How to make a pet rehoming decision?
May 13, 2011 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm afraid I may have to find a new home for my dog, and I'm really brokenhearted about it. How can I best make this decision?

I'm in a situation right now where the best solution may be to find a new home for my dog, and I'm having a hard time making the decision. I love my dog and I am very attached to her, but circumstances in my life are changing and I need some help sorting out what the best thing to do here is.

My dog: I've had my dog for 3 years now, and she is 4 years old. I was her third home that I know of, and I'm not really sure what her life was like before she came to me. She is on the small size of medium (about 22 pounds, and not at all overweight) and is a mixed breed (most likely lab/terrier, but I'm not 100% sure). She's an extremely affectionate dog who always has to be where the people are, and would be next to and/or touching someone at all times if we would let her. When I first got her, I quickly learned she had extreme separation anxiety. It's taken a lot of work over the years to get that under control and she's in a much better place than she was, but still has a ways to go.

She is pretty energetic and jumps up a lot, something I have worked long and hard on and have not gotten consistent results, so it's an ongoing issue (she's food motivated, and I do positive reinforcement training with a clicker - never negative reinforcement). That said, I know I haven't always been as disciplined with her training as I should have been. She knows the basics, is crate trained and housebroken, and walks well on a leash. She does very well off leash when in a doggie daycare/boarding situation or at the dog park - friendly, plays well, no aggression or incidents, and has never bitten or attacked any human or animal. However, she tends to bark at other dogs or people while being walked on a leash - only if the dogs bark first or the human attempts to interact with her; otherwise she will ignore for the most part. This can be unnerving, and I know I haven't done everything I can to work on this issue. This seems to be leash-specific as she doesn't react the same way when people come to the house and meet her for the first time. She gets a lot of exercise and overall seems to be a pretty happy dog, albeit with a few issues that still need to be addressed and worked on through better training and consistency.

The situation: Right now I live alone with my dog in an apartment, but I'm currently pregnant with my first child (due in the fall). My SO and I are planning to move in together in about a month, to a nearby house (with a large fenced in yard) that his out-of-state parents just bought and tentatively plan to move to when they retire in a few years. It's an ideal situation for us because we don't have to be locked into a lease (with my SO's job situation right now, some flexibility to relocate if the need arises is important to us), we are getting a break on rent costs so we get more space for the baby and a better place to live than we might be able to afford otherwise, and it's close to family - an important source of support for us as we venture into first time parenthood together.

However, we have concerns about bringing my dog into this environment. Most importantly, the baby that's on the way. Although I've had dogs all of my life, I have no experience with dogs and small children. My SO isn't really a dog person and has never had any pets, although he has a good relationship with my dog (and has even cared for her while I've been out of town). We are both afraid of the potential issues with having a dog - especially my dog who needs better training - around our baby. On top of that, his parents and brother are allergic to dogs, and his parents have concerns because they will be visiting from time to time and plan to eventually live in the house in a few years (we won't be there then, but they are concerned about allergy issues after the fact). His brother will probably be in our house a lot, and in addition to that, they have 2 small children with a set of twins on the way. There is a potential for helping each other out with child care and it's likely we will all have a lot of interaction once the babies arrive. Naturally, his brother has the same concerns about the dog and the kids, as well as the allergies.

No one has asked me to give up my dog, and both my SO and his family are sympathetic to how difficult that would be for me to do - but they have voiced their concerns, and the more my SO and I discuss it, the more I have begun to understand and feel the same concerns. I'm really torn, because the thought of having to give up my dog breaks my heart completely. I've always believed when you make a decision to bring a pet into your home, it's a forever decision. I want to do the best thing for both my dog, to ensure she has the best life possible, and of course our baby who ultimately is the most important here. I've done a lot of research on introducing dogs to newborns and given my dog's current issues and the amount of training still needed, I think it could be doable with a lot of commitment on our part, but still difficult, and it's scary to not have any guarantee the situation would turn out well - even with committed and consistent training from here on out.

If this were just a normal dating situation where my SO asked me to give up my dog because he didn't like dogs, it would be a deal breaker for me (and if not for the baby, he would be fine with my dog). But, this isn't that situation, and I'm really trying to carefully consider the best decision for all involved. I really want to do the right thing here, but I feel like I am so emotionally attached to my dog right now that it's hard to step back from that and really look at everything objectively.

My questions:

1. Do any of you have experience with bringing a newborn into your family with a dog? How did you go about it, and how did it work out? Given what you know about my dog, is there hope for us to improve her training enough between now and when the baby arrives this fall, and if so, how can we do this?

2. What is the best way to ensure my dog goes to a great home where her needs can be met, if I decide to find a new home for her? One of my biggest fears with this is not having any idea where she will end up and it turning out to be a bad situation, even if the family seems great at first impression. Neither of us have any friends of family nearby who are interested in taking in a new pet right now, so going with someone we know is probably not an option.

3. Do you have any other advice for me on things I should be considering in order to help make the right decision?

Thank you all for your help!
posted by katy song to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When we had behavioral issues with our dog that we lacked the ability to fix, we called our vet and discussed our options. They recommended a dog trainer in our area that they said was very good - a dog behavioralist, really.

We called him and discussed our problems and he came out and we scheduled a set of four "home visit" appointments - spread over the course of about two months - and working with him has had extraordinary results. We're only about half-way through right now, but there is a marked improvement with our dog that makes us all very happy.

You're not in my neck of the woods, so I can't help on that front, really - I mean, I guess if you were interested I could contact him and ask if he has any referrals for your part of the country, and I would be happy to do so - but maybe you could contact your vet or something like that.

One thing I also liked was that the guy didn't come in selling snake oil. He said, thing #1, "Look, there are no easy answers - here are the realities of what you can expect" - and I liked that.
posted by kbanas at 10:27 AM on May 13, 2011

If this is really starting to be a heavy burden, then by all means, give the dog up.
having a first baby can be stressful, time demanding, etc. Some people can cope
with dogs and newborns, some cannot.
Do not feel guilty about it, sometimes in life, you have to make the best decision
for everyone, and to be honest, your baby deserves a first priority.
If you feel like you are not equipped and prepared to have a baby *and* the dog, then the dog deserves a chance at a better life, with someone that can give him the attention, needs, and
care he deserves. Dont feel guilty about it.

As a data point, dog lover here, agree 100% that a dog is a lifetime choice, but
when my first boy was born, due to difficult cirmustances, we had to give away our beloved dog.
It is a very hard decision, but in the end, it was best for him, as we found a perfect match family for him.
posted by theKik at 10:32 AM on May 13, 2011

If you are afraid the dog is going to do something to the baby, I think your concerns are misguided. If you concern is that the dog won't get the attention it demands and won't be happy, then only experience will tell you.

Its pretty common for non-dog people to think this big ball of fur and teeth is going to harm a small child, but din't forget dogs really mostly operate off of cues they get from you. Dogs have pretty much evolved to not eat their owners children.

I have recently seen this entire situation play out with our Terrier and my niece, and her non-pet owning parents thinking he was some sort of risk to her, when he actually loses interest in her after about 10 minutes. And in your case, your dog will be around the baby all the time, so he'll figure out the drill even more quickly.
posted by JPD at 10:40 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a dog with issues and a kid. I had the dog first (for several years) and then had the kid and they've been together for almost 2 years now. I can't speak much about the allergies side of things, because that hasn't been an issue, and it really depends on how allergic they are and whether a steam clean and dog at boarding for family visits will be enough. However, I wouldn't necessarily rule out your dog and a baby from anything you've written. It seems like your dog jumps and barks, but that's it, and honestly, that's better than probably 75% (or more) people with dogs and kids out there. Heck, that's better than me with my dog (who has food and occasionally toy aggression issues), and neither issue you stated are ones that equal bad time with a baby. Remember, when you baby is little, you can guide interactions between the two of them much easier, and as they get more active and mobile, they do it gradually so that the dog gets used to it too. My dog took to my son immediately, and was very interested in and concerned about him. He used to bark and whine at us if we didn't go running to the baby as soon as he cried. He was less good with older, more active kids, but as my son as gotten older, he's gotten more comfortable around that. My son can now run around, chasing him, grabbing a hold of even, even poking things at him, and my dog doesn't care. My son even helps feed him and plays with all his toys and my dog only vaguely cares. And my dog is fine around other kids too, he mostly gets bored with them and tries to avoid them within 10min of them being in my house unless they actively corner him, but as a parent and dog owner, it's my responsibility to make sure the kids aren't overly bugging the dog too. At some parties I've just secluded him so that he doesn't get overwhelmed.

Now, this may not work out for you this way, but I wouldn't rush into getting rid of your dog. if I were in your shoes, I'd wait to see how the dog and baby dealt with each other. You can always change your mind later. I wouldn't stress about fixing all your dog's problems right now, in fact, ignore the barking on the leash if you need to, it really isn't that big a deal, so many dogs around my neighborhood do this without any provocation, one dog just walks down the street baying. Talk to a behaviorist about the best way to deal with the jumping, and just keep up your normal training, you seem to be doing great. I'd also bring your SO in on the training so he and the dog can get used to him being in charge too.

A couple good bits of advice related to prepping the dog for the baby that I got was to have someone bring the blankets they wrapped the baby in after being born home and placed on the floor for the dog to sniff and get used to the smell of the new one before you come home with them, and, if the dog is more attached to you than your SO, to have your SO carry the baby in so that you can greet the dog. Also, I tried to annoy my dog in the way a kid would so that he would start to get used to it, but I don't know if that's really valid or not : )
posted by katers890 at 10:45 AM on May 13, 2011 [8 favorites]

I have an 8 month old and a 1.5 year old Shiba Inu (very energetic, creates some trouble in the house, but pretty good). My wife and I were worried about how our dog would react when we brought our son home. While our dog Henry loves me, he is a little crazy around my wife. (probably the alpha dog instinct). Anyway, we took the steps we should, took the stroller with us on walks, tried to introduce him to the concept of dog toys and baby toys (still struggling a little bit with this one), and a lot of what any "introducing your baby to your dog" book or website will tell you.

What happened was the exact opposite of what we thought might be the case. It was like Henry knew that this was a new family member and that he should be protective of him as well. Our son and Henry are probably best buds now. Henry licks our son and cleans up his spit up instantly. Since our son started crawling it is like those two are now inseparable. My wife comments that Henry loves our son more than he loves her (which might be true).

Granted, I may be the exception, but it can work out for the best keeping the dog.
posted by dyno04 at 10:47 AM on May 13, 2011

I'd recommend starting with a home visit with a trainer (even in your apartment, though it'd be worth finding out if having a house with a yard chills the dog out some).

Part of that is to just get a baseline assessment. Part of it is to see if the trainer can suggest a plan to work on if you do keep the dog. And then, finally, if you do give the dog up you'll know someone with resources who can put you in touch with the right people to help you.

You don't really have to make this decision right now, but you should put the various wheels in motion so that when you do decide you've got more information at your disposal.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:51 AM on May 13, 2011

Just as a data point, I was born into and raised in a home with cats, badly trained dogs larger than yours, puppies, kittens, etc. No yard. So were my sisters. We all turned out fine.
posted by adamrice at 11:09 AM on May 13, 2011

For the allergies issue, I am pretty sure you can discuss this with your vet. It is a common issue. Not allowing your dog on the furniture will help, as will regular baths.

Have you seen your dog interact with other small children? How did she do? Maybe you could do a supervised test run, to reassure everyone.
posted by annsunny at 11:15 AM on May 13, 2011

Another dog owner that has kids. Highly energetic 90 pound lab/dalmation that liked to "mouth" things (hands, as well). Our first baby, we had some concerns, as well, but all came to nothing. He was fantastic with the baby and the ones that followed.

When our first baby would start to cry, he would even start barking, and come and find us and not leave us alone until we followed him back to the baby (he would actually lead/herd us) and took care of the baby.

There are volumns written on how best to introduce the baby, so I won't belabor that here. But even my friend, we had a fairly nasty pooch that would nip at people ended up being their baby's "protector" and was fine with other small children after the baby when before, she was iffy. Animals, for the most part, have some sort of innate thing with babies. It's why we find puppies of every stripe cute, and feel the desire to cuddle with baby tigers.

As for allergies, y'know, zyrtex and all the medications available over the counter nowadays help the majority of people I know. And when it comes time to give up the house, a thorough cleaning should be fine.

If it comes to finding a new home, contact a good local rescue group.
posted by rich at 11:17 AM on May 13, 2011

Dogs and babies have been getting along for tens of thousands of years. I would definitely at least give it a try before you make assumptions that it is going to be too much for you.

Dogs do tend to recognize babies as an addition to the family, not an outsider. The also recognize the delicateness of a baby by observing how delicate you are with the baby. They are remarkable like that.

You have two concerns from what I understand: The dog jumps, and the parents have allergies.

You can do some more/better training on the jumping (and she is at a good age to move on from the jumping energy part of her life), and discuss options with regards to the allergies (how allergic are they, can the dog be outside/in another room/boarded when they are there, etc.)

Besides, when you are alone with the baby and your dog, it might be nice to have at least one of them be able to do what you tell it to...
posted by Vaike at 11:21 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

re: allergies- Keep a room or two in the house free of the dog (door shut, all the time) for your visitors (the brother etc). Maybe keep a stock of otc meds on hand?

Make sure there's no carpet in the home, or have it replaced before your S.O.'s parents move back in. (Thorough cleaning might not be sufficient for carpets, although in my experience dog allergen is less insidious than cat).

Also if the house isn't furnished yet, plan on any soft furniture being replaced/moved out before the parents move back in. Hard things (wood, metal, glass, likely leather) are cleanable, but upholstered furniture might not be so easy.
posted by nat at 11:25 AM on May 13, 2011

Friend has a hyperactive, super-jumpy cocker spaniel. When the baby arrived, the cocker spaniel appointed himself the BOSS OF MAKING SURE NOBODY MESSES WITH THE BABY. He never jumps up on whoever is holding the baby, and he lays the absolute smack down on other dogs who get too close to HIS baby.

Most dogs figure out pretty quickly that the baby ranks above them in the pack, and that being nice to the baby pleases their humans.

(Also, as someone who is throat-closingly allergic to dogs, which is why we don't own one, they're overworrying about allergies. I can manage a three-day visit to a dog-owning home as long as the room has been recently vacuumed and I don't pet the dogs or touch my face before washing my hands after incidental contact with the dogs. Shampoo the carpets (and any staying-behind upholstered furniture) before you move out, and it will be FINE. OTC allergy meds are enough for me for visits.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:29 AM on May 13, 2011

I have no experience with dogs and children, although what everyone else is saying makes sense.

As to the allergens and parents potentially moving into the house - my mother has extreme asthma, allergic to essentially everything. If the house is cleaned really well, and carpet *and pad* replaced before they move in, it should be no problem. She moved into an apartment that had a dog there, but they replaced the carpet and pad, and she's fine.

I realize you likely don't want to put the kids on allergy medicine, and keeping a room or two dog free is likely a good idea if possible. However, your family members should be willing to take some allergy medicine if needed.

There are also a bunch of air filters, etc, you can get to help with this. Other good tips are vacuum the day before they come, so anything that gets stirred up has a chance to settle, or run a Roomba or other similar device when you're/they're not home, so there is time between vacuuming and visiting.
posted by needlegrrl at 11:33 AM on May 13, 2011

Thanks for all the thoughtful answers so far! So much great advice to help my fears about the dog being introduced to the baby.

A few things to note: the house only has carpet in the 3 bedrooms, which is great. The rest is wood and tile, even the hallway leading to the bedrooms. The furniture will be ours and will leave when we do. It does seem like the allergy issue is the lesser of the concerns - we could keep the bedrooms dog free and there is the potential to board her during overnight visits, though that can be costly, so we would like to avoid it if possible. I don't really know how bad the allergies are - I have a cat allergy myself and know that for me, OTC allergy meds don't do a thing to help me and I know how miserable that feels, so I'm not wishing to impose that on his parents if I can help it.

Before my SO expressed these concerns, I had the idea that we would see how everything goes with the baby and the dog before making any rash decisions. My SO is less comfortable with that than I am. My dog has never been around small children that I know of and I'm a little afraid to test the waters with someone else's kids. I also think the bigger issue with his family is the amount of kids who will potentially be around my dog - not just our own, but his brother's small kids too. I feel concerned too because we are talking about someone else's kids potentially in our care now, and that adds an extra layer of worry for me.

I do really like the idea of moving and getting settled pre-baby, see how my dog does and how the yard helps, and consult with a behaviorist then before making a decision. My biggest concern with my dog's behavioral issues is her jumping and being underfoot at all times. I'm not sure how she will cope with the baby being the #1 priority, and how we can best work on getting her to respect personal space and be more independent and keep her distance unless invited (this has been my biggest fail when it comes to slacking on her training).
posted by katy song at 11:42 AM on May 13, 2011

If you do give her up, be sure.

Once I took the dog of some new parents who didn't think they could handle the dog and the new baby. They called me about a week later, devastated and wanting the dog back. I gave it back because I knew it was the only right option. But it was so much harder on me than I would ever have guessed.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:47 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

We did the introduce a newborn to the dog thing last year. I was so so worried about both of them - the baby and the dog. Turns out, I was worried for pretty much nothing. Dog - a large Golden Retriever FWIW - sniffed baby. Baby sqwaked at wet cold nose on head and that was the end of it. We made it a point as baby grew to teach him to respect the dog (and vice versa). And you know what happened yesterday? The sweetest thing: baby gave dog a hug. Holy crap it was adorable.

What really got me that first year was that I still had to take care of the dog AND the baby AND the husband. It became very overwhelming for a while there because the dog still needed to be walked, fed, shushed (he's a barker), and ushered out of the way when we're carrying the baby. I'm glad that I stuck it out because baby has developed a great relationship with the dog, absolutely adores him and the dog understands that baby is a new member of the family who is very adept at dropping food. And, now that I'm feeling normal again, I love my dog again and am glad he is around.

As for allergies, our pediatrician advised that babies don't really develop allergies until they are about 1 year. Baby Leezie is 14 months and if he has allergies (which is possible) I suspect it's more of a mold/oak/pollen thing than a dog thing (we also have two cats).

Please, please, please consider very carefully about giving up your much loved pooch. They will bring you so much comfort when the baby is up in the middle of the night and you are at your wit's end. There's something about that calming lump of fur on the floor next to you that makes it so much easier to handle the wailing of a baby or a poopy diaper at 2am.
posted by Leezie at 12:10 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

The only way to find out how your dog is with kids is to have them interact with kids. But as others have said, how a dog reacts around other kids and around your kid are often different. My dog LOVES my son and is very protective of him (like others have said above), but doesn't care much and tries to avoid most other kids. We have a lot of friends with kids, some with dogs, some without, and my dog is fine with all of them except when they cornered him, which was something I was looking out for and stepped in on. For smaller groups, it's easy to keep on eye on both the dog and the kids and remove the dog to another room if necessary. For larger parties, you can always preemptively remove the dog to another room (which is what a friend of my does with her big golden). You also have to teach kids to respect the dog, but kids and dogs have been getting along for a long time. It doesn't work for everyone, and if your dog was a biter, I could see being worried, but a dog that small that jumps? You are definitely jumping the gun (in my opinion, but I don't know you, your family, or your dog) in getting rid of him before there is a problem.

Also, my dog is always underfoot and as a 50lb pit bull mix, it's much more of a problem than you probably had, and again, he's adjusted to sharing attention with only minor pouting, and once my son started becoming a treat factory (between dropped food and the demands to give the dog treats), even that stopped.
posted by katers890 at 1:00 PM on May 13, 2011

I think you should keep your dog for now and re-evaluate after your move and the birth of your child, to see how things go and give the situation a chance. Re-homing her should still be an option, but personally, I would feel less guilty about it if I knew we at least gave it a shot. This also buys you some time to learn more about re-homing options and re-focus on training her.

This requires you and your husband to commit to: 1) a plan for re-homing the dog as soon as you decide that it's needed, 2) working harder to consistently train the dog, and 3) doing whatever it takes to return an allergen-free home to its owners when they move in, regardless of how long the dog is there. It would also be nice to aim for as allergen-free a home as possible for visitors, but that seems like a lot to manage with a new baby. Could you consider a cleaning service before long visits?

There are a lot of changes going on in your life right now, and I don't think this is a decision you have to force just yet. And it seems impossible to predict what it will be like until it actually happens. Give it some time.
posted by juliplease at 2:31 PM on May 13, 2011

My wife and I have successfully introduced two kids into a house with two large dogs. Some tips:

-brought home clothing/blankets/caps from the hospital so the smell was somewhat familiar
-took the dogs for walks with the stroller before the baby was born, so that the dogs were used to its presence on a walk;
-taught the dogs to stay out of baby's space and we also taught the baby, once crawling, to stay away from the dogs spaces (their baskets). That way the dogs can go somewhere when they wish to be left alone.
-took baby away when the little hands started pulling at tails and ears - praising the dogs for their patience when we did so, while at the same time trying to teach baby that those aren't good places to pull (gets much easier when baby understands the word "no")
-had an area for feeding the dogs that we could isolate, so that we didn't have to worry about baby trying for a food dish or bone;
-tried to maintain some time that was exclusively for the dogs to be walked or played with by either me or Ms. shoes

Our local Humane Society ran a course for expecting parents with pets - it had some good ideas and some tips on dealing with problem animal behaviour (e.g., jumping up, which seems to be your major concern). I would suggest contacting yours and seeing if they do something similar.

The important part of this will be both you and your partner working on doing dog training in the coming months. It is a commitment and requires time, but it can be done.
posted by never used baby shoes at 3:17 PM on May 13, 2011

Local animal shelters and dog training facilities often have programs called "baby ready pets" (PDF) or something similar. Well worth looking into.

It is not safe to leave dogs and young kids alone together (having a crate trained dog is a bonus for this), and you need to remember to teach the baby to respect the dog and treat it kindly once it's older, but other than that, there is no reason your dog won't be just fine with your baby, as long as you remember that the dog will still need attention and exercise.
posted by biscotti at 4:31 PM on May 13, 2011

Does your dog have any experience around small animals (cats, raccoons, rabbits, etc)? We had to send our dog on an extended vacation with a relative when he reacted terribly to our baby. It was so bad that we couldn't find a behaviorist willing to try training our dog. After lots of discussions with dog trainers and vets, I've come to the conclusion that how your dog acts around small animals is a good indicator of how they will be around a baby. Our dog was always terrible around cats, and any other small creature. The fact that your dog does so well at the dog park and in dog boarding makes me think that she might be just fine with a baby around.
posted by JuliaKM at 7:19 PM on May 14, 2011

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