How Do Dogs Feel About Changing Owners?

How Do Dogs Feel About Changing Owners

When you decide to adopt a canine companion (THE best decision you will EVER make!), it is typically (hopefully) entered into with the full intention of being a lifetime commitment.

But, as most know, life can be pretty unpredictable at times, circumstances can change, and priorities can shift, in an instant.

So, what happens if you need to find a new home for your precious pooch? How will he handle being rehomed? Will he forget his old family eventually? Can he adapt to a new living situation without having behavioral issues? Is it wise to adopt a rehomed dog? How do dogs feel about changing owners?

When a dog is re-homed, he will most likely experience temporary changes, both physically and emotionally during the initial period. Being in a new environment with unfamiliar faces and surroundings, especially when he was loved before, can cause stress and confusion.

Having to rehome your favorite furball is rough enough on you as it is, but throw in thoughts of Fido being scared or in fear, and forget it.

However, you can take some solace in the fact that dogs, in general, are quite adaptable. While it will take some time to adjust, it will happen, it is just going to happen in his own time.

Changing, especially abruptly, environments, people, and surroundings can be overwhelming, and the changes experienced are uniquely individual.

The majority of pets will eventually settle nicely into their new family when given adequate time. Though some may need a little extra push.

How Do Dogs Feel About Changing Owners?

How Do Dogs Feel About Changing Owners?

As with any significant life shift, at least some emotional and physical changes are to be expected, although the severity can vary from dog to dog.

Luckily, most of these changes are temporary, are completely natural, and will simply take time to resolve on their own.

As rough as the transition can be on you, it can be even harder for the likely bewildered pooch in question. As they are incapable of truly understanding the entire situation, this can be a very scary time for the dog.

They are in a new, strange place, with unknown people, and have no idea why they can’t be with the humans they’re accustomed to. Be patient and make sure to spend lots of quality time with your new friend during this time.

Building a bond is crucial and you do that by making memories.


Trauma can manifest in physical ways, most commonly presenting as digestive upset (vomiting, diarrhea, etc.). In addition, depression can also mean that Fido is not interested in the things that he normally would enjoy. This can include a temporary decrease in appetite and exercise as well as an overall lack of interest in things normally loved.


Naturally, your dog is likely to go through bouts of depression, which is to be expected when faced with any major life change. He might also appear to be more cautious, and/or stand-offish when you first make the change. While not as common, some dogs may get aggressive in new situations. Approach him slowly, with no fast or jerky movements.

How To Help Your Dog Adapt To His Rehoming Situation

How To Help Your Dog Adapt To His Rehoming Situation

Patience is the key. It is just going to take time. However, there are a few things that you can do to help him settle and fit in a little bit better.

  • Prior to the big moving day, it is a good idea to hold a sort of ‘meet and greet’ preferably with the previous family present. Repeating this a few times in the weeks leading up to the move can help your new friend feel more comfortable being left with his new family.
  • When he arrives for move-in day, show him around and let him get acquainted with his new home IE: have a sniff-fest (particularly in the backyard!).
  • Try to use as many familiar things as possible; food, dishes, bedding, leash, etc. You can replace these eventually, but for now, they will bring some much-needed comfort.
  • The ‘pleasure’ or ‘reward’ center of a canine’s brain is activated when he smells a familiar scent. Until your dog is settled, if possible, offer something with his previous owners’ scent to help calm him.
  • Provide a quiet, safe zone, where your dog can escape to if he or she feels anxious or uneasy. This should be in a darkened, quiet part of the house with all necessities available, including his kennel, food, and water dishes.
  • Create a bond. Spend time with your new friend, feed him, play with him, and walk him. This will help him learn to trust you and the other goal is to have him associate you with positive emotion and activity.

Do Dogs Miss Previous Owners?

Do Dogs Miss Previous Owners?

As their previous family was likely a large part of your dog’s life, it isn’t too far-fetched to think that he will have moments where he misses them.

For a while, there will likely be brief waves of sadness. These moments are more than likely to be fleeting and new memories will eventually replace the old ones.

However, scent is an incredibly powerful thing, especially when it comes to dogs, so no matter how much time has passed, there is a good probability that your dog could still recognize a once familiar scent.

Should You Allow Visitation With Previous Owners?

So should visitation with prior owners be encouraged?

While you might be tempted to permit periodic visits, it may not be in the best interest of the dog. At least not for some time. Before flooding your dog with memories of the past, let him get accustomed to what is, ultimately, his new future.

Separation is even more imperative with dogs that are having a bit of difficulty settling in. A visit from his old life might make the adjustment that much harder, for both of you.

The Difference Between Human VS Animal Recognition

Even if the dog in question does happen to remember previous owners, their recollective capabilities differ from our own.

While we may remember minute details from past experiences, including faces, dogs have a shorter attention span. And, while they are not likely thinking about their old life on a daily basis if they sniff out a known scent, the memories associated with that person will likely come flooding back.

Long-Lasting Effects Of Re-homing

Depending largely on the history and upbringing of the dog, some of the more enduring effects, especially if coming from a neglectful or abusive background, might take a little more effort to work through.

It is completely natural for your dog to go through his version of the stages of grief. It should gradually subside as he gets used to his new home and family.

If your pooch is still not acting like himself after a month or has ceased eating or drinking, it is time to see a veterinarian.

When To Be Concerned

While certain behaviors and symptoms are common when adjusting to a new home, if you notice any of the following, it is time to contact your veterinarian.

  • Increasing aggression: Some aggression is normal and will usually ease completely once the dog is more comfortable. If they continue to be aggressive, or if you feel that your family is in danger, seek help.
  • Not eating/drinking: On the first or second day, your new friend might not be interested in eating or drinking. This is usually nervousness and they typically begin eating and drinking normally within a few days. If they continue to avoid food and water, bring them to the veterinarian.
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea: Both are normal when you first bring him home, however, if it is excessive or if there is blood present, you may need to seek medical help.

Breaking The Cycle

Sometimes rehoming is unavoidable. Things come up, and circumstances change, but in a perfect world, a pet should be a pet forever.

It should be entered into as a lifetime commitment, and should not be taken lightly. Dogs learn primarily from conditioning, so if they are constantly being moved from family to family, they can start to develop serious behavioral issues, ones that may not be able to be rectified.

Final Thoughts

In the end, memories fade as time inevitably moves on, such is life for us all.

To have the best chance of long, happy, and fulfilling days, your canine companion should really be living in the now. Bringing forth and reflecting on the past might only serve to confuse him and complicate the process.

Sure, when faced with familiar faces (and more importantly, scents) of the past, Fido is likely to remember and get excited about, seeing those he once knew.

However, with their tendency to live a life centered around an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ motto, dogs are not likely to spend their time pining for their previous owners.

One of the most important things to consider before taking in the newest furry family member is the history of the dog itself. Age, whether or not there was neglect or abuse in a previous home, and how many previous owners, these are questions whose answers will help choose how to go about helping Fido fit in.

Do not rush into anything. Dogs (if well cared for) can live to be 15 years old or more! Hundreds of thousands of dogs are homeless, and many of those will be euthanized before finding a forever home. The more people educate themselves before adopting, the fewer dogs will need to be rehomed.