The Least Adoptable Dogs. Why These Pups Have a Hard Time Finding Homes


Adopting a dog can be a rewarding experience, but some dogs have a harder time finding their forever homes. There are many factors that can make a dog more challenging to adopt out. This article will examine some of the types of dogs that tend to stay in shelters the longest.

We’ll look at how age, breed, color, health issues, size, and behavior can impact a dog’s adoptability. Understanding why certain dogs have a harder time being adopted can help increase their chances of finding loving homes. This article aims to educate potential adopters and provide tips for shelters to help hard-to-adopt dogs.

The sections covered include an overview of senior dogs, bully breeds, black dogs, dogs with special needs, large dogs, shy/fearful dogs, and unaltered dogs. We’ll also provide resources for learning more about helping hard-to-adopt dogs find homes.

Senior Dogs

Senior dogs, typically defined as those over 7 years old, have significantly lower adoption rates compared to younger dogs and puppies. According to a report by Maddie’s Fund, senior dogs have an adoption rate around 25%, compared to 60% for younger dogs [1]. There are several challenges that contribute to the lower adoption rates for senior dogs.

senior dog available for adoption

One major factor is that senior dogs are more likely to have health issues common in older dogs, such as arthritis, dental disease, or cancer. Adopters may be concerned about taking on higher vet bills and caretaking needs. Additionally, senior dogs have a shorter expected remaining lifespan. Adopters looking for a long-term commitment may hesitate to adopt a dog near the end of its life.

Lastly, some adopters have misconceptions about senior dogs being less active, less playful, or unable to bond with a new family. However, many senior dogs remain lively and affectionate well into their older years. With the right care and environment, senior dogs can make wonderful pets. Shelters and rescues need to educate potential adopters on the joys and benefits of providing a home for a senior dog.

Bully Breeds

Many bully breeds, including pit bulls and Staffordshire terriers, face a difficult road to adoption. These breeds suffer from many misconceptions that they are innately aggressive and dangerous, which has led to breed-specific legislation restricting or banning their ownership in some areas. However, research shows that a dog’s breed is not a reliable indicator for aggression. Rather, factors like lack of socialization, abuse, neglect, irresponsible ownership, and lack of spay/neuter are better predictors of a dog’s temperament and behavior (34 Pit Bull Statistics to Break Stereotypes).

One analysis of over 17,000 dog adoptions found that when sheltered dogs’ breed labels were removed, pit bull-type dogs had a 64% greater chance of being adopted (Pitbull Attack Statistics). This suggests that breed misconceptions and prejudice unfairly impact these dogs. Additionally, pit bull-type dogs made up about 22% of all dogs in shelters, but only 14% of shelter adoptions, meaning they tend to wait three times longer to be adopted than other breeds (Dogs Labeled ‘Pit Bull’ Wait 3 Times Longer for Adoption).

Landlord and insurance restrictions against bully breeds only compound adoption challenges. However, some landlords and insurers are updating policies to remove breed discrimination and instead judge dogs individually based on temperament and behavior. Prospective adopters of bully breeds should research their options.

Black Dogs

Black dogs face discrimination and bias during the adoption process, making them one of the hardest dogs to get adopted. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as “Black Dog Syndrome.” Studies have found that black dogs are less likely to be adopted than dogs of other colors. One study discovered that black dogs made up approximately 33% of dogs available for adoption but only 15% of dogs actually adopted (Source). Reasons for this bias include the inability of people to connect to a black dog due to their darker coloring as well as myths and superstitions associated with the color black.

black dog needing a home

However, the evidence is mixed. Another study analyzing nearly 17,000 dogs at two shelters found that black dogs were actually adopted more quickly than average (Source). Regardless, black dogs still face longer stays at shelters compared to lighter-colored dogs. Educating potential adopters about Black Dog Syndrome can help combat this bias. Black dogs have amazing personalities and temperaments and deserve loving homes just like any other dog.

Dogs with Special Needs

Dogs with special needs often require more care, attention, and accommodation than the average dog. This can make them more challenging to adopt out. According to the ASPCA, over 810,000 animals who enter shelters each year have medical or behavioral issues. These dogs may have chronic illnesses, mobility issues, anxiety, or past trauma that requires patience and training from adopters.

Caring for a special needs dog also involves higher costs for medications, therapeutic diets, mobility devices, training, and more frequent vet visits. For example, a diabetic dog may require insulin injections, blood sugar monitoring, prescription food, and other supplies adding up to over $2,000 a year in care. The initial adoption fees for special needs dogs are often higher as well to offset these predictable ongoing expenses.

While these factors make special needs dogs more difficult to place, the rewards of providing a loving home to a dog who may otherwise be euthanized can be immense. With proper accommodation and commitment, special needs dogs can thrive and live happy, fulfilling lives with their forever families.

Large Dogs

Large dog breeds, typically those over 50 pounds, are often more difficult to adopt out than smaller dogs. There are several reasons for this:

First, large dogs have higher costs associated with caring for them. According to the ASPCA, the average annual cost for a large dog is $1327, compared to $962 for a small dog [1]. Food, medications, boarding and other expenses are simply higher due to their size.

Additionally, large dogs have greater exercise needs. Most experts recommend a minimum of 60-90 minutes of activity per day for large breeds. This is more than many owners can regularly provide. Without enough exercise, large dogs may develop behavior issues or health problems.

Finally, space constraints are a major barrier to large dog adoption. Many rentals have size and breed restrictions, limiting housing options. Large dogs require more room indoors and typically larger outdoor spaces as well. For adopters in cramped urban apartments, large dogs are often not feasible.

For these reasons, shelters report that larger dogs have lower adoption rates and often spend more time waiting to be placed in a forever home compared to smaller breeds [2].

Shy/Fearful Dogs

shy dog waiting to be adopted

Shy and fearful dogs often have a more difficult time getting adopted from shelters. These dogs may act withdrawn or frightened around new people or in new environments. According to a study by Collins et al. (2022) Behavioral rehabilitation of extremely fearful dogs, extremely fearful dogs can be rehabilitated with gradual exposure and positive reinforcement training. However, potential adopters need extra patience and skill to build trust and confidence with shy dogs.

The fearful behavior can be off-putting to some adopters. Shy dogs take longer to warm up to new people and adapt to new environments. Adopters should have realistic expectations about the time and effort required to help a shy dog come out of its shell. With dedicated training and socialization, many fearful dogs become more outgoing and confident. But they require adopters who are committed to providing a stable, loving environment at the dog’s own pace.

Unaltered Dogs

Unaltered male and female dogs face additional challenges getting adopted from shelters. Intact dogs that are not spayed or neutered are more likely to display behaviors that make them harder to adopt, such as marking territory, roaming, and going into heat cycles.

Intact female dogs go into heat cycles about twice per year, where they bleed and attract male dogs. This can be messy in a home environment and leads to behavioral changes. Unspayed females will try to escape the home to find mates, which can be dangerous. The heat cycles and mating behaviors often discourage adopters.

Similarly, unneutered male dogs are driven by hormones to mark territory and roam in search of females to mate with. This increases the likelihood they will escape from yards or homes. The urge to mark territory also leads to increased urine marking in the house. These behaviors make unaltered male dogs more difficult to manage.

While spaying and neutering solves most of these issues, the upfront surgery costs are a barrier for some adopters. Communicating the long-term benefits of altering dogs, and providing financial assistance programs, can help increase altered dog adoptions from shelters.


In summary, certain types of dogs tend to have a harder time getting adopted than others. The dogs that are often the most challenging to find homes for include:

  • Senior dogs
  • Bully breeds
  • Black dogs
  • Dogs with special needs
  • Large dogs
  • Shy/fearful dogs
  • Unaltered dogs

These dogs may wait months or even years in shelters before finding a forever home due to misconceptions, stigma, or the extra care and training some of them require. However, they can make wonderful pets for the right owners who are prepared to put in the time and effort. With commitment, training, and love, even the “hardest to adopt” dogs can thrive in a forever home.


resources for adopting hard-to-place dogs
There are many resources available for adopting harder-to-place dogs. Here is a list of some great options:

  • American Pets Alive – This organization has tips for adopting harder-to-place shelter pets.
  • Local animal shelters and rescue groups often have harder-to-place dogs available for adoption. Check their websites or visit in person.
  • Breed-specific rescues sometimes take in mixed breed or non-conforming dogs of their primary breed.
  • Social media can connect potential adopters with dogs needing homes. Follow hashtags like #adoptdontshop.
  • Fostering can help socialize and advocate for dogs with special needs or requirements before finding them permanent homes.
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