Extreme behavior problems often lead to extreme resolutions: surrendering a dog at a shelter, rehoming, and some even decide to have a veterinarian kill their dog. It’s a complicated issue, especially in the case of aggression. Should a dog who is known to bite humans be rehomed to someone else? What if a child was hurt or killed a result? Is the original owner, shelter, or rescue liable for that (oftentimes, yes – or at least, a complex case arises).

But what about when people aren’t at risk, and it’s something like Separation Anxiety? How do you know when “everything” has been tried, and then what do you do when you’re simply not the right home for your dog? Do you keep going on, or try something else? It’s a complicated question, and I haven’t covered all of the “answers” (if there is even such a thing) in the following Q&A.

This question and my answer originally appeared on the Pet360 forums.

The question: How do I deal with surrendering my dog?

I have talked about my dog Watson on the separation anxiety forum. Today when I got home like I have since I moved a few months ago to destruction inside the crate. He cannot be left out because he is also destructive. After a year and a half of meds and other training exercises I am at my end and have come to the realization that there has to be someone else who has more time to give to him so that he can be a well adjusted member of the family I know he can be.
Does anyone have any suggestions on how to deal with this process? I know that this is what is best but am still having a hard time.

My response

One thing that pops out is the crate. I have heard from a behaviorist that many SA dogs do much worse in a crate, and that it can (in some of these cases) make the issue worse. Imagine only wanting to run away, but being tied up in a straight jacket. I understand that there is destruction, but I wonder if an incredibly “proofed” room with music, DAP diffusers, and many other calming elements and completely mask all sound ouside the room might help the situation? It’s a larger space but not tight confinement like a crate. Have you worked with a professional behaviorist experienced in SA (ie: not just a vet or trainer)? It is a very difficult situation, but I’ve learnt about so many creative solutions professionals have tried with sometimes significant levels of success. And a lot of it was very gradual progress, doing things like completely “covering up” the sounds and behaviors of leaving the house so the dog actually thinks you’re home the entire time but he’s simply chilling in a different room (you do this then leave for short then longer periods). I totally understand you may have tried this too, but just thought I’d throw it out there in case.

Regarding surrendering, if it must happen (and yes, I certainly acknowledge sometimes it does after everything has been tried and fails), I would personally try to rehome Watson yourself to know he’s going to a good, appropriate home that could address what he needs. Do know that most rescues are full, and that many, many shelters in the USA do not deal with behavior issues with anything other than a needle, especially rather extreme unresolved ones like this. Many shelters also don’t emphasize this, will tell folks otherwise, but there are very few shelters who will take on extreme behavior cases. In other words, a “no kill” will just don’t kill “adoptable” dogs, and the definition about what that means can potentially be pretty lose – I volunteered at one who had an amazing community reputation and would kill for adjustable behavior problems, as it’s a judgment call – sometimes of just one individual who may or may not have a lot of background in behavior. Also many dogs behave very differently in the shelter environment, and this can affect their chances of becoming “adoptable”. I’d be concered about this because Watson already has issues with confinement.

I don’t like bringing up extremes, and you very well may know this already, but it’s better to know beforehand in my opinion than find out the worst afterwards (which would be much more difficult to deal with). When I volunteered I remember many people being quite surprised about these things, and it’s good to know more about what Watson could face in order to make a final decision that can be dealt with well.

So the best way to deal with this process, I think, is to rehome yourself after knowing everything has been tried. For the rehoming process, there are many great ways to run a campaign for Watson – social media, flyers, ads are great ones for this. You could also partner with rescues to “foster” your own dog with them until a home is found – this means they can help you advertise Watson on Petfinder (create a listing for him), and you can go to adoption events to help look for a new home. It might take awhile because you are looking for a very particular kind of home and person who can work with this issue. This is why working with a professional can aid in this process, as you can have their notes about what has been tried, hasn’t worked, and any suggestions for what a different home could do. I, as an adopter, would want that kind of information and I believe fully that it would greatly increase your chances at finding a new home. At any rate, if you do get to this point I would recommend trying everything you can to avoid a shelter. After volunteering in so many of them I wouldn’t have a good suggestion about how to deal with that…

One more note is in any write-up about your pup to stress the positives. Be honest about the problem, but sandwich it with all the things that makes your dog wonderful and the kind of home that will be a perfect match (don’t focus on the negative).

Then you know you tried absolutely every training protocol with a professional behaviorist in advance, and helped search and find an appropriate home where Watson has a good chance at success. Every dog isn’t perfect for every home, and often there is a better match, but to just make sure that the good match is where he heads to. Then you’re not giving up, you’re simply giving Watson what he needs to be happy. I think that would be the best way to deal with the difficult scenario. Just my 0.02.

And as a disclaimer, I’m only speaking from personal experience in the California shelter system and related advocacy. I do know it’s similar in many other states, but not every shelter is the same (some better, some much worse). And just one last stress – it’s personal opinion, and doesn’t reflect the thoughts or opinions of any other people or business entity.

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • Very thorough response. I had never heard about SA increasing due to crating (in some cases of course) but I guess it kind of makes sense. In the case of Dante, his anxiety was awful when we first adopted hi – he tore off the trim around the door, and was extremely destructive towards the front door in general when we left him, even exercised that we turned to crate training. We took our time introducing the crate, practicing at home, played with different times, and worked him up to us sitting on the front porch outside listening for him to start whining just in case…and the crate training worked like a charm! We even set up a camera to record him in his crate while we were away just to be sure their was no SA going on. And thanks to the crate all his SA went away to the point where after a few months we stopped locking him in his crate and he was 100% trustworthy in the house.
    Ziva has been a bit different she also had SA when we adopted her and would howl. We crate trained her using the same methods, she got better became trustworthy for about 5-6 months we didn’t have any problems with her SA then all of a sudden she started to destroy things so we’re back to crate training with the hopes of working her up to being not locked in again at some point.
    Music definitely helped Ziva, she in general took longer than Dante to take to her crate but now she loves it and is often found inside it due to her own choosing.

    My question would be regarding what methods they used with Watson when introducing him to the crate? Is it maybe possible that with starting over, creating a “safe spot”, and playing some music it would maybe help?

    If truly the end of the options has been reached then I do think it is better for Watson to be re-homed, due to knowing ones personal limits which is important so that you don’t end up creating more issues with him.
    What a sad situation though. <3

    • Re: crate – it completely depends on the dog/scenario apparently. For some it helps, and for others it can make the problem worse. I do not know if this is the case as to what causes the difference, but I do wonder if in the cases where generalized fear of “being left in charge/alone” and panic is involved in the anxiety, that the crate helps these dogs and not the ones that are desperate to flee to the human. I don’t know, but in the case of a couple dogs I have known where the crate helps seemed to have that issue (anxiety of being alone in the house).

      The first behaviorist I heard regarding the crate thing was Trish King but I can’t find an online quote (I took her courses, so this was “in person” stuff). Anyway, this is a quote from behaviorist Nicole Wilde who sums up what I recall, “There are dogs who, if left crated, will frantically try to escape, and may injure themselves in the process. Others will chew themselves to the point of self-mutilation. Clearly, for those dogs, crating is not a good option. But for a dog who is comfortable in her crate, who sleeps in it at night, and doesn’t mind being contained there for brief periods during the day, the crate might just be a saving grace. Many dogs will settle down more quickly when crated, particularly if the crate lends a feeling of being safely enclosed.” (Source) And she continues to explain about using the plastic crates instead of wire for safety. I too worry about the way the crate was introduced, how it’s used, and so on – or if it’s just the type of SA where it doesn’t work. I think it depends on where it’s coming from, what’s causing that anxiety.

      I have heard about so many different ways to address this one (from tables where a dog can see out a window, creative uses of leash training, special rooms decked out with surround sound, you name it), I only hope that kind of thing is tried. Almost all of them involve a lot of sort of “ignoring” the dog in various ways and lengths over a long period of time – lots of emphasis on the human. But then, I have to say I’m very happy to have only read and heard about this behavior and consider myself quite lucky not to have had to deal with it myself. So no expert here!

  • Great post, Jen!! I worked with a friend (online) for about a month with a dog that they had adopted and she had really extreme separation anxiety. You might have seen the video on FB? It was so sad. They ended up having to return her because her problems were just too much for them.

    • Thank you! Oh I don\’t think I\’ve seen the video – I\’ll have to look that up! (Feel free to link it if you like!) That sounds like another very sad situation :( I do think this is one of the most difficult behavior problems to deal with, from what I\’ve heard. A trainer/rescue friend of mine had a foster with this issue, and finding the right home took a couple years and three or four different homes I think to find the right family.

  • Unfortunately SA is horrible for both the humans and dog involved. I couldn’t imagine a more difficult situation to be in. I completely sympathize with anyone whose had to deal with this issue, it’s heartbreaking. After seeing a few dogs who’ve injured themselves badly through breaking through windows or pawing at the door for hours I don’t know that there will ever be an easy answer. I agree with your advice, and I wish the owner and dog the best. Sometimes rehoming is better for all involved.

  • Sue

    In 2005 we bought a 7 week old beagle from someone who was not the breeder he claimed to be. We were on a mission because of my children’s desires for any dog. I hadn’t read up enough to know that any breeding he did was for hunting. I grew up in a home in which neighborhood strays networked and told one another that my mother took in any stray. We were lucky that they were all well enough behaved. I was against getting a dog. I knew my kids would not help despite their promises. If we didn’t have a fenced yard, getting any dog would have been out of the question.
    Turns out that beagles are very much like Snoopy if you analyze his behavior. Fun, smart, and extremely obstinate. As was ours. Also, my husband and I had to work multiple jobs and in between the kids were involved with their activities. We were unable to house break our beautiful beagle even with help from several trainers. He was in his crate most of the time. My husband and I couldn’t be consistent with our own children and realized that we were doing an injustice to our Charlie. I refused to find just anyone to adopt him. I had a strong belief that clearly anyone who would take proper care of a beagle would be someone who’d already had one or more and knew the breed. I was fortunate enough to find a beagle meet up group in the area who was able to connect me with a beautiful soul who, having lost her beagle one year ago, was ready to find another one. I spelled out every good and bad behavior for her. I invited her over with her other dog to see how they’d get along. She worked part time and walked the dogs each morning and spent afternoons at the dog park. She asked what the adoption fee was. I told her there was no monetary fee. All I wanted was her promise that if it wasn’t working out, she’d let me know and we’d contact the meet up director again. We found our angel. I cried for months over losing him, having not been able to measure up to what he needed, etc. But after six months, we had our first visit and then several after and I know he’s happy and well taken care of. New mommy ends emails and pics and its been about eight years. In between, new mom was involved in an accident that required the dogs needing temporary homes. We took Charlie and he was already better behaved. Bless those who have the foresight to find a safe and loving environment and bless even more those who open their hearts and homes to love these more challenging dogs.

  • Great response, Jen! I think separation anxiety is one of the hardest problems to deal with in dogs. I’ve had foster dogs with separation anxiety, and you just feel trapped in your own home because if you leave you worry what the dog will do. We all have our own limits, and separation anxiety is honestly something I just can’t deal with at this point in my life. I am so sorry this dog owners is going through this. It must be so hard.

    I think your advice is spot on. It sounds like this dog owners is at the point of trying to find the dog a new home, and as hard as that must be, it sounds like that is probably the right choice. Hopefully there is someone out there who is willing to adopt the dog who is home most of the time and willing to work on some training so he can learn to deal with being alone for short periods.