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Here's Why a Million Dogs End Up in Shelters Each Year | Pupford

September 28th, 2023

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The choice to relinquish a dog to a shelter is often one that weighs heavily on the pup parent. It is in most cases seen as a last resort, and often one they’d rather not have to make.

While I want to remain sensitive to anyone who has had to make that decision, it’s important to discuss the main reason why so many dogs end up in shelters. Understanding the “why” behind relinquishment can hopefully help reduce the frequency!

Some estimates put the number of dogs relinquished to shelters at around 1 million per year (roughly 3 million end up in shelters overall, but I want to focus on relinquished dogs).

Let that sink in for a moment…

Roughly 2,700 dogs PER DAY are being relinquished to shelters.

In this article, we’ll dive into the data from two different studies that aimed to pinpoint why dogs are relinquished. My hope is that understanding this data can help us individually and as a society make more informed and healthy decisions with our pets.

Here is what we will cover:

  • The #1 problem behavior reported during a relinquishment
  • How many surrendered dogs received training? Both formal & informal
  • Additional statistics about dogs ending up in shelters
  • What we can do to reduce the number of dogs being relinquished to shelters

Let’s get to it! ⬇️


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some studies have limitations

Before we dive into the studies, I want to line out some limitations and points to understand surrounding the data from these studies.

#1- One study was conducted via phone on people who had relinquished animals in the past 5 years. Trying to remember reasons and feelings for something that happened last week can be challenging, let alone up to 5 years ago.

#2- Some of the data (study #1) was compiled almost 25 years ago. While I’d infer that most data and trends have stayed the same, there certainly is a need for more up-to-date research.

#3- The studies tried to compile data from a variety of age groups, demographics, and geographic areas, but no study is perfect in that regard. There is a high likelihood of anomalies and limiting factors, and that should be understood. Study #1 surveyed over 3,700 people and study #2 surveyed around 11,000.

#4- The “1 million dogs relinquished to shelters annually” is a slight approximation based on data from two sources, here & here. It certainly could be lower, but is likely higher if I had to bet on it!

Here is a link to the first study conducted by participating shelters at the time of relinquishment. (Note: I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to answer the questions while going through such a difficult ordeal, but I’m appreciative they did it so we can better understand how to help dogs around the world.)

Here is a link to the other study conducted over the phone of people who relinquished dogs within the past 5 years.

The bottom line, no study is perfect but the trends and insights are still extremely valuable.

Now, let’s dive into the data!


hyperactivity is the number one reason people relinquish their dogs to shelters

An important and sincere note… I want to stress that I know how challenging it can be to raise a dog and that I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for those who truly try but feel that relinquishing their dog is the only option. That choice often comes with a lot of heartache, tears, and anguish. I don't want to minimize that, just provide some ideas to help reduce how often it occurs!

Raising a puppy is tough because you’re trying to communicate with the equivalent of an infant who doesn’t even speak the same language. Plus, your dog’s innate desires and wiring are often the exact opposite of what you want them to do.

It is tough to make the time, stay consistent, and train with effective methods.

Beyond that, many breeds have as much energy as a jack rabbit. They just go, go, and go!

According to the 1st study, the #1 reported challenging behavior of dogs being relinquished to shelters was being hyperactive.

And #2 was being too noisy, aka barking. (PS- Here’s a great article to help reduce your dog’s barking!)

While I can sympathize with us humans feeling like dogs are being hyperactive (I raised two Lab puppies at the same time, trust me I get it), is it really the dog’s fault?

Or, do we humans have unrealistic expectations of how dogs will behave?

When I interviewed an applied ethologist, Kim Brophey, she stressed the point that most of us don’t really understand and take advantage of our specific breed’s strengths, desires, and hardwiring. We often try to approach raising an Australian Shepherd through the lens of a Pug. It just doesn’t work!

So, the question must be asked…

🐶 Need help training your pup? Sign up for the 100% free online video course 30 Day Perfect Pup. Sign up here!


First, proper mental and physical exercise! While physical exercise is often what we focus on, mental exercise is of extreme importance.

exercise is important to reduce a dog’s hyper activity levels

Many dogs seem “hyperactive” because they are bored and looking for something to do. While there are many many ideas for mental exercise, here are a few:

  • Use enrichment toys like Snuffle Mats, foraging boxes, Lick Mats, hide-and-go-seek toys, and more
  • Maximize your dog’s mealtime by using something that works their brain, don’t just use a bowl
  • Instead of just walks, try giving physical exercise that also provides mental exercise by doing things like fetch, tug, or sniff walks

Another way to help hyperactive dogs is to work on impulse control.

Impulse control is essentially your dog’s ability to “turn off” the hyper energy and learn to have restraint and act calmly. Again, it’s not easy, but it is possible with consistency and practice.

I helped put together 21 Impulse Control Games that make teaching impulse control enjoyable and easier to manage, for both you and your pup!

A third and final idea for helping to reduce hyperactivity in your dog is to have puppy play dates. Making sure your dog has enough time to play with other dogs is absolutely essential.

Dogs are MUCH better at tiring each other out than you or I will ever be!

So, make sure your pup has adequate time to play, socialize, and run around with other pups in a safe and controlled environment.

Related Reading: How to Socialize an Adult Dog


most dogs end up relinquished to shelters due to a lack of training

Our free online dog training class 30 Day Perfect Pup (more on that later) was originally launched in part because of the following statistics…

  • Roughly 96% of relinquished dogs had received zero formal obedience training (ie obedience classes and/or private training)
  • About 28% of the pup parents didn’t do ANY training at all

As devastating as it is to think, those relinquished pups never really stood a chance.

Our dogs aren’t going to behave how we want them to without proper training. And unfortunately, “bad behavior” often leads dogs to be given up to shelters.

Those statistics are truly at the core of Pupford’s mission, and it is the main reason we offer 30 Day Perfect Pup (and many other training courses) for 100% free!

Every financial situation is unique and the cost of an in-person trainer or obedience class can be too much for many families and homes.

Actually, one of the studies cited that about 34% of pup parents said access to free or low-cost training may have helped with the retention of their dog in their home.

Access to free and high-quality training resources is vital for the well-being of dogs everywhere! Free training resources can help hundreds of thousands of dogs stay out of shelters.


One additional statistic worth mentioning is spayed/neutered vs intact dogs.

While there is some debate around spaying and neutering when it comes to timing, the general veterinary population recommends spaying or neutering your dog.

In one study of relinquished dogs, roughly 57% were intact. While that isn’t a massive anomaly and can’t provide a causal link, there certainly could be some correlation.

While studies aren’t conclusive, many pup parents self-report positive changes in behavior, mood, and activity level after spaying or neutering their dog.

Even outside of behavior, spaying and neutering are massively important for reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and in turn, puppies that might end up in shelters!

🐶 Need help training your pup? Sign up for the 100% free online video course 30 Day Perfect Pup. Sign up here!


training a dog helps reduce problem behaviors and helps keep dogs out of shelters

While this article has felt a bit too gloom and doom, I want to discuss some things we can do to help reduce these alarming numbers.

First, according to the data from study #1, there were 2 main factors that helped keep dogs in homes and out of shelters.

  1. Obedience classes (classified as professional/in-person for the study)
  2. Regular veterinary care

Let’s talk about each.


We’ve clearly laid out the importance of dog training to help keep dogs out of shelters, but I think it’s important to note it’s more than just behavior.

The effort and practice of training a dog or puppy make a paramount difference in your relationship and communication with your pup.

Practicing, sometimes failing, and moving forward with training your dog helps both the human and dog build resiliency and a stronger relationship. As we train our dogs (and learn more about how to train effectively), we build a stronger sense of empathy and understanding for our dog’s behaviors and quirks.

While the early stages of a new pup do require more training, that time pays itself off tenfold in the long run!

And since we all love our dogs and want them to live happy and healthy lives, training isn’t optional.

To put it bluntly, if we want our dogs to succeed and in turn stay out of shelters, we must practice humane and consistent training methods.


Unsurprisingly, the other top factor in reducing the number of dogs being relinquished to shelters is regular veterinary care.

Our dogs are unique individuals with personalities and also unique health situations. Making sure to visit our vet regularly is vital for our pups’ longevity and happiness.

And in addition, health problems can sometimes lead to behavioral problems.

Vet care can be an expensive part of raising a dog, so trying to allocate a monthly budget for it is important. It can also be extremely beneficial to sign up for pet insurance to help reduce the cost of emergency visits and unforeseen medical problems.


a person with a strong relationship with their dog

Annually over 3 million dogs end up in shelters and of that 3 million, roughly 1 million are relinquished by pup parents.

These statistics are scary and sad, but there are things we can do to help reduce the numbers!

Above all, work on training your dog! It is just about the #1 factor that determines whether a dog will stay in its home or end up in a shelter.

As mentioned above, we offer multiple 100% free (no credit card required) online dog training courses to help you raise a well-mannered pup! So if you’re looking for in-depth videos covering topics like biting, leash walking, and potty training, then sign up for 30 Day Perfect Pup here!

And we can’t mention shelters without encouraging the adoption of dogs from shelters. While every home and situation is unique, adopting a dog can be a powerful way to help reduce the number of shelter dogs!

There are literally thousands of dogs waiting for their forever home.

Also, please share our 30 Day Perfect Pup course. If you come across a friend or family member who is needing training help, it can be a powerful resource to help them train a well-mannered pup. In many instances, knowing where to start is the biggest challenge and this course lays the foundation for proper techniques and training methods!

While the fact that about 2,700 dogs are relinquished each day is heartbreaking, there is hope in reducing that statistic!

As we train our pups, keep up with vet care, and provide love as best we can, the number of dogs that end up in shelters can be reduced!

🐶 Need help training your pup? Sign up for the 100% free online video course 30 Day Perfect Pup. Sign up here!


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