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Profile of Surrendered Dogs & How to Help Them Stay at Home

Updated: Jan 29

It’s a sad fact that some dogs don’t get their happily ever after life with a family that commits to them “furever.”

I explain the #1 reason why adopted dogs are returned to shelters in this blog post.

I also advocate for the de-stigmatization of rehoming a dog because sometimes it truly is the best solution.

Most of all, I promote basic training for adopted dogs by teaching families why it’s necessary and providing specialized training for adopted dogs so they get to stay with the family that wants to keep them.

Today, I’m more about the unfortunate dogs that get surrendered due to a lack of training.

Who are these misfit dogs that aren’t fitting in with the families who chose them?

Well, it turns out, they aren’t misfits at all. They’re just dogs, like all the other dogs, who were dealt a bad hand. The reasons they get returned can always be traced back to human behavior.

How many dogs are we talking about?

There are an estimated 78 million dogs owned by 44% of all households in the United States.

Approximately 34% of these dogs are purchased from breeders, 23% are rescues and the remainder are obtained through family and friends.

Lots of these dogs find their happily ever after but an unfortunately number, 160,000 plus, find themselves being returned to shelters every day.

Who are these dogs that don’t settle into their new family?

Well, I can tell you that:

Almost 50% of them are between 5 months and 3 years old

Around 40% of them have been with their adoptive family for less than one year

Over 40% of them are not spayed or neutered

About 35% of them have not received any veterinarian care

Close to equal numbers of male and female dogs are surrendered

And animals obtained through friends and family are surrendered in much higher numbers than any other group

Do you see any red flags here? Let me highlight what’s actually happening with each of these groups and how we can help these dogs get their happily ever after.

Almost 50% are between 5 months and 3 years old

At the five month end of this group are dogs that may have passed the ridiculously adorable puppy stage, have gotten bigger and are chewing and destroying someone’s precious belongings. At the three year end are dogs who have fully matured which happens between about 18 months and three years depending on breed. What people often see in their dog is they get used to a certain personality but, like human teenagers, their dog enters a new life phase and their behavior changes. They may have become more reactive, less responsible to being told what to do and other things that seem to come out of the blue as far as the owner is concerned. Since we know that 96% of surrendered dogs receive no training after adoption, we are looking at a dog who doesn’t “behave” and an overwhelmed family. When you understand this, it’s no wonder so many of these pups find themselves back at the shelter.

Around 40% have been with the adoptive family less than one year

Moving right along with dogs who have been with their families for such a short time, we are probably looking at unruly untrained puppies that the family just gives up on. Again, the overwhelming likelihood is that these dogs have received no training. Let’s picture a 60 pound energetic doodle type ten month old who doesn’t know sit, hasn’t been socialized and maybe doesn’t get enough exercise. That’s a recipe for destroyed possessions, pulling on leash, jumping up on people or counter surfing. It would feel like living with a wild banshee. Don’t get me wrong, if the dog hasn’t been trained, it’s not his fault he’s unruly, hyper and destructive, but it will get him surrendered.

Over 40% of them are not spayed or neutered & About 35% of them have not received any veterinarian care

I’m talking about these two statistics together because they speak to the same root problem in many cases. In the U.S., spaying and neutering varies wildly by region. Dogs are far more likely to be fixed in urban areas and far less likely to be fixed in rural areas where they are also more likely to be allowed to roam and get pregnant (lots of pregnant females and mom’s with puppies get surrendered). Intact males living in an area where most other males are neutered can lead to fights and reactivity, two primary reasons dogs are surrendered.

As many behavioral problems stem from health problems, you can see where 35% of surrendered dogs not having received any professional medical care is significant. This statistic can also indicate a general lack of care in terms of grooming, etc. which can be caused by the owner and dog not having bonded or simply that their untrained dog is impossible to wrangle enough to get groomed or examined.

Just as with human to human relationships, if an adopter and dog aren’t right for each other, a bond won’t form. If people don’t take proper care of their dog including spending quality time together a bond won’t form even if they aren’t a mismatch. Training is one of the best ways to deepen your bond with your dog and since we know 96% of surrendered dogs have received zero training, a huge bonding opportunity has been missed out on by both parties.

Close to equal numbers of male and female dogs are surrendered

It seems the only factor that doesn’t contribute to whether or not a dog gets surrendered is gender. Perhaps because dogs just don’t make the huge deal out of gender that humans do. As I noted above, however, many surrendered females are pregnant or are surrendered with puppies in tow.

Dogs obtained through friends and family are surrendered in much higher numbers than any other group

This one is interesting because there is a good chance that the person who receives the dog never wanted it in the first place. People “inherit” dogs for all sorts of reasons and generally with good intentions and then realize it was a mistake. The best thing to do if a neighbor or family member needs to rehome their dog is to take it to a shelter and surrender it. Remember that 4% of surrendered dogs aren’t given up due to behavior problems. Perhaps an owner passed away and a friends takes the dog in but soon realizes they don’t have the time or finances to take proper care of it, are allergic or another family member is allergic. Sometimes dogs become so ill their owners can’t afford to care for them and surrendering is the only way to save the dog’s life.

Surrendering a dog in and of itself is not a bad or evil thing to do. It can be a brave, honorable, heartbreaking and kind choice for all concerned. What we want to avoid is the 96% of dogs who are given up every year because their adopter doesn’t set them up for success by providing even basic obedience training.

Want all your rescue dog behavior and training questions answered by expert dog trainers? Check out this free resource for adopted dogs and their people.


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