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Hi! I would really love some advice (and encouragement). It might take a few paragraphs to get this out but here goes... I'm 31 and single, living with a roommate in a duplex apt. A month ago adopted a very large 9-month-old male pup (Great Dane/American Bulldog/??? mix). He had just been neutered the week before adoption. He is sweet and mellow most of the time, submissive toward people, and was totally chill for the first 2 weeks - he would come up to me or visitors and lie down belly up, he didn't bark much, and he didn't have a problem seeing other dogs when we were out walking (I walk him 3x a day).

His behavior has begun to change, and not for the better. He is still sweet and submissive to me and people, though he doesn't offer his belly so readily, which makes me a little sad! Worse, he barks (loudly, since he's a big dog) a lot at new noises/passersby (including my upstairs neighbors, who have been nice about it but I'm afraid are ready to kill me). I am trying to ignore the barking and teach him a "quiet" command, but when he barks in the middle of the night I just need him to shut up. I'm afraid if it lasts long, my neighbors will think he's mean, and worse might complain to my landlord, which could cause all sorts of new problems.

The biggest problem is that he is suddenly SUPER reactive to other dogs. I think that started after we were walking past a fenced-in yard down the street and a Doberman rushed out of nowhere aggressively barking his head off (and a few similar incidents - there are a lot of dogs in my neighborhood whose outdoor time is mostly in a yard or porch). He has gone up and sniffed a few dogs, but then when they make a movement that startles him, he starts his barking/lunging routine that is very hard to calm, and sounds/looks scary. I'm working really hard to turn away from other dogs we see on walks and training incompatible behaviors (sit/stay, watch me, etc) and I think it's getting a little better, slooowly. But since he didn't have this problem in the first place, I worry that I'm doing things that inadvertently CAUSE the behavior. And I'm nervous that he'll start being reactive to kids or others who do something sudden, though he's been fine so far. I'm sure my nervousness doesn't help, because he can probably tell I'm nervous when he meets kids, etc (I'm trying hard not to show it, but...).

Walking my dog is now incredibly stressful - it's the worst part(s) of my day. I'm working on all sorts of training, reading everything I can find ("Click to calm" is great!), and I'm going to have him evaluated by a trainer at the local SPCA this weekend to talk about next steps. I'm not going to give up, but I'm just really stressed and frustrated and nervous that he's not going to get over these new issues - not to mention that I gave them to him somehow! Thank you for any tips/advice/support!!
 

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I'm definitely not an expert, but I can say, in my experience with taking home rescue dogs, that their personalities don't seem to show much for the first few weeks. We're about three weeks into Jameson, and only in the last few days are we really starting to see who this dog is (and, yes, he's driving me nuts!). With our other dog, Melonie, it was almost three months before she really started to play and "act like a dog" (as my husband put it). I doubt much of it is your fault, necessarily, although I think the dog reactivity could definitely be a fear response to being rushed at while out on your walks (especially since you seem to be able to pinpoint exactly when it started from that incident, and especially if you too flinched or had a fear reaction to being rushed at by the Doberman). That doesn't make it your fault though - often dogs develop phobias of things from incidents that would seem totally normal to us - you just never know what's going to set them off, so it's good that you can at least pinpoint where it started.

I'm glad you're getting him evaluated by a trainer. I'm not a training expert, so I don't want to venture to tell you how to correct him, but I do just want to assure you that, in my experience, it's normal for rescue dogs to wait a little while for their personalities to fully come out - in a way, I take it as a good sign, because even if they're driving me nuts, I think of it as an indicator that they are starting to feel comfortable and at home, and that's always encouraging. It doesn't mean that you should just let the behavior continue without trying to do anything about it, but it might assuage some of your guilt for thinking that you're "making him worse."
 

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Update: The behaviorist evaluation went very badly. He was extremely aggressive (toward the life-size stuffed dog "walking" toward him) to the point of biting the stuffed dog. He was all hackles and puckered mouth and assertive forward movement (with his leash attached to the wall so he couldn't actually run around). The behaviorist believes he's very aggressive and that I will never be able to fully trust him around other dogs, though with a lot of work I should be able to teach him to stay calm. Her guess is that he was never socialized with other dogs as a young puppy, and that this may be a big part of the reason he was dumped by the side of the road (which is how he ended up in the shelter) - as she said, "nobody dumps Lassie."

I don't know what to do. We live in a neighborhood and city where people just let their dogs run out the front door sometimes or wander around outside, or where they can escape fenced yards all too easily. Any place I would like to take him hiking (a big activity for me, and one I'd really looked forward to doing with my dog) runs too big a risk of running into unleashed dogs. He's already 70+ lbs and not done growing, and I'm not very large. I just don't know if I can face a (dog's) lifetime of nervous, highly vigilant walking and the tremendous amount of work this will require. Of course I expected that owning and training a dog would be a lot of work, and I'm excited to do that work, but this is a whole other level, and the stakes feel so extremely high. I'm single and don't have a high-paying job; I don't know that I can afford private training, much less the real financial and emotional costs of something going wrong (that is, if he actually hurt another dog).

I know some people will think I'm a horrible person if I consider trying to re-home him somewhere where he'd have space to run but wouldn't be around other dogs (I wouldn't just give him back to the shelter), but I feel I have to weigh all the factors here both for myself and my dog, and if just walking him every day is too big a risk to him and me, that option has to be on the table... if I could even find him a new home. Which is a thought I totally and completely hate, but I just don't know if I can do this. I know that sounds weak, and it feels absolutely shameful (believe me, "strong and stubborn as hell" is a much more common description of me), but... I just don't know what to do. Any (non-judgmental) thoughts and advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
 

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Take a deep breath! :)
I agree with Shakespaw, that sometimes it takes time for personalities to come out. When pups are nervous being in their new homes, they can be a bit reserved.
Also, if you are nervous about things, your dog will pick up on that nervousness, and may feel he has to "protect" himself and you.

A quick bit of info on my situation, in the hopes that it will make you feel better. When I got my first puppy, Harper, I was a first time dog owner, and he was 8 weeks old. He (unlike your dog) was soooo tiny that I was nervous about walking him, especially when we came across other dogs. I am pretty sure he picked up on that. He became pretty reactive around some people, and all dogs, partly due to my nervousness, but, maybe, partly just due to his personality.

I was SO sad. I had been looking forward to taking him hiking, camping, on doggy play dates, all the fun stuff you can do with dogs, but he barked and pulled on the leash and growled and lunged. I felt like a failure, and was bummed.
I got lots of advice here on helping with his reactive issues. I was told to AVOID other dogs at first. I couldn't figure that out. I didn't want to AVOID the problem, I wanted to fix it. BUT, what I didn't realize was that these "reactions" he had caused stress hormones to go crazy in him, and just as with humans, when you have shocks, or things that really upset you, it can take a long time to calm down. I was told it could take days and weeks for the stress hormones to subside for Harper, after having a reactive episode.

So, by avoiding his triggers, I would let him calm down. I walked him at odd hours, or in areas that I was pretty sure I wouldn't come across people or dogs (even if that meant driving to a different area). Very gradually, I started to do walks where we might actually see other people/dogs. When we did, I would back up or cross the street, or go down a side street, or whatever so that he could see the dog/person, but at a distance. Whatever distance worked (he could watch, but didn't react) was his "threshold". Gradually, the goal is to shrink his "threshold".

Now, he can walk by 95% of people without a reaction. Some people he just doesn't seem to like. Funny thing, the people he doesn't like are people I feel uneasy about too! And, we still cross the street when we see other dogs, but we don't have to get nearly as far away as before.

Bottom line, and what I've learned: every dog is different, just as with people, some dogs don't do well in every situation. With some dogs, you can correct issues, with some dogs you can only manage issues. Harper is manageable. But, he is who he is, and we love him to pieces, as he's a total cuddle bug and very sweet with us and people and dogs he knows well. So, we accept the dog he is, and we work to manage his environment. But, it is, in no way, as horrible as I envisioned when I realized his issues.
Sorry, turned out to be more then a quick bit of info, but I really felt for you, and wanted to share, it gets better!
 

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I would not blame you for getting rid of this dog. If you don't feel equipped to deal with this situation alone, that does not make you a bad person. You fully expected a dog to be a lot of work, and you're taking dog ownership seriously, but you weren't prepared for serious temperament issues and don't have the time and money to properly manage this dog. Not everyone can handle that kind of thing, and that's okay.

The problem with rehoming him is that it's going to be very hard to find someone who wants to take on a large, young, problem dog. If the dog is truly aggressive, that's a huge liability (for both the new owner and potentially for you, if the dog were to attack someone else's dog). I would think about getting a second opinion from another behaviorist to make sure this dog is actually aggressive and not reactive (I'm not sure that leashing a dog to a wall and making a stuffed dog approach it is a good test; I suspect my AKK would be frightened/aggressive in that situation, too, feeling as if he had no means of escape, when otherwise he'd probably back away). If he is indeed "very aggressive," euthanasia may be kinder than rehoming. But I am not going to tell you what to do; I really don't know enough about this situation. I definitely recommend a second opinion, though.
 

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I'm not a behaviorist, and I don't know how good the SPCA behaviorist is. So my opinions:
1. Your dog may be dog aggressive (DA) but people friendly. Therefore, socialize him with as many people, places, situations without dogs as possible, so he'll get used to all kinds of variety.
2. You might go to PetsMart and to your Vet for their opinions about DA with your dog.
3. The situation at the SPCA was artificial - what would you do if I tied you up and stuck a large Ken doll in your face? Dogs know the difference between live and toy animals. So, I have a different test for you, which is a little more difficult.
A. Find a large fenced field, like an empty schoolyard or empty playground.
B. Talk to friends and people at the Vet and PetsMart to try to locate a very socialized, large dog. I think a 60 pound Lab or Golden would be perfect. Try to take your dog and get the owner to take their dog on a walk, with the dogs outside of the people. If your dog reacts, you might try a muzzle. The idea is for your dog to see that he doesn't need to be scared of other dogs, but you may need a muzzle to make it safe... You won't know without observing. After a few weeks, your dog should get used to the other dog and may not need the muzzle with him.
C. On the other hand, if/when your dog walks OK without needing a muzzle, then let the other dog go into the fenced area off leash, and bring your dog into the field on leash. You may need some help to hold him.
D. Allow your dog to approach the other dog. If your dog barks, the other dog is free to walk away... If the other dog barks back, you may want to back off.
E. if the other dog ignores your dog's bark and walks away, your dog should learn to calm down... The goal here is also that you dog learns that he has nothing to fear.... b/c then he may be curious.
F. If your dog doesn't bark you can allow him to get close enough to sniff, as long as the other dog can walk away... I believe that you'll see a different set of behaviors... but you may need help from someone a bit stronger in the beginning.
G. At any time, if your dog seems too aggressive, then pull him away.
 

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That was kind of an odd test for dog aggression.

I would suggest getting in contact with a bully breed rescue/advocacy type group. Surf facebook for one locally, you can look at badrap.org as an example and that might direct you to others. Even if your dog isn't actually a bully breed, these groups tend to have connections to resources for reactive and aggressive dogs. My local humane society has a "feisty fido" class for reactive and aggressive dogs- limited to 4 dogs a session, only about $75 for a 6 weeks class.

Definitely get a 2nd or even 3rd opinion before you consider rehoming (and definitely before considering euthanasia). I have seen reactive dogs make great progress and even dog aggressive ("DA") dogs become capable of encountering other dogs in an urban area.

Considering he didn't have a problem with seeing other dogs for the first two weeks, I sort of doubt he is truly highly DA. While shelter rescues are often kind of "shut down" or the opposite and very hyped up, strong dog aggression seems to over-ride that. I can't think of a single dog that the rescue I work with has pulled from a shelter that didn't show dog aggression that developed it within a few weeks. Some dogs develop dog aggression at maturity, yes, but I'm talking about showing it after that transition period from shelter to home.

I worked with a highly reactive dog (foster) for 5 months before I placed her in her new home. She continues to get less and less reactive and lives happily with a male lab.
 

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First, I'm sorry you're having so much anxiety at a time that should be positive for you and your new pup.

When we first got our dog, Katie, she was reactive around other dogs - quite possibly stemming from an incident similar to your doberman encounter. The third day we had her, our neighbor's dog ran up to her as if to say "hey there, welcome to the neighborhood" and Katie, I think, was intimidated. After that, when we walked down the street, she'd bark and lunge at dogs in their yards (most of whom were barking at her before we approached). In her first puppy class she did a little of the barking and lunging (what looked to us like aggression or reactivity). The trainer said all she saw was an excited puppy and recommended we read Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt.

We've slowly been able to get her to the point that she can walk past most dogs politely by rewarding her for calm behavior in the presence of other dogs. The process was similar to the "look at that" game, but not quite as formal. Now, when we walk past houses with barky dogs, she looks up at me for direction (or treats ;) ) and barely pays attention to the dogs. Oddly, with the exception of two loose dogs who ran up to her unexpectedly shortly after we got her, she's been fine when she has the opportunity to actually "meet" other dogs. She is happy to greet other dogs she meets at the park or pet store.

Update: The behaviorist evaluation went very badly. He was extremely aggressive (toward the life-size stuffed dog "walking" toward him) to the point of biting the stuffed dog. He was all hackles and puckered mouth and assertive forward movement (with his leash attached to the wall so he couldn't actually run around). The behaviorist believes he's very aggressive and that I will never be able to fully trust him around other dogs, though with a lot of work I should be able to teach him to stay calm. Her guess is that he was never socialized with other dogs as a young puppy, and that this may be a big part of the reason he was dumped by the side of the road (which is how he ended up in the shelter) - as she said, "nobody dumps Lassie."
Katie and I took a one-day "polite meetings" class today, but were the only students. For the dog portion of the session, the trainer brought out a large stuffed husky. Guess who freaked out - barking, jumping, bowing, etc. This after having had several calm encounters with other dogs at the park this morning. Our trainer, however, had me drop Katie's leash and allow her to explore the stuffed husky without restraint. She calmed down at bit, started eating treats of the dog's nose and leg, and we were able to continue the session.

I agree with HankSimon - dogs know the difference between live and stuffed animals and will have different reactions to each. I'd recommend finding someone who can supervise / observe a meet & greet between your dog and a real dog. Definitely try to get a second opinion before making any decisions.

I know some people will think I'm a horrible person if I consider trying to re-home him somewhere where he'd have space to run but wouldn't be around other dogs (I wouldn't just give him back to the shelter), but I feel I have to weigh all the factors here both for myself and my dog, and if just walking him every day is too big a risk to him and me, that option has to be on the table... if I could even find him a new home. Which is a thought I totally and completely hate, but I just don't know if I can do this. I know that sounds weak, and it feels absolutely shameful (believe me, "strong and stubborn as hell" is a much more common description of me), but... I just don't know what to do. Any (non-judgmental) thoughts and advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
I don't think anyone would fault you for making a well-reasoned decision based on what is in the best interest of the dog and your safety / sanity. If he truly is reactive, he may not respond well to living in a busy environment and would be happier in a different situation. That's not a failing on your part. Many shelters, though, have a stipulation in their contract that you need to return the dog to them if you can't keep him/her. You might want to check your contract.

Good luck! Let us know how things turn out.
 

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Hmm, I can't say I think much of that behaviorist. First, people DO dump "Lassie", all the time. Some of the best dogs were dumped by their previous owners, it sort of sounds like she's biased against shelter dogs. And seriously? A stuffed dog test? I think I'd freak out if someone walked a mannequin up into my face, too. So, yeah, don't be afraid to get a second (third, fourth) opinion.
 

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I know the big issue right now is how he's reacting to other dogs but I'm also kind of curious about the "submissive" and "belly up" behavior towards humans. Being timid and submissive isn't a good thing so I'm assuming you meant he liked to "ask for belly rubs" type of submissive behavior. That's kind of a sign of trust and that he's comfortable around you and other people, but then shouldn't he be growing to have more trust in you as time goes on rather than having less......I don't know, I don't know too much about dog behaviors.

Oh and I agree that you shouldn't read too much into the "test" that the spca behaviorist did.
 

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Thank you all so much. It was hard not to be really overwhelmed yesterday (and in fact I was totally overwhelmed, as you could tell). I agree with getting another opinion; the more I've been thinking about the behaviorist's "test" the more it's seemed problematic to me too. I think the idea was that dogs in obedience classes there are hooked into the wall like Samson was, so she wanted to see if he could handle that with other dogs around (clearly no!). But there's also no way that it wouldn't have brought out the most extreme reaction in him. He has met a few other dogs close-up in the month since I got him and he was fine (though in one case he started barking and jumping when the other dog made a sudden move). Even yesterday, when he bit the stuffed dog, it was a small nip at the dog's ear that didn't look really mean to me, more like "I've been yelling at you to stop walking toward me, you didn't listen, so maybe this will get you to go away!"

I'm still really nervous about having him in the city (or the woods) where a not-well-socialized dog could come running up to us, but I do believe his behavior is manageable. Whether or not I'm the best person to manage is remains to be determined. At least I'm not at all worried about him being aggressive toward people (unless he's redirecting dog aggression toward them).

I wish you could see him right now - stretched out in his crate, sound asleep on his back with all four legs straight in the air and his mouth hanging open. There's my scary dog :)
 

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I am trying to ignore the barking and teach him a "quiet" command
I don't know how you are trying to teach this, but giving him attention when he barks can be very reinforcing to the dog. And barking is self-rewarding so it's not easy to stop.


The biggest problem is that he is suddenly SUPER reactive to other dogs. I think that started after we were walking past a fenced-in yard down the street and a Doberman rushed out of nowhere aggressively barking his head off (and a few similar incidents
I'm not surprised he bcame reactive to other dogs, since he's been scared several times !
Also, maybe you are pulling on his leash, or he's pulling, wich is making things worse because of opposition reflex. This kind of situation requires good management, and preferably a front-attached harness.


Walking my dog is now incredibly stressful - it's the worst part(s) of my day. I'm working on all sorts of training, reading everything I can find ("Click to calm" is great!), and I'm going to have him evaluated by a trainer at the local SPCA this weekend to talk about next steps. I'm not going to give up, but I'm just really stressed and frustrated and nervous that he's not going to get over these new issues - not to mention that I gave them to him somehow!
Your dog is picking up on your stress and nervousness...you need to be calm yourself, to be a good example for your dog.


Willowy said:
Hmm, I can't say I think much of that behaviorist. First, people DO dump "Lassie", all the time. Some of the best dogs were dumped by their previous owners, it sort of sounds like she's biased against shelter dogs. And seriously? A stuffed dog test? I think I'd freak out if someone walked a mannequin up into my face, too. So, yeah, don't be afraid to get a second (third, fourth) opinion.
Same here, this is not how you evaluate a dog !


My opinion is that you need help from a true, good professional, who uses positive methods.
This dog is reactive from fear, he's influenced by your own stress, and you both need to break out of a vicious circle.
I don't think you can achieve it without help from a person who really knows what they are doing with dogs.
 

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People dump lassie every day. Kabota, my rescue, is the best family dog ever and his former owners let him starve half to death and then dropped him off at the shelter to die.

I personally have had a dog who was large and supremely DA. He didn't show it until he was out of the shelter. I personally trained him to be good on a leash. First off, get a front clip harness. Scout out good places/ times to walk him and then look up kikopup on YouTube. She has some lessons on reactivity.

This is a long process. It's frustrating and time consuming and on step forward, two steps back. It took a year to train Muggsy to behave on walks. It was totally worth it. He was my best friend and I wish I could have had 12 more years with him. Even 12 more days.
 

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I agree with getting another opinion; the more I've been thinking about the behaviorist's "test" the more it's seemed problematic to me too. I think the idea was that dogs in obedience classes there are hooked into the wall like Samson was, so she wanted to see if he could handle that with other dogs around (clearly no!). But there's also no way that it wouldn't have brought out the most extreme reaction in him. He has met a few other dogs close-up in the month since I got him and he was fine (though in one case he started barking and jumping when the other dog made a sudden move). Even yesterday, when he bit the stuffed dog, it was a small nip at the dog's ear that didn't look really mean to me, more like "I've been yelling at you to stop walking toward me, you didn't listen, so maybe this will get you to go away!"
Yeah, that doesn't sound "very aggressive" to me, more reactive. It does sound in that last example like he was trying to get the dog to leave him alone, not to initiate a big fight. My dogs both do the same (they are afraid of strange dogs rushing them and will bark, growl, and sometimes air-snap, but if we go for a walk with a friend and a strange dog, they calm down very quickly and ignore the dog for the rest of the walk). I think a good behaviorist will give you some strategies for dealing with this.

As for my dogs, they're small so I'm not as worried about them hurting another dog (most off-leash dogs that rush us outweigh them by more than 30lbs), but I figure that if I stick to on-leash areas and another dog does rush them and get hurt, that's not my fault -- it's the fault of the owner who was breaking the leash law. I find that getting between your dog and most rushing dogs and yelling at the incoming dog to get lost usually works, anyway -- plus many dogs don't want to get in your dog's face if it's also barking and growling. All but one of the dogs who have rushed mine have either backed off when I yelled or when one of my dogs snapped at them.
 

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I can't help with the reactivity stuff (trying to sort out our own right now!) BUT, what has helped Snowball's barking was recall. Basically, the dog can't bark at stuff through the window if its heading towards you for a (very yummy) treat and some cuddles. As well, because American Eskimos/German Spitz were bred mainly as watchdogs, we occasionally go to the window/door to see what he's barking at and he usually stops barking because he's done his job by letting us know that something was there. Its been three weeks, but his barking has definitely gotten much easier to control, even if it hasn't decreased much in frequency (yet).

The only exception is if he's barking at our stupid neighbor and his stupid pug. The pug isn't actually stupid, but I'm sure Snowball thinks he is - its a long story.
 

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Sorry, double post for some reason. :confused:
 

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My dogs love other dogs....they don't even react when one is freaking out behind a fence- but I think they would come completely unglued if a large, stuffed dog started coming towards them.
Update: The behaviorist evaluation went very badly. He was extremely aggressive (toward the life-size stuffed dog "walking" toward him) to the point of biting the stuffed dog. He was all hackles and puckered mouth and assertive forward movement (with his leash attached to the wall so he couldn't actually run around). The behaviorist believes he's very aggressive and that I will never be able to fully trust him around other dogs, though with a lot of work I should be able to teach him to stay calm. Her guess is that he was never socialized with other dogs as a young puppy, and that this may be a big part of the reason he was dumped by the side of the road (which is how he ended up in the shelter) - as she said, "nobody dumps Lassie."

I don't know what to do. We live in a neighborhood and city where people just let their dogs run out the front door sometimes or wander around outside, or where they can escape fenced yards all too easily. Any place I would like to take him hiking (a big activity for me, and one I'd really looked forward to doing with my dog) runs too big a risk of running into unleashed dogs. He's already 70+ lbs and not done growing, and I'm not very large. I just don't know if I can face a (dog's) lifetime of nervous, highly vigilant walking and the tremendous amount of work this will require. Of course I expected that owning and training a dog would be a lot of work, and I'm excited to do that work, but this is a whole other level, and the stakes feel so extremely high. I'm single and don't have a high-paying job; I don't know that I can afford private training, much less the real financial and emotional costs of something going wrong (that is, if he actually hurt another dog).

I know some people will think I'm a horrible person if I consider trying to re-home him somewhere where he'd have space to run but wouldn't be around other dogs (I wouldn't just give him back to the shelter), but I feel I have to weigh all the factors here both for myself and my dog, and if just walking him every day is too big a risk to him and me, that option has to be on the table... if I could even find him a new home. Which is a thought I totally and completely hate, but I just don't know if I can do this. I know that sounds weak, and it feels absolutely shameful (believe me, "strong and stubborn as hell" is a much more common description of me), but... I just don't know what to do. Any (non-judgmental) thoughts and advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
 
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