When You Break Up, Who Gets The Dog?

Written by: Lisa Bernier

October 23, 2014

You meet. You fall in love. You get a dog and are on your way to swanning off into the sunset as one, big happy family.

And then the unthinkable happens: you break up.

Besides the emotional fall out, and the divvying up of property, the reacclimation to doing things alone instead of as a couple, there comes the inevitable question: Who gets the dog?


You both feel you have a valid claim to your pawtner-in-crime. You both absolutely REQUIRE furry snuggles to help you through this emotional time. But that doesn’t mean what you want is always best for your pup.

Believe me, this dilemma is not an easy thing, as your doge is a legitimate member of your family that you have as strong (or actually, maybe stronger) bond with than most people. I know. This sticky situation was me with my ex about a year ago.

So trust me when I say, I relate.

With that in mind, here are 5 Things to Keep in Mind when you decide who gets the pooch.

1) Money Makes the World Go Round


With my ex and I, and so we decided to split the pups up. He took our terrier, Tiberius, and I took our little dogie, Andromeda. Was this an easy decision to make? No, especially since not only did we love both, but they loved each other. But we both realized that neither of us on our own could logitiscally and, more importantly, financially support both pups.

So sadly, money plays a big part in who gets the pup. If you can’t take care of the basics for you dog, and the other person can, then they should probably get the dog (and vice versa). And in this, you have to be extremely honest with yourself, because your dog depends on you to take care of them. In the end, if you can’t pay the vet then well, you probably shouldn’t be the prime parent for your pup.

2) Lifestyle

dogbreakup2Do you work a 9 to 5 or do you work from home? Can you get a dog walker? Who has the place with the most space (if it’s a big dog)? Do you have a place where you can easily walk your pup? Who will best be able to maintain your pet’s routine, so they can make the transition as smoothly, and with less stress as possible?

Fortunately for me, I work in an office where pups are allowed, and my ex is in grad school, so we both have the time to take care of the pups we took. Basically, in the end you’ll have to see if your newly single life with sync up with taking care of the pooch. If you’re never home due to work or a swinging social schedule, and can’t find someone to take care of the pup, then maybe you won’t be the best pup parent for your dog. This goes hand in hand with the money, sadly. Both need to be taken into account.

3) Be Civil

Image via Dawn Productions
Image via Dawn Productions

Being ok with an ex is often a tall order, especially if the break-up was less than…pleasant. BUT, for the mental health of your pup, and sometimes, to keep doggy-visiting rights, it pays to try and have at least a civil relationship with your no-longer love. Plus, if you do, you two could end up working out an agreement to share any dog-related costs and care (a.k.a high vet bills, dog-sitting when you need it, etc).

In fact, I give full credit to our pooches for helping me and my ex maintain a fairly friendly relationship after we broke up. Although we definitely had our ups and downs in moving on, we both made an extra effort to a) be fair to each other when it came to the pups and b) not to use the dogs in any post-breakup emotional tug of war. That’s not fair to the dogs, and also, gets no one anywhere.

So even when it’s hard, try and bite your tongue. Your pup is worth it, and it will be better for you (and their) mental health. After all, in an emotionally fraught situations, it’s been documented that dogs become distressed too.

4) Make An Agreement and Stick To It

Whether you share custody of your puppy, have one person be the main caretaker, or trade off during holidays, once you and your ex figure out how you will handle the situation, write it down and stick to it. Any back and forth and “he said, she said” will ultimately hurt both you and your pooch. When it came to us, my ex and I basically agreed to regular puppy playdates so our two dogs would still get to see each other, plus use one another as the go-to dog-sitting person.

Additionally, try and work it out as quickly as possible, because no one wants the dog to be re-homed because you couldn’t figure the who, what, when, where and whys. That’s a situation that will cause trauma for you and definitely for your pup.

5) The Law

dogbreakup7Sometimes sadly, it does come down to lawyers. If that’s the case, make sure you know the ins and outs of your state’s legislation when it comes to pets.

Many states still regard pets as “property,” so it comes down to who technically “owns” the dog: who holds the license, who “bought” or “adopted” the dog, whether there was a pre-nup that already addresses pet-parentage, etc etc. However, because dog custody situations are becoming extremely common now in the U.S. in courts, many judges are changing how they view the situations. Recently in New York, there was a landmark case when it came to the pup parentage of a doxie named Joey where the Judge handled the situation much like a child custody hearing, telling the New York Post he would be considering, “questions similar to those posed during child custody trials such as, ‘Who spent more time with Joey on a regular basis?'”.

In short, it never hurts to talk to a lawyer. Know your rights when it comes to your pooch, so everyone can come to a satisfactory arrangement.

The writer and her pups on a puppy playdate :)
My pups and I on a puppy playdate 🙂

There times when we really need our dogs, and during a break-up is one of them. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot when it comes to your pooch. Take the time and use plenty of patience (as hard as that may be) to figure out what’s best for everyone involved. That way no one, especially your pup, becomes collateral damage in the emotional fallout. It’s worth it, I promise.

Featured Image via Nom & Malc

Written by: Lisa Bernier

October 23, 2014

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