Inherited Dogs

Keeping them in the family
By Karen B. London PhD, March 2013, Updated June 2021

“You’re probably wondering why we even got this dog,” was the first thing a new client said to me. She predicted one of the first questions I was going to ask, because this family seemed overwhelmed even before acquiring a high energy, lovable but slightly out of control, adolescent Vizsla cross.

The woman has recently had surgery, her husband has Parkinson’s disease and some other health issues that affect his mobility, and they’re in the middle of a move to a house without stairs. They already have three dogs, including two elderly ones who require a lot of care and a cat that doesn’t cope well with change. Even taking into account that there is no perfect time to adopt a new dog, their choice begged the question, “Why now?”

The answer is an all too common one. Their daughter is a college student who had adopted the dog as a puppy. She was now moving in with some friends who had chosen an apartment that does not allow dogs, and she had simply dropped the dog off at her parent’s house explaining that when she could have a dog again, she would take him back. Sure, they could have said no, but like many dog lovers, they couldn’t bear the thought of turning away this sweet dog.

Many people inherit dogs from family members. Inheriting dogs often means welcoming a dog into the family suddenly, unexpectedly, and at an inconvenient time. Most often I’ve seen the pass from college students to Mom and Dad, or to children following the death of a parent. It’s natural to want to keep the dog in the family, even if doing so is very challenging.

If you’ve ever ended up with a dog that originally belonged to someone else in your family, why did that happen and how did it work out for you?

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Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life