Dogs and Divorce: Why It's Important to Consider Your Pet's Feelings

Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA
Updated: February 10, 2021
Published: September 12, 2016
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by Victoria Schade

My husband and I have two dogs, Millie and Olive, and we love them both dearly. We’ve jokingly wondered how we would handle our dog situation in the unlikely event that we were to split up. The conversation begins as a lark, then devolves into deep thoughts about love, being forced to choose a favorite, and what’s best for our dogs in the long run. Would we each take a dog? And if so, who gets which? Would one of us take both of them? How would the dogs fare in the new living situation? The deeper we get into the conversation the more uncomfortable it becomes, since there’s no easy answer.

Nothing about divorce is easy, particularly when it comes to making decisions about the voiceless members of our families. Sometimes the ruling about where the family dog ends up post-divorce is an obvious one, either due to lifestyle or living arrangements, but when the choice isn’t immediately apparent, what’s the best way to make the call?

Even the most clearheaded pet parents can misstep when going through the pain of divorce. It’s tempting to get a little selfish as you sort through pet placement logistics, but when deciding living arrangements for your dog, try to take yourself out of the equation and think about the dog’s health and happiness first.

The upheaval that comes with divorce doesn’t just impact the human members of the family; your dog can feel the pain of the breakup as well, long before the division of household assets begins.

Dogs experience our emotional highs and lows much more keenly than we give them credit for, so remember that your dog is likely mourning the loss of familiarity and security along with you. Since it’s impossible to explain what’s happening to the family dog, the joint goal should be to minimize the stress of the lifestyle change, no matter how contentious the other negotiations become.

There is no universal solution as to where the family dog should end up, and no court-mandated precedent for canine custody. But if pet parents get to the heart of the issue—like who has the time, space, resources, and, most importantly, the bond that will keep the dog thriving—the answer should be clear.

An honest decision probably won’t be easy for everyone on the human side of the equation, but it will be the right one for the dog.