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How to Stop Feeling Guilty Over Returning Your Dog

You acquired your dog with the best of intentions. You wanted a pet that would become “man’s best friend”, or some variation on that theme.

But what if the relationship between you and your dog doesn’t work out? Is it like getting a divorce and, if so, how messy is it likely to get? Will there be pain and regret, on both sides?

How do I stop feeling guilty over returning my dog? To stop feeling guilty over returning your dog work to accept the reasons that you chose to part ways with your pet. You should not feel guilty because no one is able to predict how a dog will adapt from the setting they came from to their home. If you gave your dog back to a safe and nurturing caretaker that will ensure they find a great home, you probably did the best you could for them.

The answer lies in recognizing that, like humans, dogs have their own distinct personalities and temperaments. The nature of the adoption process is also not ideal. None of us is able to predict with any certainty how a dog will adapt from the shelter to our home.

It’s almost like choosing your life partner by going on a blind date.

For this and many other reasons, there may be varying degrees of regret when you find yourself contemplating a decision to re-home your dog back to the shelter from which you adopted him, but in many cases, guilt should not be part of that emotion.

Why Did You Want to Keep Your Dog?

Why Did You Want to Keep Your Dog

A lot of pets are dependent on a lot of people.

Although the statistics vary depending on who is doing the measuring, it would seem reasonable to accept that some sixty million American households own about ninety million dogs, not to mention about ninety-four million cats (source).

In the UK, people take care of about nine million dogs (source). But why?

Long before you find yourself in the unenviable position of anguishing over returning your dog to the shelter, one hopes that you examined your reasons for wanting to take care of an animal in the first place.

We’ve already raised the human analogy of entering into a lifetime partnership with your eyes open. It’s pretty much the same with a pet. Have you thought about what type of pet would suit your lifestyle?

With your other commitments, are you better suited to caring for a dog, a cat, or a parakeet? Do you understand what it takes to care for the chosen breed which you’ve set your heart on?

Have you informed yourself clearly by doing research on the consequences of adopting that special pet that you thought would complete your domestic circle?

Some reasons why people adopt a dog (or any other pets for that matter) include the following:

A Companion for You

A dog is always happy to see you; this can be all you need after a hard day at the office.

A Companion for the Family

Many families need a pet but don’t get a dog with the sole intention of teaching your children about responsibility for its care.

The dog needs to be in the home for the right reasons and everyone should be ready to work to build a bond with the dog and care for it.

Companion to Other Pets

You may consider this important if your current pet is left alone for long periods during the day while you’re at work, provided the pets have bonded, and you’re still around at other times to socialize with them.

Replacement for a Deceased Pet

Pets pine for their animal companions, and if one pet in a bonded pack has died, it may be an idea to replace him. But you should first think about:

  • The type of pet best suited to your needs and environment
  • The care and maintenance required, including the cost of food, veterinary care, kenneling

When you got the dog was it for one of these reasons? Whatever the reason, did you clearly understand and appreciate why you wanted the dog?

If so, then you hopefully did the same when you returned it. If that’s the case, it may ease the guilt of returning your dog.

Reasons You May Feel Guilty About Returning a Dog to the Shelter

Returning a Dog to the Shelter

Perhaps you didn’t fully consider the commitment of keeping a dog: You’re either got a dog for some of the wrong reasons, or you didn’t really know or understand what it means to take care of a pet.

“Taking care of” does not just mean feeding and giving water to your dog at regular intervals. It also means seeing to your pet’s need for regular exercise, socialization with other dogs, training in basic commands, veterinary care and companionship with you. 

Did you give the dog, and yourself, a chance to adapt? For a re-homed dog, this is particularly important. Adapting from the close confines and busy surroundings of a shelter to the relative quiet, solitude and space of your home may take a while.

How long depends on a host of variables including your own established routines, how old the dog is, whether there are other pets and/or children around, and how much time you are able to spend with your new pet.

The dog’s personality and previous experiences (good and bad) also play an important part. Did you really give your new partnership an opportunity to develop?

Another possibility is you lied on your application about your circumstances or ability to keep a dog. Unforgivable as this may sound, some people may not be completely honest with the shelter, and with themselves about whether their circumstances meet the demands and commitment of keeping a dog.

Either you didn’t do your homework (“I didn’t know that a visit to the vet costs as much as a visit to my own doctor!”), or they’re just careless about being responsible. Either way, bringing a dog home may come as a nasty surprise.

Valid Reasons for Returning a Dog

It’s in the best interests of both of you: If things aren’t working out between you and your dog, and you’ve tried everything you can think of over a period of time including reading up on and getting expert advice on your particular problem, there may come a time when it’s in the best interests of the dog, and you, to part company.

Here, you’ve got to be honest with yourself (and with the shelter folks) that:

  • you have a serious issue with the dog that is affecting your happiness or that of your family
  • you’ve tried all reasonable avenues within the limitations of your time and financial resources to fix the problem (source)

Under these circumstances, it’s probably best to admit defeat, in both of your interests. But that leaves you with a problem: that word “defeat”.

How can I, a lover of animals, have allowed this to happen? Where did I go wrong? Well, did you really go wrong, or is this particular dog just not a good match for you and your household? 

There are circumstances under which it may be in your interest, and equally importantly the interests of the dog, to part company. For example:

Failed Training

Following a suitable and significant period of adjustment and settling in, you may have to admit that this pooch is beyond your ability to train and adjust.

Toilet training is a source of frustration for some owners; if after an extended period of time and regular outdoor exercise you’re still facing the morning with daily accidents on the carpet, there may be a problem.

Separation Anxiety

This can be a killer for you and your neighbors; coming home to a lost sock (which surfaces in tomorrow’s doggy-poo) or complaints from the neighbors about all-day howling can ruin a friendship with the dog and the neighbors.

Bad Behavior

Similarly, chewing furniture or shoes and digging up the prize azaleas is enough to make you question your choice. The list of potential behavioral issues is quite long

  • Leash aggression
  • Herding behavior
  • Biting and jumping
  • Hyperactivity
  • Food aggression with other pets

Animal behaviorists can help to cure these issues, but they can also be pricey, (source).


Medical issues and the cost of treatment can also get expensive. Make sure you investigate your dog’s medical history, but even then, it’s impossible to predict what form of medical emergency may arise. Even medical insurance, if available, is an added expense you may not have budgeted for.

Your personal financial circumstances may have changed over time, for the worse, leaving you wondering how you’re going to prioritize between dog food and the kid’s school fees. Regretfully, the dog probably won’t win this toss-up.


You might find yourself having to find new housing, not all of which places are happy to have you bring your dog along. Whether this is a small apartment or a no-pets compound, hard choices must be made.

Growing Family

Not all dogs, for reasons that aren’t always clear, take to having another dog, or a child competing for your attention. This is one of the most difficult issues to deal with, but when it comes to the safety of your family, there’s only one choice.

Not a Lifelong Relationship

Hark back to the introduction when we questioned the wisdom of making a life-long partnership decision, lifelong for the dog, if not for you!

Based on one or two brief meetings amongst a run of noisy kennels, or a series of introductions in the shelter’s meeting areas.

Would you do the same for a human partnership? And even then, after courtships and engagements, some human partnerships, sadly, end in separation and divorce.

None of us wishes this was so, but it may be the case with your dog. Hopefully, you’ll both be free to find a more suitable partner.

But if you’ve seriously considered the consequences above and you’re still experiencing guilt over whether or not returning your pet was the right decision, consider whether how you parted ways with your dog.

Helping Your Dog Find a New Home

Helping Your Dog Find a New Home

If you brought your dog back to a shelter that will not euthanize the animal then you should not feel guilty for returning the dog, especially if you provided the shelter with as much information as you could about the dog so they can help find it the best home possible.

Your experience with this dog, as negative or frustrating as it might have been, could provide useful information for the shelter (and future owners) about the dog’s personality and reaction to particular circumstances.

This information is vital to help the shelter in its re-homing policies. By the way, if you’re feelings of guilt and failure are tied in with fears that the dog may be euthanized, forget it. As long as they are a no-kill shelter your old pal should be OK.

They understand and are sympathetic to the need to find the right “fit” between dog and owner; hence their practice of keeping records of each owner’s experience with the dog.

Provided you have shown a willingness and enthusiasm to help your dog settle into his new surroundings, the shelter folks are not going to think badly of you for “giving up” on an animal that you can’t cope with.

On the contrary, their interests are decided by finding a suitable match between dog and owner, and anything short of this is not in the best interests of the dog (source).

Do Re-Homed Dogs Remember Their Previous Owners?

Yes, there is much anecdotal evidence that dogs do remember their previous owners.

One owner, separated due to force of circumstance from his much-loved Border Collie, was joyfully reunited after eight years, with no apparent loss of fondness or memory on either side (source).

One family adopted an 11-month old Golden Retriever named Blue. Already in the family was a three-year-old Retriever, Summer, who was pining for her elder sister who had died nearly a year previously, and a three-month-old Ragdoll kitten named Scout.

Within weeks they had all settled down together, the Ragdoll playing tag with the younger retriever and all of them swapping and sharing beds at night. A happy family.

Blue had shown some signs of missing his previous owner by running on the beach towards men of similar build, only to turn back when he got close enough to spot the difference.

Then the previous owner, who missed his dog and had been forced to give him up due to a relationship break-up and moving to a smaller apartment, asked to make a visit.

The new owners were confident enough that Blue had settled, and it was a joyful reunion. And Blue was happy to say goodbye to his previous owner and return to his new home at the end of the visit.

The moral of the story is that while dogs undoubtedly do remember their previous owners for a long time, (who hasn’t shed a tear at a returning serviceman being greeted by his dog?) They are unlikely to pine for their previous owners provided they are happy and cared for in their new home.

Before adopting a dog or buying one, check out some pros and cons before doing so in this short video here:

Should a Dog be Renamed in its New Home?

This practice is totally okay; dogs don’t have the same concept of identity as humans, and as long as you’re consistent with what you call him, they will respond within days to any name you care to give.

A case in point was the Retriever Blue above. The new owner didn’t like the previous owner’s given the name of “Harry”, it had the wrong connotations for her, but fortunately, Harry’s pedigree name is “Harry Blue” and she liked Blue.

So, Blue he became. After a short period of double-barreling the names together, Harry Blue, she dropped the Harry and he responded happily to Blue.

Interestingly, when he came to visit, the previous owner still called him Harry, which didn’t seem to faze Blue at all. It was the name he associated with another life, another owner.

In some cases of adoption where the dog comes from an abusive previous relationship, a change of name is a positive benefit for the dog’s mental health, new name, new life.

It may be beneficial to foster a dog from the shelter for a period before making a final decision, to know whether you and your lifestyle are ready to take on the responsibility of keeping a dog.

Related Content: I Got a Puppy and Now I Don’t Want It, what to do when you realize you can’t keep them!

Final Thoughts

Returning a dog to a shelter when you have tried unsuccessfully to accommodate him should in most cases not be seen as an admission of failure or defeat.

On the contrary, it may be in the best interests of the dog and you that you both be given the chance to make a new beginning in a new family.

There are, however, precautions you can and should take to prevent this from happening.

Doing your homework on why you want a dog for a pet is a good starter, deciding what sort of dog suits your circumstances, and the practical considerations of how much time and resources you have available to ensure that you and your new “best friend” are happy together.

After all, it’s in both of your interests that things work out for the best.


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