Rehoming an Old Dog

A Guide for Owners/Owners Representatives

It can be heartwrenching having to rehome a beloved old dog, or bearing the responsibility on behalf of a friend or loved one for rehoming their old dog.  At Old Dog Haven, finding homes for senior dogs is something we have lots of experience with, and what follows are some ideas/guidelines to help you work through the process.

BEFORE YOU ADVERTISE/LIST YOUR DOG – ASK YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS IF ANY OF THEM ARE INTERESTED IN ADOPTING YOUR DOG.   You might be pleasantly surprised to have someone in your network open their hearts and home to your dog.

1. Advertising/Listing your old dog. (Our recommendations)

A. Avoid general online sales platforms like Craig’s List. . There are just too many horror stories from this type of website to recommend their use.

B. Do NOT advertise your dog as ‘Free to a good home’ – even if you don’t intend to ask for a rehoming fee. A good number of the dogs who end up in shelters are there because they get dumped when owners couldn’t handle their veterinary expenses (there are lots of other reasons, but this is one we can help prevent).  Even without all the bells and whistles, owning a dog is not inexpensive, and if someone cannot put up money for an adoption fee, they probably cannot afford the care the animal needs now or in the future.  In addition to helping to cover the costs for the care they receive in shelters, this is one of thereasons most shelters now charge for adoptions.

C. A service like Old Dog Haven’s ‘For Adoption By Owner’ on the Old Dog Haven website, is a great option becauseit draws the ‘eyes’ of folks who are looking for an old dog.  Also, ODH placement services will do the write up for your dog, based on the information that you provide. It will be honest, straightforward, and aimed at finding the best possible adopters for your dog, and there is no fee for this service. Beware of groups that offer to list your dog for a fee, where the motivation may be more in line with collecting fees, than finding your dog a great forever home.

D.  Consider your local shelter as a last resort. Old dogs do not do well in shelters and are rarely adopted out.  Many shelters in western Washington turn to Old Dog Haven to help them find owners for senior shelter dogs, and we are regularly overwhelmed by the need.

2. When the inquiries start:

It can be daunting taking responsibility for choosing a new home for your old dog, especially since you want to do your best to ensure that your dog’s next home is a forever home. Old dogs can be more resilient than you think BUT it can take weeks or many months for them to adapt to a new home situation, and that adaptation is made worse by the changes in hearing, vision, mobility, and cognitive function that go along with getting old.

During the adaptation to a new home, regression in training can also occur, so a potty-trained/piddle pad trained dog forgets his training in the confusion of a new home/arrangement or is simply too stressed and anxious to be able to control himself. Or, they mark things, especially common in old boy dogs that are trying to claim a new home as their own.  These potty issues usually settle down, but they are common.  The same can be said for barking, whining, or whimpering, which are all behaviors that might be rare in your dog now, but appear when anxiety, stress and confusion face them.

You want to avoid folks who do not understand old dog issues or adaptation challenges, who might blame the dog for potty accidents, or ‘discipline’ the dog rather than working through the ‘settling in’ challenges with positive reinforcement. Positive, humane, gentle, understanding care is what you are after, as well as someone who has the resources to cover any grooming expenses or medical costs that can be anticipated with an aging dog, so that your dog does not have to be re-homed again because of expense.

So- how do you determine that?
We recommend a 3-fold process (and suggest that you tell this to serious potential adopters right off the top- it makes an excellent screening tool!):

1. Initial screening questions by phone and email.
Most people have cell phones now, so ask them to send photos of their home, yard, resident animals- you can learn a lot from those!)

2. A ‘ Meet and Greet’ – a face to face

3. A home visit- where you check out the prospective home (ideally taking a friend along as an extra set of eyes).  Even if you don’t think you will be able to do this, because of distance or circumstances, letting the prospective adopter know that you are intending to verify what they say about themselves/their home with a visit, helps keep everyone honest!

Initial Questions
Below you will find some topics and questions to help you get a sense for how a potential adopter would deal with a new dog. This kind of insight can be invaluable.  Some initial questions about home situation, occupation/retirement status (hours, travel), presence of other animals, children, teenagers, a fence, experience with old dogs can easily be asked through texts or emails, but we highly recommend asking some over the phone so that you can hear how the person responds to your questions. Take note of the tone of their voice, and ease of response to those questions. Once you are satisfied with those answers, you can arrange a face to face meeting, or a ‘meet and greet’, with the potential adopter and their pets (if applicable).

Basic information you might want know:
*Family situation: Do they have small children, teenagers (an issue for some old dogs), other dogs, cats, or a bunch of other animals?
*Where do they live: city, small town, apartment, townhouse, private home, home with yard, fenced yard (may or may not be necessary). For a dog who is still active, or who is an enthusiastic barker, choice of house/neighborhood matters.
*Are they employed/retired? Do they have a long work-day/flexible work day (do they use dog walkers/sitters/doggy daycare/kennels), travel for work, or enjoy extended vacations (Who cares for their animals when they are away?)
*Have they had other dogs? Old dogs? (Get them to talk about them, and see how you feel about what they say. You can learn a lot when people open up about their animals!).  Do they sound like they can adapt to an old dog’s needs, or like they expect the dog to do all the adapting? Do they have a regular veterinarian? Groomer? Would they offer them references?
*If they have other animals, ask about how they get along. See if they’ll volunteer how they deal with the inevitable issues that arise between the animals to get an idea of how they treat their animals.  Growling, barking, posturing – ‘holding your ground’-type behaviors are a normal part of the way animals communicate with each other.  If biting is a part of the picture-beware.  There is a happy balance to be achieved between letting the animals ‘work it out themselves’ and being watchful for interactions, and knowing when and how to effectively, but compassionately and appropriately intervene.

Here are a few basic, open-ended questions aimed at discovering how they interact with dogs, what dog ownership means to them.
1. Have you had experience with an old dog?
2. What kind of dogs have you had? (breeds/size, indoor, outdoor, service, pets, hunting… Listen to how they describe their dogs and the way they have interacted with them)
3.  How do your feel about dogs barking or growling? (Both are a normal part of dog communication. Do you have a tolerance for these (within reason), respect and understand the message the dog is trying to convey?)
4. Dog on Dog interactions can be tricky. Have you ever had to deal with a dog that wasn’t fond of another dog? How did you handle it?
5. Have you ever used a doggy daycare, dog sitter or dog walker?
6. Have you had a dog with a chronic health issue? Was that difficult for you to deal with?
7. Do you have a veterinarian? Vet care is getting increasingly expensive! Is that an issue for you?
8. How do you deal with potty accidents? (Try to find out if they get stressed by accidents and blame/punish the dog rather than respond neutrally, and just ‘clean it up’)
9. Have you adopted an old dog before?  You want to try to find out if they understand that adaptation takes time, and requires kindness, compassion and patience.

Setting up a ‘Meet & Greet’
This is the chance for the prospective adopter (and their animal/s) to meet you and your dog. It is also YOUR chance to assess them.

A. Where should we meet?
Meet at a neutral site- some place where your dog is at ease, perhaps a local park (if not too busy). It is better NOT to have your dog in ‘defend my space’ mode when a stranger comes to meet them. If your home is the only option, do the introductions outside in the yard.  This is especially important if the potential adopter is bringing another dog to meet yours.

B. What should we expect? What should we look for?
-Watch the body language of the potential adopters as well as that of their animal(s).  Remember- this is the first interaction for all of you
-How do they approach your dog? Do they just sit down and let the dog approach them when the dog is ready? (This is the best approach)
-How does your dog initially respond to them? Is this how your dog usually responds?
-Do you sense that they have an understanding for how to approach and interact with a new dog? Does their voice convey a tone that you like- gentle, understanding, patient, or do they sound impatient, testy, a little annoyed, domineering?
– If they have an animal with them, do they allow the dogs space to interact and introduce themselves? Do they seem as interested/concerned about how their animal responds to your dog as they do about how your dog responds to theirs?
– Do they have experience with integrating a new dog into their household? You’ve probably already asked them about this, but do their actions match with what they said? Do you get a sense that they have the patience, attitude and skills to get through the adaptation period?

C. Should we let our dog go home with them for a ‘trial’?
TRIAL PERIODS- Don’t do it- if you can help it!
Put yourself in your dog’s shoes. Do you send him off with someone new to a strange home and expect him to behave with the new people as naturally as he does with you? To be calm? Understanding of the situation? Gracious to these strange new people?  Sometimes the first few days go amazingly well just because they do, but sometime they go well because the dog is so frightened that they are on their very best behavior, and then things start to go downhill when they discover they aren’t going ‘home’.
It is terribly confusing for an old dog to suddenly be away from those they have spent so much time with and learned to trust. It will take time for your dog to ‘trust’ and relax with a new owner- sometimes weeks to many months. Any potential adopter who isn’t in it for the long run, is not someone you want to consider. Every time a dog gets bumped from one home to another, whether through ‘trials’ or failed adoptions, he is more confused, frightened, anxious, and less adaptable, which makes him less adoptable.
At ODH we have experience dealing with old dogs who have been bounced from home to home- and it is heartbreaking.  It is why we are so determined to do our best to help you find the best possible forever home for your dog

That is not to say that there are not circumstances beyond everyone’s control that might make an adoption fall through. You need to decide how you will handle that.  Do you want to have your dog back and work to find him a new home, or are you comfortable passing that responsibility onto the ‘new’ owner. (This is one of the things you can specify in your adoption agreement.)

The Home Visit 
You can learn a lot about people by seeing where and how they live.   And unfortunately, as we’ve learned over the years with folks who inquire about becoming ODH homes, everyone does not represent their home situation accurately.  You want a safe, loving, comfortable home for your elderly dog, so if you can possibly swing it, we recommend that you do a home visit. Take a friend for both safety and for a second set of eyes.  Is the place clean, cared for, is the yard free of dangerous debris, is there a fence in good repair? Where do their present animals sleep, play or hang out. You’ll know quite quickly if you are comfortable re-homing your dog to this place.

Once you’ve selected an adopter:
A. Decide if you are going to ask for an adoption fee.  Some people ask for a fee, some request a donation to a local animal organization, or donate the fee themselves. Some are happy simply to find a great new home for their dog.
B. Write up a formal ‘adoption agreement’.  Animals are still considered property in Washington state, so a transfer of ownership is essential for the new owners to appropriately care for the dog.
C. Get all your veterinary records together to give them, and call your vet to have the records transferred to the new owner.
D. Clean and hand off your dog’s bed, blankets, toys, harnesses/coats whatever you’ve got that will help him to feel that his new place is ‘home’.
E. If appropriate, define any future relationship with the new owners- if they are willing to allow any. Are you hoping you might be able to visit your dog sometime, or are you comfortable ‘letting go’ completely?  For your dog’s sake, we do not recommend that you make contact with your dog in the first few months. Give him time to settle into his new home.  If the new owner is willing, let them contact you with updates on how things are going (if you need that to set your mind at ease).