Download our list of 18 Easy (Non-Training) Things You Can Do to Have a Much Better Behaved Dog.

5 Reasons Dogs Get Surrendered to Shelters

I first published this article in May of this year and wanted to revisit and update it now since October is Adopt A Shelter Dog Month and I want to do all I can to, not only help dogs get adopted, but to help those dogs to stay adopted.

Living in a shelter sucks

Domestic dogs evolved right alongside humans and now all they want is to live with families. Don’t get me wrong, the people who run good shelters are awesome and love the dogs they care for but it’s still a far cry from family life.

Getting adopted is the holy grail for shelter dogs and most of them eventually get adopted by a loving family that commits to them for the entire rest of their life, provides the training and enrichment they need and everyone lives happily ever after. If you like the numbers we are talking about 90% of the approximately 1.6 million dogs adopted from shelters every year in the U.S.

Sadly, that still leaves about 160,000 dogs who aren’t so lucky. For these dogs, adoption doesn’t end in forever. They are returned to the shelter, some of them even multiple times, and it’s through no fault of their own. I’m working with a dog right now who was abused by his original family for the first three years of his life, got adopted for a couple of weeks and is now looking for a new home again. It’s a heartbreaking case but I’m optimistic for this wonderful dog and look forward to the day when I can share his success story with you.

Download our list of 18 Easy (Non-Training) Things You Can Do to Have a Much Better Behaved Dog.

What’s missing?

When rescue dogs are surrendered, it’s not because they are “bad dogs,” it’s overwhelmingly because their adopters failed to provide the one thing they needed most to be successful in their new home. In short, TRAINING – 96% of the dogs who are returned to shelters have received ZERO training from their adoptive family. ZERO!

Think about it

If you went somewhere you’d never been before that was completely different from anything you knew where nobody explained the rules to you, how well do you think you would fare in that environment? If it were me, I’m guessing it would be hard to fit in and that probably I’d do things that those around me didn’t like. Maybe even get asked to leave.

Adopters are awesome

I’m not trying to bash adopters here. Nope! I love everyone who adopts a dog and tries to do their best. I adopted my own dog. What I am questioning (and totally judging) is the perception around adopting dogs (and even around getting puppies) that training is an extra rather than a necessity. This is especially true when people adopt adult dogs or have been told by the shelter that the dogs are already house trained or whatever. It’s not that the shelters are lying, or even wrong, it’s that the dog isn’t always capable of transferring his skills to a new environment without help or has trouble communicating with his new family.

Download our list of 18 Easy (Non-Training) Things You Can Do to Have a Much Better Behaved Dog.

Put yourself back in that unknown environment from an earlier paragraph. Now, let’s say you have to go to the bathroom but you don’t know how to convey that information to the people around you, you can’t find anything that looks to you like a familiar bathroom and, despite your efforts to communicate, nobody shows you where to go to the bathroom. Eventually, you pee your pants and everyone is really mad about it. You know you’ve been potty trained for years but you didn’t know where the bathroom was in this new place. Then you just couldn’t hold it anymore. Nevertheless, your housemates think you’re gross and throw you out.

Well, that’s what it’s like for adopted dogs all the time. It’s even more confusing if they’ve passed through many temporary situations, only now they have the added stress of not really expecting you to let them stay. In regard to dogs, the scenario above comes down to a lack of training. As a person, you might see it as a lack of information or communication but that’s really what dog training is: ensuring that your dog understands the behaviors that are expected of him so that he can live in harmony with his human family.

So, here are the top five “miscommunications” that cause dogs to be surrendered by their human families.

dog and person looking at pee accident
I tried to hold it but couldn’t any more.

Download our list of 18 Easy (Non-Training) Things You Can Do to Have a Much Better Behaved Dog.


Dog exhibited destructive behaviors such as soiling in the house, chewing furniture, etc.


You have three options here for a solution depending on the cause of these destructive behaviors:

  1. Make sure the dog isn’t suffering from a medical problem. Medical problems can cause changes in behavior so always take your dog to the veterinarian when these changes first occur.
  2. Once medical sources are ruled out, make sure the dog is getting enough exercise and enrichment. Not unlike human children, bored dogs can be “naughty” dogs. So, walk your dog, play with your dog, give your dog enrichment items such as peanut butter filled kong toys to chew or treat puzzles.
  3. A general lack of training can lead to misbehavior because the dog doesn’t know what is expected. Take an obedience class with your dog, do a potty training refresher, stimulate your dog with a fun agility or nose class. You can also hire a professional trainer to help you with this. When working with a trainer make sure you only hire someone whose methods are 100% positive reinforcement based.


The dog was disobedient in general


A simple solution for a rather vague complaint is to get your dog some basic obedience training. You have options in how to do this so that you can make it work with your lifestyle. If you are too busy or simply feeling too overwhelmed to train your dog yourself, you can try a board & train which is where you board your dog at the facility of a professional trainer and they train the dog for you. If you don’t want to be away from your dog, you can try day training which is where a professional trainer comes to your house while you are at work and trains the dog for you (this is something I specialize in). If you want to participate more in the training you can take a class with your dog or have the trainer come to your house while you are there and show you how to train your dog. So, lot’s of options here that all work well.


The dog barked too much


Yah, dogs bark. It becomes a problem when it drives you crazy or you get constant complaints from the neighbors. Luckily, you have options here as well.

  1. First, try to figure out what triggers the dog to bark. If you can’t figure it out on your own, a professional trainer can help with this.
  2. You can often solve this problem with environmental management which means that if the dog likes to sit on the chair in front of the window and bark at passers-by, move/block the chair or cover the window. Limiting your dog’s access to the trigger will limit the barking.
  3. If your dog barks at the mail carrier every day. Train your dog to love the mail carrier. Give your dog treats just before the moment the barking starts to district your dog. Keep giving the treats as he recognizes the mail has arrived. Your dog will start to association the mail carrier with yummy treats and stop barking. If your mail comes at the same time every day you can also train your dog to go lay down in another room just before that time so he isn’t triggered to bark.


The dog was too active or energetic


This can be tricky as sometimes, there truly is a mismatch between what you wanted in a dog and what you got. You can get an idea of whether this is the case by trying to figure out if you are bonding with the dog. You and your dog are in a relationship, if you are not falling in love, you may have a mismatch. I have helped people surrender dogs in this situation as it can be better for both parties. If this isn’t the case, however, the simplest solution is to give your dog more exercise and enrichment.

  1. For exercise, go on more walks, hire a dog walker when you are away or try an agility class together.
  2. Since mental stimulation can be as tiring as physical exertion, giving your dog treat puzzles, peanut butter filled kong toys and other types of enrichment will also help get out that energy. Even taking a basic manners refresher course will help as it will be filled with different people and dogs and will be a fun activity to do together.


The dog was aggressive toward family members, other animals and/or strangers


As I mentioned earlier, start at the veterinarian if your dog starts to show signs of aggression as it can be caused by physical and neurological problems. Also, install some environmental controls immediately while you work on the problem so that no one gets hurt. That means, keep any children, guest or other pets in the house away from the dog. Once that’s done, have your dog assessed by a professional trainer who has experience working with aggressive dogs or by a behaviorist. Dogs will aggress for a variety of reasons. Some are resource guarders and will growl or snap when approached while eating or playing with a toy. Other times a dog will growl if you are playing too roughly with it, try to pet it while it is sleeping or startle it. Aggression can surface during walks as some dogs become reactive when leashed. It can be fear based or pain based. It’s a complicated issue and my recommendation here is to work with a professional rather than try to handle it yourself.

Training is always the solution

As you can see, in the vast majority of instances, training will solve your dog’s behavior problems. Even if you have a perfectly well-behaved dog, training together is a great way to have fun and feel closer with your dog. Contrary to the old saying, you actually can teach old dogs new tricks so plan for a lifetime of training together. You will both be the richer for it.

A note about the remaining 4% of surrendered dogs. These dogs are surrendered for reasons such as death of the owner, financial crisis related to the needs of the dog and/or the family and other extreme situations.

Let’s give adopted dogs and their new families the tools they need to live happily ever after. Basic obedience training is the answer to most of these problems.

Not ready for training? Download our list of 18 Easy (Non-Training) Things You Can Do to Have a Much Better Behaved Dog.

Not ready for training? Download our list of 18 Easy (Non-Training) Things You Can Do to Have a Much Better Behaved Dog.