOULD meet the dog before you 100% commit to adopting him. You too should be vetted within an inch of your life to ensure you are a suitable owner.
If you get a dog from a rescue centre where staff prefer to take money from you upfront, can offer no real formal assessment of the dog which sets out how he behaves around people, children, other dogs and cats, how he handles a home environment, city life and so on, alarm bells should be ringing – even worse if there is no formal assessment of you and your home then sirens should be sounding. Within a few weeks of handing over your money, the dog is passed to you at a service station or dropped at your front door. If this happens, then you WILL be setting yourself up for a stressful time.
Adjust to Life with Your Adopted Dog
In the first days, weeks and months (even the first 24 hours) after you get your dog, the first thing you need to do is nail your new routine. This important period will either set you and your dog up to succeed or it will put you on the path to failure.
This takes love AND a kind, effective training plan that gives your rescue dog the structure he needs to successfully settle into his new home. You should plan to be home as much as possible for the first two weeks so you can support your dog and practice these new routines.
Ensure you have all the dog equipment you need from ID tags and collars to leads (no slip leads or choke chains), poop bags, food, toys and cleaning supplies – yes, expect accidents to begin with. You need to dog-proof your home by organising your dog’s sleeping and eating areas, and finally, by setting rules for your dog, like not sleeping in your bed and so on.
Use Reward-Based Training to Get a Handle on Behaviour
When it comes to teaching your dog how to behave, reward-based training is the method you should use. It doesn’t matter if you seek out professional help or do it yourself, the method MUST be reward-based training. It’s a scientifically proven method of dog training to provide you with long-lasting results and help you avoid having to return your adopted dog.
This type of training rewards your dog for making the right choices, for example, looking at a dog instead of barking at it, sitting when asked to sit or settling down in their bed.
In a dog’s world, what gets rewarded gets repeated, so the more you praise and reward your dog for behaving how you want him to, the chances are that he’ll repeat that good behaviour.
The biggest tip I have to help you avoid returning your dog to the rescue centre is this: time and patience are key.
Some dogs adapt to change quickly, but for others, it can take many months before they fully settle into their new home. Only go at the pace your dog sets, and if you have your own expectations about when your dog should be ready, you can forget them.
Adopting a dog and bringing it into your life is rarely straightforward, but it’s hugely rewarding and can be one of the best things you do in life. Just go into it with eyes wide open, your expectations left at the door and as much positivity as you can muster.
Most dog rescue centres struggle to cope with the huge number of dogs being surrendered in the UK, and that’s why DoggyLottery are trying to spread awareness about the issues surrounding dog abandonment.
To help support the wonderful work of dog rescue centres, why not take a chance in the fun DoggyLottery game. For just £1.50 per week, you could have a chance of winning one of twenty cash prizes, whilst also contributing to the charity fund that is divided between five different worthy dog rescue centres every four weeks.
Suzanne owns Edinburgh Holistic Dogs, a dog walking and training service set up in 2017. The business aims to provide calm confidence for rescue, nervous and reactive dogs.
Suzanne specialises in training for rescued dogs inspired by her personal history of adopting her Old English Sheepdogs. Suzanne also noticed there is an increasing number of adopted dogs whose owners are struggling as their dogs are considered reactive, don’t listen or are scared of people. This has earned her the name of The Rescue Dog Ranger™.
Suzanne shows owners how they can transform their lives with their dogs. The training she provides isn’t your typical obedience style – instead, she focuses on confidence building, strengthening communication and how to handle stressful situations.
Suzanne is known for her relaxed and friendly approach when working with dogs and their owners. She always shares her own experiences with her dogs, both the good and the embarrassing!
In 2020, Suzanne wrote her first book, The Rescue Dog Rangers Road Map – How to transform your rescue dog into a calm confident canine, which is available via Amazon.
We have rehomed 4 Border Collies over the last 20years. They have not always been easy but very rewarding. One point that we would like to make is about splitting a pair. Our first rescue was of two border collies who had been together in their previous home. The older dog was a female who had been joined by a male a little time later. They weren’t related, but the bitch was the boss and the male depended totally on her. It would have been criminal to split them. We tried to treat them as individuals and the dog became quite a character. The female developed cancer and died aged 8. The male took it well and developed his personality and lived to 13 despite a very serious case of peritonitis when aged 12. Our next dog had come over from Ireland with no history, although his paw was shaved suggesting that he had probably been given an anaesthetic. Clearly he was permanently in pain which made his behaviour unpredictable. As result he returned to the rescue centre, but unfortunately had to be put to sleep. Our current dog came to us aged 1 having lived with his litter sister. The pair were split and immediately rehomed. This was not a good move. He is now nearly 12 but has not been easy. He clearly missed his sister. We have persevered and he is superb specimen, but our experience clearly shows that a pair should not be split without very careful consideration.
Sorry for the late reply. For some reason this didn’t show up in notifications. Thank you very much for sharing your story! That’s really valuable input and something definitely to consider and evaluate properly when dealing with multiple dogs. Maybe we can discuss this topic in one of our future blogs. Have a lovely weekend!