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My Pet World: Rehomed dog seems indifferent to previous owners

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

Our Belgian Malinois, trained in a dog club for obedience, reacted to a bark collar and bit me. I immediately told him, “Crate," and he got in his crate, which allowed me to get to the hospital. He nipped me one other time when I wouldn't let him go out the door when a stranger was there.

Because we have young grandchildren, we felt we couldn't keep him and gave him to a dog club member. When we visited him at club activities, he didn't wag his tail, respond to petting, or show any affection to us as he used to do before. He still obeyed commands, though. Is there any research on anger or grief for dogs?

— Flower, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

Dear Flower,

Research has shown that animals experience a range of emotions. But there is no research on anger specifically since that behavior is interpreted as aggression in the animal world.


I think you are asking, though, if the dog could be angry at you for rehoming him. My response to that is, no, he’s not angry or holding a grudge against you for rehoming him. If you recently rehomed him, he could still be sad, confused, or grief-stricken over the change in his life. Animals like routine, and when those routines are interrupted, each have their own way of handling the disruption to their lives. He may simply need more time to acclimate to his new home, but he’s not angry or holding a grudge at you for the change.

Until we understand pets better, it can be challenging to know what our pets are thinking and feeling. For example, when he reacted to the bark collar and bit you, it was out of fear for what he was feeling — the shock of the collar – and not malice towards you. While he might remember that memory and associate it with you, there could be many other reasons for his indifference.

It could be a part of his personality. He sounds like a protective dog, and protective dogs tend to be very hyper-focused on their surroundings. That means he might not react to the people around him in certain settings the same way he does when he is at home with his family. He sounds like a dog who thinks he has a "job" to do. He also could be tired, sick, or anxious about something at that moment.

Next time you see him, talk to him in a sweet voice rather than pet him. Let him approach you if he wants to be petted.


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