Bullmastiff puppy about to be adopted.

Private ‘Home-to-Home’ Dog Adoption: What You Must Know

What if someone you know approaches you to take in their dog? How do you go about accepting a private surrender? It might be a close friend or family member, or an acquaintance such as a neighbour or work colleague. They have come to the hard decision to rehome their dog and have approached you as their first option for their beloved pooch’s next home. What are the things you need to consider before taking them in?

In today’s guide, we will step through everything you need to know about accepting a private surrender and determining if this is the right decision for you and the dog.


What Should You Do?

Our two fur children have come into our lives through this often sensitive and unique situation – actually, even our turtle! But accepting a private surrender of a dog requires much consideration and an honest, delicate approach.

Related: How Do I Verify a Dog Breeder in Australia?

So, what should you do if someone asks you to take in their dog?

  • Be sensitive

First, be humble and grateful that they have qualified you as the right person to give their dog a forever home. Regardless of their personal situation and circumstances that has led them to the decision to rehome their pet, ensure you approach the request with sensitivity and gratitude. 

They will likely have acknowledged your love of animals and are confident that you will be able to provide the best possible life for their dog.

  • Access if the dog the right fit for you

You are most likely not actively seeking to add a new member to your family. Such a request to take in a new pet can take some time to reach the appropriate decision – if you are fortunate to have time on your hands, we will cover emergency situations next.

Access if the dog is the right fit for you, your lifestyle, and your family (if applicable). Consider its needs and if you are up to the responsibility to train and provide for the dog.

Adopting a dog (whether privately or not) is a lifetime commitment and should not be taken lightly. It can be traumatising to the dog if they are constantly being shipped to new homes (1).

If you are not confident you can provide the dog with the optimal lifestyle and safe, secure home, consider if it would be best if they were surrendered to someone else (or to an adoption centre) and rehomed elsewhere.

  • What if it is an emergency?

There are certain situations, generally outside of an owners’ control, where a dog must be rehomed during an emergency. This is where friends and family are likely to turn to those trusted to look after their pets in times of need (2)

You should be made aware upfront if the dog will go into your care temporarily, for a certain timeframe, or if they wish to surrender them completely over to you. The more information you can obtain before accepting, will reduce the likelihood of you taking in a pet that you cannot look after for a long period of time, and will have to consider rehoming again in the future.

  • Discuss costs

In most cases, there will be no immediate upfront cost to you if you take in a dog via private surrender. The owner is likely avoiding any official surrender fees (3) from a shelter and cutting out the middleman by providing a direct transfer of their dog into their new home.

Regardless of the situation, it is recommended you assess the forthcoming fees of accepting the dog into your home.

  • Do they have any existing medical issues that require treatment and/or medication?
  • Do they follow a specific diet?
  • Are they microchipped and registered - or is this something you must do at first instance?
  • Does the dog display any behaviour that requires investment in your home – such as fencing, indoor doggy gates etc.

Remember, being a dog parent is a rewarding role, but one that can also be quite costly as you provide them with the best life possible.

This is also the time to discuss what the owner will be providing for the pup, whether it be their old bedding, open or unused dog food, toys, collar, leash etc. Getting a detailed list of what you need will ensure you have everything set up and ready to welcome the dog to their new home.


Accepting the Dog Into Your Home

So, let’s say you have accessed the situation, accepted the responsibility and are ready to welcome the pooch into your home. How should you go about it?

Related: What To Expect When Adopting A Senior Dog.

Let me first state that every private surrender is unique, the previous owners may want to be 100% involved in acclimatising the dog into their new home, or they may wish to ‘cut the heart strings’ and hand over full responsibility to you.

Whether the previous owner is involved or not, here are some steps to help your new fur friend adjust to your home:

  • Collate paperwork

Even if this situation does not play out exactly like an official adoption, there is still some paperwork to deal with. Obtain copies of their previous vet bills and/or contact details of their current veterinarian in case you decide to keep going to the same vet or transfer their medical history to your preferred clinic.

If they are microchipped and registered, ensure you are given the dogs documents so you can easily make the official transfer of ownership with the relevant authorities. It may not always be required, but some microchip services request a ‘letter of transfer’ from the previous owner to confirm the pet is being rehomed ethically.

  • Create a safe space 

Set up their own space within your home with bedding, blankets and toys – either from their previous home or new. Knowing they have their own area of the house will help them feel safe and secure. If the previous owner is willing, getting them to set this area up ‘just how like they it’ will help with the transition into your home.

  • Met household members

Whether it is other pets or members of your family, ensure you introduce the latest addition to their new family with patience and supervision. Finding themselves in a new home environment can be overwhelming for your new pup, so always approach these situations with care and consideration (4).

  • Training

As you introduce the dog to your home, it is important to ensure they are made aware of the rules of your house. Be patient and provide gentle training so they understand the accepted behaviour in their new home.

If they used to rule their previous house but you would prefer they not jump up onto the beds and couches, be kind and accepting that his habit may take some time to adjust to. Likewise, if the dog was always kept outside, but you would like to show them affection with couch snuggles, let them find their own comfort and trust with you and try not to force any new situations onto them – especially during their first few months in their new home. One of our dogs took years before he allowed us to pat his head – now he is the ultimate snuggler!


What If The Previous Owners Want To Visit?

Rehoming your dog can be a very tough and heart wrenching decision, and it can become a double-edged sword if you also know and have access to the dog’s new home.

Related: The Best Dogs For First Time Owners.

The previous owner may request to visit, but should you allow it? Again, this all depends on the personal unique situation that led them to surrender their pet to you. Dogs are emotional beings and will recognise their previous owners and attach feelings towards them – either good or bad (5).

It can also be an overwhelming time for the dog when it is rehomed, and often more confusing when they are establishing their trust and adjusting to their new home. On a personal note, our Border Collie X was surrendered to us from our neighbours at the time, during the first few weeks he would often get confused as to where his new home was being so close to his familiar smells and surroundings - especially while out for walks or hearing known voices over the fence.

If the previous owner wants to visit to ensure their dog is being provided for and they made the right decision, they have every right to. Be sensitive to their request and decide if a visit is in the best interest of the dog.

“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)” – Patricia McConnel, animal behavourist.

Either way, it is best to acknowledge the importance that you and the dog are allowed the time to develop your new bond and adjust to your new life together.


How Long Will It Take For The Dog To Adjust To Their New Home?

Again, I must stress the varied, unique situations in which a private surrender takes place. Every dog and circumstance are different.

There is, however, a general guideline to the adjustment period of 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months: (6)

  • 3 Days: Initial transition. Typically, during the first few days in a new home, you'll see more shutdown behaviour or caution at exploring new things. However, some dogs deal with stress differently and can have trouble settling down.
  • 3 Weeks: Middle transition. Most dogs are getting more comfortable at this time with the routine, environment and starting to show their normal behaviour and temperament.
  • 3 Months: End of transition. Usually, most dogs are expected to be fully acclimated to their new environment and routine, however depending on the dog this can take up to a year.

The dog may be very well known to you previously, having had many regular interactions or even stayed with you short term in the past. Or you may be a complete stranger to them. Take these timelines only as guidelines. It is important to always be patient and accepting.


What If You Suspect The Dog Didn’t Have The Best Life Before?

This can put you in a very sensitive situation, especially when you intimately know the previous owners. What if you know that the dog was not in the best situation and might be suffering from trauma? This comes back to the first thing we discussed, be humble that the owner accepted you as the best place for their dog to live their life.

“As humans, we think that if we love them enough, give them good quality food, plenty of exercise and affection, that any anxiety or fear will go away. This isn’t the case.” – Dog trainer Sarah-Anne Reed for Healthy Paws (7)

Regardless of what situations and living environments the dog might have been through, you now have the opportunity to provide them with the gentle loving training, and safe home environment they need.

As hard as it might be, try to detach the animal’s behaviour from the previous owner’s actions and provide love and care for your new family member as if you would any rescue dog.


Final Thoughts – Should You Accept A Private Surrender?

Providing a dog with a new home, regardless of how they came to be in your possession, is a rewarding and fulfilling journey. When you are asked to take on the responsibility to become a dog’s new parent from someone known to you, it can come with additional emotional baggage.

Related: Where To Buy A Dog In Australia: The Differences Between Breeders & Shelters

But if you assess the situation and can provide that dog with a safe and loving forever home, it could very well become the best decision of not only your life, but the life of your new pup!

References:

  1. Roberts, K. “How Traumatic Is It For A Dog To Change Owners?”. Cuteness. Retrieved June 4, 2023. https://www.cuteness.com/13713185/how-traumatic-is-it-for-a-dog-to-change-owners
  2. “How Do I Rehome My Dog?”. Rehome. Retrieved July 4, 2023. https://rehome.adoptapet.com/answers/dog-rehoming/how-do-i-rehome-my-dog
  3. “How Much Does It Cost To Surrender A Dog?”. Rehome. Retrieved July 4, 2023. https://rehome.adoptapet.com/answers/dog-rehoming/how-much-does-it-cost-to-surrender-a-dog
  4. “Bringing Your New Dog Home”. RSPCA Victoria. Retrieved July 4, 2023. https://rspcavic.org/learn/bringing-your-new-dog-home/
  5. Drake, P. March 16, 2018. “Can Dogs Remember Previous Owners?”. Wag! Retrieved July 4, 2023. https://wagwalking.com/sense/can-dogs-remember-previous-owners
  6. Madson, C. February 6, 2023. “Bringing a New Dog Home: The Adjustment Period”. Preventative Pet. Retrieved July 4, 2023. https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/new-dog-adjustment-period
  7. True, C. June 23, 2020. “Adopting a Rescue Dog? Know the Signs of Trauma”. Healthy Paws. Retrieved July 4, 2023. https://blog.healthypawspetinsurance.com/adopting-a-rescued-pet-watch-for-signs-of-trauma-and-be-patient

FAQ

What if I can’t take the dog in?

It is OK. If you have deliberated and decided that you cannot take in the dog, it is best to be honest and open with the owners. There are many other ways to rehome the dog. In most cases, the person is coming to you as a first option.

Will they miss their previous owner?

Dogs can remember and recognise their owners for many years. If they establish a loving connection with the previous owner, it is likely that they will miss them (6). Be patient during their transition period and lay the foundations for your future bond as a new partnership.


Renae Soppe


Renae Soppe is a professional writer, copy editor and dog lover. Renae graduated from the University of Queensland with a double Bachelors Degree in Journalism and Science, majoring in Chemistry.

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