There is evidence that dogs miss their owners when given away. Some dogs become depressed when separated from their owners and take a long time to recover and adapt to their new homes, while others adjust more easily. Factors such as how close you are, age, breed, and so on affect its severity.
The severity of your dog’s reaction will depend on many factors, including how close you are with your dog, their breed, their age, and whether they have separation anxiety.
Giving up your dog is a difficult decision, and sometimes there really is no choice. In this article I’ll discuss:
- Whether dogs miss their owners when given away
- How to care for a dog that’s been given away to you and is struggling in your home
- Alternatives to giving your dog away
- Ways to make the transition easier when you give up your dog
Dogs Typically Miss their Owners when Given Away
Dogs typically bond to the people in their household. They’re social animals by nature and have been bred for companionship.
If you and your dog are close, there’s no doubt they’ll miss you if you give them away. They may even be traumatized, and that may cause depression or anxiety.
If you’ve adopted a dog and they had a loving home before they came to you, it’s likely they will miss their old owners for at least a little while.
Dogs may even bond to humans who don’t take proper care of them, or abuse them. Like humans, their emotions aren’t always logical.
You also have to keep in mind that dogs are people-pleasers due to years of breeding and domestication. They typically want to please humans, even those who aren’t nice to them.
Of course, if your dog has been abused, they will likely be facing more trauma than abandonment—it might take a lifetime to undo the harm caused and make them feel fully safe.
We’re not Sure how Long Dog’s Memories Last
We don’t actually know for sure how long a dog’s memories last. It’s still being studied, and we’re learning more over time.
While some people will give a definitive answer, I won’t here as the science is still evolving.
For instance, this study on episodic memory is as recent as 2016. It’s an interesting read, but does have a small sample size and doesn’t specify which breed or breeds were tested.
We do know that dogs miss their owners when they’re away from home, and that this can manifest in separation anxiety. Symptoms can occur as you prepare to leave or even after you return home.
We also know that dogs have reacted to reunions with people and animals they used to know years after last seeing them.
Whether a dog will miss a previous owner during this time is unknown and debated. Some people think that dogs will only remember their old owners if there’s something around to remind them of that person, while others believe dog’s memories and emotions may be more complex.
Another theory is that some breeds remember better than others due to their varying levels of intelligence.
It’s difficult to say for sure since they can’t tell us themselves, so we have to rely on body language, behavior, and hopefully some more studies to provide clarity.
Factors that go into Whether Dogs Miss Owners
The below factors all play a part in whether or not dogs miss their old owners.
They Miss People they’ve Bonded to More
If you’ve just adopted your dog and have to give them away after a week, they haven’t bonded with you much yet. This should make the process easier on them.
On the other hand, if you’ve had your dog for ten years, they’re likely to miss you a lot because the two of you are likely very close.
Puppies Adjust Easier
The younger your dog is, the easier it will be for them to adapt to a new home.
If you’ve adopted a two month old pup, they’re going to get used to you and your home very quickly. They’re likely to think less about their old life.
A senior dog being rehomed is likely to have a much harder time. They may miss their old home and owners a lot, at least for a while.
Breed and Personality Play a Role
Dogs who are more independent and adaptable will likely have an easier time transitioning to a new home than dogs who are clingy and anxious.
How your dog ranks on a scale of complete independence to severe separation anxiety, comes down to several factors, including their upbringing, breed, and personality.
Upbringing can determine independence because, to some extent, it’s a learned behavior. Your dog should know how to be alone without being scared, but for some this isn’t the case. They may have had a bad experience or simply lack training.
Breed is another huge factor in how independent dogs are. Pugs are bred to be lap dogs, and thus are very clingy to humans. Breeds that work on farms are incredibly independent and often wander around doing their own thing.
Personality explains what a dog’s breed and upbringing don’t. Some dogs are simply clingier or more independent than others by nature.
All of the above help determine how your dog will react to being rehomed.
Separation Anxiety makes Moving Worse
Dogs with separation anxiety are the most likely to struggle when moved to a new home, because they already have problems being away from their owners.
Sometimes separation anxiety is rooted in abandonment issues, and for this reason giving away your dog might make their condition worse.
Signs a Dog Misses their Previous Owner
The most common things you’ll see in dogs that miss their previous owners are depression, anxiety, and misbehavior.
I’ll dive deeper into all of those below to give you an idea of what to look out for.
Symptoms of depression in dogs include:
- Lack of Appetite
- Refusal to Play
- Excessive Sleeping
- Less Interest in Former Favorite Activities
If a dog displays these symptoms, you should first check with your veterinarian to ensure there isn’t a physical ailment. However, due to the recent change in their life, it’s likely they do have depression.
Symptoms of anxiety in dogs include:
- Excessive Panting or Drooling
- Excessive Whining or Barking
- Destructive Chewing
- Repetitive Behaviors
Before assuming a dog has anxiety, make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out physical health conditions.
Anxiety is typically treated with training and counterconditioning. In this case, the dog needs to get used to their new home and learn that they’re safe and secure. This can be hard for them after being given away by their previous owner.
In severe cases, your veterinarian may recommend medication.
Acting out may be a symptom of depression or anxiety, or it might exist on its own.
Think about how you’d expect a child to act out after an event that upset them, or during a major life change.
Examples of acting out include:
- Excessive barking
- Destructive chewing
- Refusal to obey commands
Any dog with sudden changes in behavior should be seen by a veterinarian to rule out physical illness. If you know this is new for your dog, make an appointment with your vet.
Otherwise, try to be patient with your dog who is acting out.
Teach them the rules through positive reinforcement. Reward them when they’re quiet, not chewing, or when they do obey.
Ignore them when they misbehave, except to do necessary tasks like taking away a chewed-up object for the dog’s safety.
Over time, they’ll learn your rules, settle into their new home, and begin to behave better.
How to Help a Dog who’s been Rehomed to You
It can sometimes be difficult to know how to help a dog who’s been rehomed to you. They often experience a lot of stress during the rehoming process.
Helping a dog to adjust will take time and patience, whether they’re coming from a loving home or an abusive one.
Dogs coming from a loving home will miss their owners, and likely won’t understand why they’ve left. Dogs coming from an abusive home, surprisingly, may feel the same way. Remember that dogs are very loyal!
It’s possible too that a dog from an abusive home won’t miss their old owner, but also won’t trust people. You’ll have to earn their trust and show them that people can be good.
Be Calm when they Arrive
When your pup first arrives home, keep the chaos to a minimum. Greet them calmly and give them space.
Don’t let the whole family crowd around the dog. I know it’s exciting to get a new pet, but this transition may not be as fun for your dog at first. Respect their boundaries.
If you have children or other pets, keep them calm and teach them how to gently interact with the new dog. You can also wait to introduce them until the new dog is settled.
Some people choose to bring home a new dog at night after the children have gone to bed for this reason.
Stay Home if Possible
If possible, stay home for at least a few days after you adopt your new dog. This will allow you to monitor them and ensure they’re doing okay.
It also gives the two of you time to bond with one another, and helps the dog to adjust to your home without the extra stress of being left alone.
Even adopting a dog Friday evening and spending the weekend with them works if you can’t take more time off work than this.
Create a Routine
Establishing a routine is one of the best things you can do when you have a pet. Dogs love routine!
Feed them meals and walk them at the same time every day (if possible) so that they know what’s coming next and what to expect from you.
This also helps to lessen depression, anxiety, and misbehavior.
Set up a Quiet Space
Your dog’s quiet space might be a crate or bed in your room, or another area of the house that doesn’t get much traffic during the day.
This gives your dog a much-needed place to retreat to when they’re feeling afraid, overwhelmed, or just want some time alone.
When your dog goes to this area, don’t disturb them. Show them that you’ll give them space while they’re there.
Make it comfortable for them and adjust it to their preferences. For example, some dogs like to lie on hard surfaces, while others like a lot of cushions.
If you can use some of their old stuff, that’s even better! Just make sure to wash it first, as discussed below.
Keep their Old Things
Keeping your dog’s old things, if possible, is a great way for them to have something familiar around. The old scents can provide them with comfort.
If you’re unsure of your dog’s past, wash the items before putting them in your house. This is because you don’t know whether or not the dog has had fleas.
I once had a cat rehomed to me, and the previous owners gave me his old bed. I kept it for him without knowing it came with fleas!
They’d given him a flea bath, but failed to realize there would be fleas on his bedding as well. And I hadn’t known about the fleas at all!
I ended up having to treat him and my other two cats at the time for fleas and doing lots of cleaning until they were gone. This can happen just as easily with dogs.
Keep their Old Food at First
At least in the beginning, keep feeding your dog whatever the old owner fed them. If you’d like to make a change, you can gradually introduce them to their new food.
Typically, this is done by mixing the new food in increasing percentages throughout a week. Start by feeding 75% old food and 25% new food for a couple of days, then increase from there.
It’s important to make transitions slowly to avoid upsetting your pup’s stomach.
Your new dog is almost bound to have a ton of feelings about being rehomed. Any depression, anxiety, or trauma they have is very real!
Have patience and don’t pressure them to progress on your time. Instead, let them decide when they’re ready to move forward. Give them time to grieve.
It might take anywhere from days to years (in extreme cases) for a dog to fully adapt to a new household and family.
This will depend on how adaptable they are, what their past was like, and what complications arise during the rehoming process.
Renaming is Sometimes Best
Often we hear that it’s best to keep a dog’s name or choose a name similar to theirs to prevent confusion and make their transition easier.
This is often true. However, if your dog has been traumatized, changing their name might be what they need to separate themselves from their past.
Alternatives to Giving your Dog Away
If you don’t want to give your dog away, but don’t know what else to do, below are some alternatives to consider.
Hire a Trainer for Behavioral Problems
If you’re considering giving your dog away due to behavioral problems, first ensure you’re using the right training methods.
Use positive training methods only and have patience as your dog learns.
If you cannot train your dog, try hiring a trainer. This can be someone who works with you and your dog one-on-one, or you might attend an obedience class.
Again, some trainers do use outdated methods. I’ve had an experience where a trainer outright promoted abuse in an obedience class!
It’s important to do your research. Avoid trainers who talk about dominating your dog, as this practice is outdated, inaccurate, and harmful.
Instead, choose a trainer who uses positive training methods.
Find Pet-Friendly Housing
If you’re moving, I’m sure you’ve already looked for pet-friendly housing. However, I’ve added it to this list just in case.
While it’s harder to find pet-friendly rentals, it’s not always impossible.
The Humane Society has a resource that may help if you haven’t yet checked there.
Hire a Pet Sitter or Dog Walker
If your dog can’t handle a full work day alone or needs more exercise than you can handle, try hiring a pet sitter or dog walker.
Pet sitters will stay with your pet and care for them while you’re gone. Dog walkers will stop by and take your dog on a walk.
If these services are within your budget, they’re an excellent option to consider!
Ask for Help
It’s so difficult to ask for help! But sometimes there are people who are willing.
Whether you need help exercising your dog, a free or low-cost dog sitter, or even a good place to rehome your pup, see if your friends, family, or neighbors can help.
Resources that can Help
Lastly, the Humane Society has a resource list that covers:
- Financial assistance
- Domestic violence assistance
- Help for soldiers and veterans
- Resources for the homeless
- Aid for senior citizens
- Low-cost veterinary care
Making Rehoming Easier for your Dog
1. Give your Dog to Someone you Know
Giving your dog to someone you know ensures they’ll go to a great home. It can also help smooth the transition process.
If your dog already knows this person, awesome! If not, and you have time, allow your dog to visit with them before rehoming.
Introduce your dog to the whole family, including other pets, if possible.
This way, they aren’t being rehomed to people they don’t know. This familiarity will help.
If you can’t do this, try choosing someone who’s a friend of a friend—someone your friend or family member trusts.
Never give your dog to a complete stranger. If you can’t find someone you know and trust to adopt your dog, give them to a rescue or shelter instead.
2. Find a Rescue or Shelter to Take Your Dog
If you can’t find anyone to take in your dog, try a rescue group or ask someone to foster them. It’s possible that someone in your life can take your dog short-term until a permanent home is found.
These are the better options for your dog.
I recommend using shelters as a last resort after you’ve asked everyone you know and trust, and exhausted your list of local rescue groups.
If you give your dog to a shelter, look for a no-kill shelter to give them the best odds possible at finding a new home.
Never give your dog to someone you don’t know and trust, and never dump a dog on the street.
3. Pass on their Things
If you can, pass on your dog’s things. They can provide your dog with a sense of comfort and safety while adjusting to their new home.
This can also help the new owner so that they don’t have to buy too many new things right away.
4. Give the New Owners all the Information
As I discussed above, I’ve been the new owner of a pet and wasn’t given all of the information I needed when the old owners of my cat didn’t tell me he had fleas. It wasn’t a good experience!
They probably even thought they’d taken care of the problem. My best guess is that the fleas traveled from his bed to him and my other cats!
That situation could’ve been avoided if they’d told me about the fleas so that I knew to wash his bedding.
Make sure that you don’t hold back on health information like this. Other things to tell the new owner are your dog’s preferences, what they dislike, their history, and any behavioral problems they have.
If you make the new owner start from scratch getting to know your dog, this will make things harder on both them and your dog.
5. Hold off on Visits
Sometimes it’s best to hold off on visits to see your dog until they adjust to their new home and family.
If a dog has difficulty adjusting, visits can make things harder as they have to lose you all over again when you leave.
Of course, this makes things very difficult for you when you’re missing them. You might try a visit or two and have an honest conversation with their new family about how they handle those visits.
If you give your pup to someone you visit frequently, such as a family member, try a schedule. This way, your dog can predict when you’re coming and can adapt more easily.
Writer: Katelynn Sobus