How Traumatic Is It For A Dog To Change Owners?

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We all hope that every dog will find her forever home right away, but that isn't always the case. Sometimes a person's situation changes or they realize that their situation wasn't ideal for a dog to begin with, and they have to re-home their furry friend. Obviously, it's an emotional situation for everyone involved, but how does it impact the pup in question? Here's what you need to know about how changing owners affects a dog.

How does a dog react to a new owner?

How a dog reacts to a new owner will depend on a lot of factors, including how old the dog is and what their former living situation was like. In general, re-homing is a very stressful experience for dogs. It's common for dogs to undergo bouts of depression and anxiety, especially if they're coming from a happy home. They will miss their old owner and may not want to do much at all in their sadness over leaving. Likewise, dogs who come from neglectful or abusive homes will also need time to adjust to a new owner, and may exhibit signs of fear or even aggression at first.

How to help a dog adjust to a new home.

Changing homes is always a stressful experience for dogs, but there are things new owners can do to ease the transition. First, if it's at all possible, it's a great idea to have a meet and greet with the dog and all its new family members (including other pets it will be living with) before the move actually happens. It's ideal for the dog's former family or foster family to be present for this visit, so the dog feels safe and secure during the initial meeting.


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When preparing for the new dog's arrival, set up the dog's kennel in a quiet corner of the house, somewhere he can go to have privacy if they're experiencing a lot of anxiety. It's beneficial for the new owner to be prepared with things that will be familiar to the dog — food and water dishes that are similar to the ones he had before, toys that he's sure to love, and even something from his previous or foster home (the scent will be comforting).


As you plan the day of the big transition, try to schedule the move for the morning. Dogs are more anxious at night than in the morning, so set him up for success by timing the exchange to when he's naturally more calm. When the dog arrives at the new house, take him on a guided tour, on a lead, to get him used to his new surroundings (it's also a good idea to start the visit with a potty break). Most importantly, be patient with your new dog. It might take him weeks or even months to adjust to his new home.

How long does it take for a dog to get used to a new family?

How long it will take your new dog to get used to her new family depends on her age and her history. If you happen to be adopting a puppy, you can probably expect the transition to be quick. Puppies who are 12 weeks old or younger usually bond almost instantly. Older dogs who come from stable, healthy homes will usually take somewhere from a few days to a few weeks to get used to their new owners, depending on how quickly trust is built. Trust is especially key in the case of rescue dogs. If you're rescuing a dog, try to learn as much about her history as possible. Dogs with traumatic pasts will often take weeks or even months to warm up to new owners — patience and stability are vital to forging the bond.


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Does my dog miss his previous owner?

It's possible. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests dogs do remember their previous owners, and that, if the relationship was a good one, they're excited to be reunited with them after time apart. That being said, it's not super likely that your dog is actively pining for his past owner. It's more likely that, if that person comes over for a visit or runs into you at the park someday, your dog might get super excited.

Should I stay in contact with my dog's previous owner?

According to Applied Animal Behaviorist Patricia B. McConnell, it all depends on how well the dog is adjusting to his new home. Basically, if the dog is doing well with the transition and seems happy and settled with his new family, then a visit might not be a bad idea. If the dog has been struggling to adjust, however, it might be best for the previous owner to keep their distance (as devastating and difficult as that might be for them).


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Is it okay to change a dog's name?

Yes. It's totally okay to change your dog's name.

"Dogs don't have a concept of identity the way we do," certified New York dog trainer Renee Payne said, according to MNN. "It might be confusing if you change [the name] regularly, but everyone I know calls their dogs several different nicknames. You can always add on; you just want to have some consistency. It has to be something you consistently call them."


In fact, if the dog you're adopting comes from a traumatic or abusive background, changing their name could even be beneficial for their mental health. Certified dog trainer Amber Burckhalter to MNN that it can help these kinds of dogs adjust to their new lives.

"It would be a good idea to change their name if they were rescued and were mistreated and that name is the name that was used," Burckhalter, owner of K-9 Coach dog training and boarding facility in Smyrna, Georgia, explained. "You don't want them to have a negative association. It should be a new life, new owners, new name."


If you do decide to change your dog's name, just remember to take things slowly and be patient as they adjust to their new handle. Having lots of treats on hand to shower them with when they respond to the new name is especially helpful.