5 Reasons Dogs End Up in Shelters

Some reasons dogs end up in shelters include changes in owners’ living conditions, behavioral issues, and mismatched expectations.

Apr 24, 2024By Nikita Hillier
reasons dogs end up in shelters

Every year, millions of dogs find themselves in animal shelters all around the globe, awaiting a chance at a new beginning in a happy home. While the circumstances of their arrival may vary, one thing is constant: every shelter dog has a story to tell.

From behavioral challenges to changes in family dynamics, there are many reasons dogs may end up in shelters. We discuss them here.

1. Changes in Family Circumstances

two dogs in cage at shelter
Image Credit: Sasha Sashina on Unsplash

There are many, many twists and turns in life, and these twists and turns often bring many unforeseen challenges. Sometimes, these challenges impact the lives of our furry friends whom we love most. Many families face circumstances that are entirely beyond their control.

Some of these circumstances include job loss, changes in housing situation, or even financial strain. This causes hardship and may force them to have to make difficult decisions regarding their pets. Relocating to a new city or residence where pets may not be allowed or experiencing a shift in family dynamics (such as illness or divorce) can lead to the very heartbreaking choice of surrendering a beloved dog to a shelter.

It is so important to recognize that these dogs are not at fault for their circumstances. Instead, they are the true victims of the unpredictable nature of life.

2. Behavioral Challenges

orange and white dog smiling at camera
Image Credit: Supasit Chantranon on Unsplash

Behavioral issues can present some pretty big hurdles for dog owners while also testing their patience. Someone may choose to surrender a dog if the animal displays:

  • Fearfulness
  • Aggression toward other animals and strangers
  • Separation anxiety
  • Excessive barking
  • Food aggression

Despite their very best efforts, sometimes, it can be difficult for owners to address these behaviors at all or in the right way. This can lead to frustration and feeling quite helpless. Without the right training, socialization, and positive reinforcement, these issues can escalate badly, straining the bond between owner and dog.

In this case, a lot of owners feel overwhelmed by the challenges and choose to surrender their dogs to a shelter. The good news is that many behavioral issues can be managed with consistency and patience. What’s more, a reputable shelter would work with a dog on certain problems—or at least tell potential adopters beforehand.

3. Mismatched Expectations

brown and black dog sitting in dog box
Image Credit: Margarita Kosior on Unsplash

Choosing the right dog for your lifestyle and preferences is absolutely crucial for a successful, fulfilling, and loving pet ownership experience. However, sometimes prospective owners only see cute puppies and the rest is history. They may truly underestimate the importance of compatibility and choose a dog out of impulse or without fully understanding the breed, its characteristics, energy levels, or temperament.

A mismatch in expectations can very quickly become apparent with the dog struggling to adapt to its new environment, or the owner feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the care the dog needs. For example, a super high-energy breed, such as a Border Collie, may find itself rather bored and frustrated in a low-movement household.

By researching a dog’s breed, exercise needs, and disposition before adopting, you can temper your expectations and make an informed decision.

4. Lack of Commitment

brindle and white dog chained up in dog house
Image Credit: Abyss on Unsplash

Owning a dog is a very significant commitment and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It requires time, resources, and a whole lot of dedication. Unfortunately, a lot of people underestimate the level of responsibility that is involved in owning a dog, or they fail to fully comprehend the long-term implications of pet ownership.

As the initial excitement of bringing a new dog home begins to fade, and the reality of responsibility sets in, some owners find themselves feeling completely unprepared or unwilling to meet their pet’s needs. Challenges, such as potty training, behavior management, veterinary expenses, and time constraints, can prove overwhelming for inexperienced pet owners. This can lead some owners to surrender their dogs to shelters.

5. Health Issues

black fluffy dog sitting on bricks
Image Credit: Albert Sukhanov

Health problems may arise unexpectedly and present significant challenges for dog owners both emotionally and financially. Dogs can often develop acute or chronic health conditions that hugely require ongoing medical care, specialized treatment, or prescription medications that can leave owners heavily out of pocket.

While some owners can provide the necessary support and care for their pets, others may, unfortunately, find themselves struggling to care for a special-needs dog. In some cases, dogs who have manageable health conditions may be surrendered to shelters due to misconceptions about their quality of life, or the belief that they will actually need far more care than their owners can provide.

Before adopting a dog, research the importance of preventative medicine, regular veterinary care, and responsible breeding practices. This ensures you give your dog the best possible quality of life and avoid the heartbreak that comes with rehoming an animal with complex health needs.

Misconceptions About Why Dogs End Up in Shelters

dog with kid
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

There are many misconceptions on why dogs are surrendered to shelters. Some myths include:

  • Dogs in shelters are aggressive. While some dogs are more aggressive or protective than others, each dog has its own personality. Many dogs are also reactive out of fear rather than malice, which can be managed with confidence-building exercises and positive reinforcement.
  • Dogs in shelters are sick. While inconvenient, some rescue dogs do develop kennel cough. However, this isn’t a reflection of the shelter or the dog; canines in close proximity can develop cold-like symptoms, like reverse sneezing and coughing. A reputable shelter would alert you to possible health concerns (like luxating patella) before adopting out a dog.
  • There’s something wrong with dogs in shelters. As noted, many dogs in shelters are victims of life’s circumstances. Some have had their owners pass away, while others result from overpopulation in rural areas. The perfect dog for you might not be in a pet store, but instead, waiting for a second chance in a shelter.
Nikita Hillier
By Nikita Hillier

Nikita is a huge animal lover who has grown up on a farm with many different animals, from dogs and cats to horses and cows! She has a lot of experience in the equine industry and is even in the process of studying for an internationally accredited Equine Sports Massage Certificate! In her spare time, she enjoys writing and spending time with her beloved animals!