How to Find a Home for Your GSD

Not that long ago, you were thrilled to have a GSD of your very own. You never dreamed you'd have to give him up someday. Even if you can't keep him anymore, your dog still depends on you to do what's best for him, just like he depended on you when he was a puppy. Now, more than ever, he needs you to make the right choices for his future.

This section will help you find a new home for your GSD. Again, your dog is your responsibility. He has no one else but you to look out for his interests. It'll take effort, patience, and persistence to find him/her the right home. He deserves your best efforts.

Finding a new home involves several steps. Before you start, there are some important things you should know...

About Animal Shelters

Shelters and humane societies were created to care for stray and abused animals. They weren't meant to be a drop-off for people who don't want their pets anymore. Shelters, on average, take in 100 new animals or more each day. Let's face it - there won't be enough good homes for all of them. Even the best shelters can't boast much more than a 50% adoption rate. Only the youngest, friendliest, cutest, and best-behaved dogs get adopted.

By law, stray pets must be kept several days for their owners to reclaim them. They may not be destroyed until that period is up. However, dogs given up by their owners aren't protected by these laws. They may be destroyed at any time. Shelters don't want to euthanize all these animals, but sometimes they don't have a choice. There just isn't enough room for all of them. Shelters today are so overcrowded that your dog could be euthanized the same day it arrives.

Being purebred GSD doesn’t help your dog's chances of adoption either–in fact, it may be a disadvantage. Because some people are afraid of GSDs, some shelters will not put them up for adoption at all. If your GSD is old, has health problems or a poor attitude toward strangers, his chances of adoption just got lessened even more: to slim to none.

Sending your dog to a shelter in hopes that he will find a good home is wishful thinking. It's more likely that you'll be signing your GSDs death warrant. A shelter is your last resort only after all of your best efforts have failed.

About "No-Kill" Shelters

True "no-kill" shelters are few and far between. Obviously, no one wants to see their pet destroyed, so the demand for no-kill shelter services is high. It’s so high that shelters are forced to turn away many pets because they don't have room for them all. Sometimes they have to choose only the most adoptable dogs to work with—and your GSD may not be one of them.

Breed Rescue Services Like Us

Those of us in Breed Rescue are small, private, shelter-like groups run by volunteers dedicated to a particular breed. Most of us operate out of the volunteer's home. Like no-kill shelters, demand for our services is high, so high that your dog may be turned away for lack of resources. Even if we cannot take your dog in, we can still help you place your dog by providing referrals to persons interested in adopting your dog.

When you are working with breed rescues like us, you'll have the most success if you follow our advice and do all that you can to help find a new home. This includes contacting us WELL in advance of when you need to rehome your dog so that we can work together to have the best chances to find your dog a wonderful new home.  Calling us on August 15thto because you have to move on September 1st doesn’t give any of us enough time to help your dog.

Steps to Help You Rehome Your GSD

Step 1. Call Your Dog's Breeder/Shelter/Rescue

Before you do anything else, call the person you got your dog from and ask for help. Even if several years have passed, responsible breeders care about the puppies they sold and will want to help you find a new home. They may even take the dog back. At the very least, they deserve to know what you intend to do with your GSD and what will happen to it. If you can't remember the breeder's name, look on your dog's registration papers.

If you got your dog from an animal shelter or rescue service, read the adoption contract you signed when you adopted him. You may be required by the contract to return the dog to that shelter. Do not be embarrassed or afraid to call them. They will not judge you. They exist to help dogs and will appreciate the fact that you did call them.

Step 2. Evaluate your dog's adoption potential

To successfully find a new home, you need to be realistic about your dog's adoption potential. Let's be honest: most people don't want "used" dogs, especially if they have health or behavior problems. Your dog will have the best chance if he's less than 4 years old, is healthy, friendly to strangers, obeys commands, and adapts quickly to new situations. Look at your dog as if you were meeting him for the first time. What kind of impression would he make? Would you want to adopt him?

You already know that GSDs are special dogs for special people. Those special people can be difficult to find. Most people a dog that will greet them with a wagging tail (or at least let them to pat him!). If your dog is aggressive to strangers, is "temperamental," or has ever bitten anyone, finding him another home may not be your best option.

What kind of home do you want for your GSD? A large fenced yard? Another dog to play with? Children? No children? Make a list of what you feel is most important for your dog. Then get real. No home will be perfect, of course, so you'll have to make compromises. What kind of people are you looking for? What will you be willing to compromise on? Once you have a firm idea of what you're looking for, it will be easier to plan your search and get the results you want.

Step 3. Get your dog ready

Your dog will be much more appealing if he's clean, well-groomed, and healthy. First, take him to the vet for a check-up. He'll need a heartworm test, a DHLLP and a rabies vaccination if he hasn't one within the last 6 months. Be sure to tell the vet about any behavior problems so he can rule out physical causes.

If your dog isn't spayed or neutered, do it now! Don't waste your time trying to sell your dog as "breeding stock" even if he's AKC-registered. Frankly, no reputable GSD breeder will want him unless he came from a well-known show dog fancier in the first place. The only kind of "breeder" who'll be interested in your dog will be a puppy farmer or a dog broker. Brokers seek out unaltered purebreds for resale to puppy mills or research laboratories. That's not the kind of future you want for your dog.

Spaying or neutering guarantees that your dog won't end up in a puppy mill. It's the best way to ensure that your dog will be adopted by a family who wants him only as a best friend and member of the family. If you can't afford the cost of surgery, check with your vet, local shelter or rescue group for information about low-cost spay and neuter programs that are available in many parts of the country. Having your dog neutered or spayed is the best going away present you can give him.

If your dog has never been tattooed or microchipped, this is a great time to do it. It's not unusual for newly adopted dogs to get loose and become lost. A permanent ID will help your dog get back to you or his new owners.

Groom your dog. You want your dog to look beautiful and make a good impression. He needs to be clean and well-dressed! Get rid of those mats and tangles and give him a bath. Make sure he's neatly trimmed. If you can't do these things yourself, take him to a groomer. Get rid of his old rusty choke chain and buy a nice, new, strong collar and lead.

Step 4. Get the Word Out

The more people who know you are trying to find a home for your GSD, the better.

Enlist the help of your friends. They may know someone looking for a dog just like yours. Having a referral for a potential adopter is also a good thing.

Contact several GSD rescues and all breed rescues. If they cannot take your dog in, they can help by referring potential adopters to you. The mission for GSD rescues is to help GSDs in need; most will not have a problem with you working with several rescues simultaneously to find your GSD a good home.

Talk to your veterinarian. He knows you and your dog and probably has lots of clients and other connections—he may know someone who would be the perfect home for your GSD.


Word of mouth can only go so far. Don't be afraid to use classified ads to advertise your dog. Done right, it's the most effective way to reach the largest number of people. It's easy to write a good ad that will weed out poor adoption prospects right away.

Your ad should give a short description of your dog, his needs, and your requirements for a home and of course, your phone number. The description should include his breed, color, age, sex, and that he's neutered. Hints about expressing his age: if your dog is less than 2 years old, state his age in months so he'll be perceived as the young dog he is. If he's over three, just say that he's an "adult".

Emphasize your dog's good points: Is he friendly? Housebroken? Well-mannered? Loves kids? Does he do tricks? Has he had any training? Don't keep his talents a secret but don't exaggerate either. Knowing his name doesn't make him "well-trained"!

State any definite requirements you might have for his new home: fenced yard, no cats, kids over 10, whatever. Try to say these in a positive way - for example, saying "Kids over 10" sounds better than "No kids under 10". If your GSD doesn't like other pets, say "should be your only pet" rather than, "doesn't like other animals".

Always state that references are required. This tells people that you're being selective and that you're not going to give your dog to just anybody. This statement will do a lot to keep people with bad intentions from dialing your number.

Set a reasonable adoption fee. The key word is "reasonable". You can't expect the new owner to pay anywhere near what you paid. A reasonable range might be between $65-150, enough to help offset your advertising and veterinary costs.

Never include the phrase "free to good home" in your ad (even if you're not planning to charge a fee). If possible, don't put in any reference to a price at all. The chance at a "free" dog will bring lots of calls, but most of them won't be the kind of people you're looking for and many of them will be people you'd rather not talk to at all.  People value what they pay for!  Free animals have been used for bait in fighting rings. Also, there are those who gather free pets until they have enough for a trip to a Class B Dealer who is licensed by the USDA to sell to sell animals from "random sources" for research.  Putting even a modest adoption fee on your dog may keep him out of these horrible situations.

Your ad should look something like this:

"German Shepherd Dog: beautiful, young adult red male, neutered. Friendly, housebroken, well-behaved. Best with children over 10. Fenced yard, references required. Karen 555-1234"

Along with your local newspaper, advertise in all major papers within an hour and a half's drive. Schedule your ad so that it appears in Sunday's paper - the issue that's the most well-read and widely circulated. If your budget is very limited, choose to run your ad only on Sundays rather than throughout the week. Nearly every community also has small, weekly "budget-shopper" newspapers that offer inexpensive classified ads. Take advantage of them! Craigslist is also a good way to advertise, but be prepared to screen people carefully.

Newspapers are just one way to advertise. Take a good cute photo of your dog and have copies made. Duplicating photos can be done for as little as a quarter each at most photo shops. Make an attractive flyer on colored paper that you can have copied for a few cents each. Attach the cute photo of your dog. Your flyer doesn't have to be expensive, professional or computerized, just neat and eye-catching. Since you're not paying for words, you can write more about your dog than you could in a newspaper ad. Be descriptive!

Post your flyers at grocery stores, department stores, post offices, vets' offices, pet supply stores, grooming shops, factories, malls, etc.—anywhere you can find a public bulletin board. If you have friends in a nearby city, mail them a supply of flyers and ask them to post them for you.

Don't be discouraged if your phone doesn’t ring right away. Most people give up too soon. Plan on advertising for several weeks in order to maximize the chances that the right person for your dog sees your ad! Put a phone number in the ad where you can be easily reached or use an answering machine. People can't call you if no one's home to answer the phone.

Step 6. Interviewing Callers.

"First come, first served" does not apply here. You are under no obligation to give your dog to the first person who says he wants it. You have every right to ask questions and choose the person you think will make the best new owner. Don't let anyone rush you or intimidate you.

To help you along, we've included a list of questions that we ask our callers. Make copies of this list and fill in their answers as you speak to your callers. If you like, you can also mail the application for your callers to fill out and return to you. Get out the list you made with your requirements for a new home and compare it to the answers the callers give.

First of all, get your caller's name, address and phone number. Deceitful people may call you from a phone booth or give you a fake address. Ask for information that you can verify.

Does the caller's family know about, and approve of, his or her plan to get a dog? If not, suggest he or she talk it over with the family and call you back. The same applies to people living with a companion or roommate. When one person adopts a dog without the full approval of the rest of the family, the adoption often fails.

Do they own or rent their home? If renting, does their landlord approve? You'd be surprised how many people haven't checked with their landlord before calling you. If you have doubts, ask for the landlord's name and number, then call him yourself. Be cautious about renters - they're quicker to move than people who own their homes, and movers often leave their pets behind. Remember, you're looking for a permanent home for your dog.

Does the caller have children? How many and how old are they? If your dog isn't good with children, say so up front. How many children can make a difference depending on your dog's personality? A shy dog may not be able to cope with several children and their friends. Very young children may not be old enough to treat the dog properly. If the callers don't have children, ask them if they're thinking of having any in the near future. Many people get rid of their dogs when they start a family.

Have they had dogs, especially GSDs, before? If yes, how long did they keep them? These are very important questions! How they treated the pets they've had in the past will tell you how they might treat your dog. The following answers should raise a red flag and make you suspicious:

"We gave him away when we moved." Unless they had to because of unavoidable problems, moving is a poor excuse for giving up a pet. Almost everyone can find a place that will allow dogs if they try hard enough. If they gave up their last dog that easily, there's a good chance they'll give yours up someday, too.

"We gave him away because he had behavior problems." Most behavior problems—poor housebreaking, chewing, barking, digging, running away—result from a lack of training and attention. If the caller wasn't willing to solve the problems he had with his last dog, he probably won't try very hard with your dog either.

"Oh, we've had lots of dogs!" Watch out for people who've had several different dogs in just a few years' time. There may be some concerning reasons behind this kind of pattern of dog ownership.

Do they have pets now? What kinds? Obviously, if your dog isn't good with cats or other animals and your caller has them, the adoption is  not going to work out. Be up front. Better to turn people away now than have to take the dog back later. The sex of their other dogs is also an important consideration. GSDs seldom get along with another large dog of the same sex. Dog fights can be serious, and can result in serious injury and death for the dogs involved, not to mention injuries for the humans nearby.  We recommend that you don't put your GSD into a home with a dog of the same sex unless you're absolutely sure they'll like each other.

Do they have a yard? Is it fenced? How will they satisfy the dog’s exercise requirements? Your dog will need daily exercise. Without a yard, how will he get it? Can the caller provide it with regular walks? If the yard isn't fenced, ask how he plans to keep the dog from leaving his property. Did the caller's last dog wander off or get hit by a car? If so, how will he keep this from happening to his next dog? Does he know that keeping a GSD tied up can negatively impact the dog's temperament?

Where will the dog spend most of its time? Although most GSDs love to be outside whenever they can, a whole life outdoors probably isn't what you have in mind for your dog. Dogs always kept outside are sometimes neglected, lonely, and may develop behavior problems.

Why is the caller interested in a GSD? What do they like about them? Find out what kind of dog "personality" they're looking for. Many people are attracted by the GSD’s beauty but don't know anything else about them. They might not have the slightest idea what a GSD is all about and might not like its temperament and characteristics. If their expectations don't match your dog's disposition, the adoption won’t work. Be honest about our breed's good and challenging points. Is a GSD really what they're looking for or would they do better with another breed?

References: Get the phone number of their vet (if they've had pets before) and two other personal references. Call those references! Explain that John Doe is interested in adopting your dog and you want to make sure he'll give it a good home. Ask the vet whether former pets were given regular medical care, annual vaccinations, and heartworm preventative. Were they in good condition and well-groomed? How long have they known this person? If they were placing a pet, would they feel comfortable giving it to this person?

Step 7: The In-Person Interview

Once you've chosen a family (or families) that you feel are good candidates, make an appointment for them to see the dog. You should actually set two appointments: one at your house and one at theirs. Going to their house lets you see whether their home and yard are truly what they said they are and whether your dog will do well there. It also gives you an opportunity to call off the adoption and take the dog back home with you if things are different from what you were told. Trust your gut; if you get a bad feeling, there’s probably a good reason why.

If they already have a dog, make plans to introduce the dogs on "neutral" territory, like a park. Most dogs resent meeting a strange dog at home. They may be hostile toward the new dog or even start a fight.

If the family has children, ask them to bring them to the interview. You need to see how the dog will react to them and how the children treat the dog. Some allowance should be made for kids' natural enthusiasm about anew dog,  but if the children are undisciplined and disrespectful to your dog, and the parents do not set limits and guidelines for how the children should treat a pet,  your dog could be mistreated in its new home and someone could get bitten.

Do you like these people? Are you comfortable having them as guests in your home? Would they make good friends? If not, don't give them your dog. Trust your instincts. If something about them doesn't seem quite right, even if you can't explain what it is, don't take a chance on your dog's future. Wait for another family!  If your gut tells you something’s not right, you don’t need any other justification to call off an adoption.

Step 8. Saying Goodbye

After the interviews are over, give the new family a day or two to decide if they really want to adopt your dog. Make sure they have a chance to think over the commitment they're making. While they're deciding, get a package ready to send along with your dog. This package should include:

·       Your dog's medical records and the name, address, and phone number of your vet.

·        Your name, address, and phone (new address if you're moving).

·        Your dog's toys and belongings (dog bed, blanket, etc.), a supply of dog food, and special treats he loves.

·        An instruction sheet on feeding, special needs, etc.; include some reading material about the German Shepherd breed.

·        Collar and leash; ID and rabies tags.

·        A list of commands your dog knows.

·        Any descriptions of things your dog is afraid of or is not comfortable with (for example, motorcycles, the vet’s office, men with large hats!)

·        A list of things your dog loves (games, a special place to be scratched)—this will help the new family find ways to bond with your dog.

·       A description of the daily routine he had with you (when he ate, relieved himself, where he slept, what sort of exercise he got, etc.) , to help them understand what may be really new to him and/or try to maintain some of his former routine to ease the adjustment.

Set aside a special time for you and your dog to take a last walk together and say goodbye. You may cry and find yourself very emotional. Do it now, in private, so you're clear-headed when he has to leave. He may be confused about being left with strangers, and you won't want your emotions to upset him even more.

Caution the new family about the adjustment period your GSD may need: Your dog will go through an adjustment period as he gets to know his new people, learns new rules, and mourns the loss of his previous family. Most dogs adjust within a few days, but others may take longer. During this time, they should avoid forcing the dog to do anything stressful— taking a bath, going to obedience training classes, meeting too many strangers at once, etc.—until he's had a chance to settle in. Tell them take things easy at first and give the dog time to bond to them. The dog might not eat for the first day or two. Not to worry—he'll eat when he's ready. Some dogs temporarily forget their training. A well-housebroken dog may have an accident during the first day in his new home. This isn't unusual and rarely happens more than once. You may want to let the new family know that they can call you if they have any questions about your dog or need advice on how to make his transition as easy as possible.

Step 9. Paperwork

Have the new owner sign an adoption contract with a waiver of liability. We've included a sample contract you can use. Keep a copy for your records. A contract will help to protect the dog and the waiver of liability helps to protect you. You don't have a crystal ball to predict what your dog might do in the future—and in reaction to his new home and how he may experience life there. Remember, a waiver of liability will not protect you if you have lied or misrepresented the dog to his new owners.

Tell the family they should call you if the adoption doesn't work out. Let them know you want to keep in touch and will call them in a few days to see how things are going. Tell them to call you if they have questions or problems. Be willing to take the dog back home if things don't work out the way you both expected.


This article was adapted with permission from "When You Can't Keep Your Chow Chow" written by Karen Privitello, Lisa Hrico & Barbara Malone. Deb Helfrich and Stephanie Costa adapted it to reflect the characteristics of German Shepherd Dogs.


Surrendering your GSD to GSR&RC

If you want to apply to surrender your GSD to German Shepherd Resource and Rescue Center, please go to our  Surrendering Your GSD  page for instructions.

Even though you are applying to surrender your GSD to us, continue to look for a good home for your GSD on your own. We will do our best to help you but our resources are limited and we always have a waiting list of dogs waiting to get into our Rehome Program.