Nobody gets a dog expecting to have to give it up, but rehoming sometimes has no alternatives. Changing masters can be difficult for even the most stable dog, so new handlers must be sensitive to the dog’s emotional state to help her acclimate to her new surroundings.
Why the Change?
Changes in ownership happen for a host of reasons. Everyone wants to pick just the right dog for their family, but some dogs turn out to be a bad fit. For example, a fluffy border collie may be adorable and loyal, but the high-energy breed requires much more stimulation than many other breeds and may drive an apartment dweller crazy. Sometimes a dog has to change homes when his original owner gets sick or passes away; this scenario can be difficult for the canine -- on top of his grieving, his life is turning upside down. Sometimes dogs get rehomed due to neglect or abuse. They're usually placed in stable, loving homes with handlers experienced in rehabilitating such dogs. Dogs that have suffered abuse may have behavioral problems that the average family can't risk accepting.
Dogs experience a range of humanlike emotions when they change owners. Depression is common in dogs who have recently lost a caring owner. A depressed dog may be unmotivated to play, may sleep at unusual times and may show a lack of attention to his surroundings. Some dogs experience anxiety when moving from house to house. Anxious dogs often whine and bark out of fear or frustration; they may pace and search unsuccessfully for their former owners. Dogs moved from neglectful owners to stable homes are often shy and reluctant to interact with new people. They may hide or cower in fear until they become acclimated to their new surroundings. They may become aggressive when approached.
Emotional issues aren’t the only changes a dog experiences during a transition. Physical symptoms of stress are common in many dogs. While some may seem serious, they rarely require veterinary attention. Digestive upset and a lack of interest in food, for instance, is common in dogs under stress. If they persist for more than two days, you may seek your vet's intervention, but most dogs adapt fairly quickly. Some dogs may shake or shiver out of fear or anxiety, and may even drool excessively, until they feel comfortable in their surroundings.
Smoothing the Transition
Eliminating stress in a dog who's changing owners is nearly impossible, but a few tricks make the process smoother. Place the dog’s kennel or bed in a quiet corner of your home to give him a place of his own, where he can retreat when the stress of moving becomes overwhelming. Retain a few items from the previous owner, such as an old shirt or the dog’s toys, to give him a sense of security. Feed the dog on a set schedule to establish a routine, and feed him the same kind of food to avoid excessive digestive problems. Provide the dog with ample opportunity to exercise, which allows him to focus on something fun and burn off excess energy.
Louise Lawson has been a published author and editor for more than 10 years. Lawson specializes in pet and food-related articles, utilizing her 15 years as a sous chef and as a dog breeder, handler and trainer to produce pieces for online and print publications.