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Hi everyone - I'm writing this in complete desperation as my husband and I are to the point of having to consider putting our Lab to sleep due to human aggression. Our Lab, Bo, is almost 4 years old and we purchased him as a puppy from a breeder that specialized in hunting Labs. For the first 3 years of his life, he was the BEST dog - so obedient, we could put him out in our yard and he wouldn't run off (in fact would sit at the door and whine to be let back in unless we were out there), did great with people, etc. However, this past December it was like a switch flipped in him and he started becoming aggressive towards strangers.
The first incident was with a family member that was dressed up like Santa and lurking around my in-law's house - Bo didn't recognize him and he nipped at his arm. We all laughed and thought, "What a good guard dog!"
The second, third, fourth time he showed aggression was again at my in-law's house where he was left outside on his own (they live on a lot of land in the country so he's safe to be outside and would never run off). With those incidents they had people come to the house that he didn't recognize and Bo approached them at their car and again, nipped at their arms.
The final straw was this week when we had let Bo out in the morning to go potty and he was on our front porch, where he sits every morning. A stranger came to the house and Bo immediately started barking at him. I told him to stop and he did, but a few minutes later I heard him barking again. Suddenly I heard Bo bark very aggressively and I knew he had charged at the man. I could see out the window where the man was standing in front of our house, holding his arm. My husband ran out and put Bo in the house and immediately when Bo came in he laid down and rolled on his back in a submissive pose, like he knew he had done wrong. My husband talked to the man and came in and said he was very upset (understandably) so I wasn't surprised when the man called me the following day to find out how we were handling the situation.
I took all the necessary steps - reported it to Animal Control and now Bo has to be quarantined for 10 days and see the vet 3x within those 10 days to rule out Rabies (he is up to date on all vaccines, thankfully). However, my husband and I are SICK over this because, while our vet tells us we can work hard to retrain him, we definitely get the feeling that he's recommending euthanasia. The vet told me that my husband and I need to "have the conversation about euthanizing him".
Our biggest problem is that I am due to have a baby at the end of next month and while we completely trust that Bo would not ever show aggression to us, we realize that the way we've lived with Bo so far - letting him be outside on his own, taking him places - will never be the same. I think we could live with that, however, we're afraid at how the new baby is going to affect his aggression - would he ever show aggression to the baby? Will the baby make him even more aggressive to strangers?
We hate to put him to sleep because he's never once been aggressive to us and is really a gentle dog with people he knows - it's strangers that he always freaks out on. We also would consider rehome-ing him, but can you even give away a dog that bites strangers?
ANY advice would be appreciated - are we at the point of putting him down, could we try to put him in a new home, or should we try to work with his behavior?
 

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I think this sounds like a VERY easy fix--don't let him out alone. Most dogs are not allowed outside unrestrained, it's just not a big deal. Many dogs will guard the house/property against strangers. It's a big reason a lot of people have dogs.

This isn't something I would consider killing him for. If you want to work on it, consult a dog behaviorist. . .but like I said, he really shouldn't be in this position anyway.

If he doesn't bite people when you're around, no reason you can't take him places. Just don't leave him alone unrestrained.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks for your input - I do understand what you're saying and believe me, we have learned now that our dog is not capable to be out on his own. However, we live in a very rural area and my husband has grown up his whole life with Labs that were outside dogs and we were never leaving him outside out of neglect or carelessness, it was just a behavior that is widely done in our area. Also, our dog is ALWAYS in our yard. So I do appreciate your advice and am very glad to know you don't think we should "kill him" but we honestly did not do this out of neglect or laziness. Many dogs in rural areas are allowed to be outside unrestrained.
 

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I know; I live in a rural area. A lot of dogs end up killed because of it, too. If just a small lifestyle change will save his life, why not?
 

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Yes, many people do it without problems. But it IS a problem for THIS dog. So if you want to keep THIS dog rather than "a" dog, you need to change where he spends his time or he will keep biting people. Either bring him in the house or give him to someone who can keep him in the house.

The issue is not strangers as much as strangers approaching his home when he is outdoors. So he should be able to acclimate to a new home and new owners just fine IMO.
 

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No, you're absolutely right, we're willing to make the lifestyle change. However, for us it will be a huge lifestyle change - he will basically be relegated to our backyard to never leave unless we can be with him constantly. That's to say that we do a lot with our in-laws, he goes where we go a lot of times and he's always been fine to be on his own in their yard, usually with his litter mate brother that my brother-in-law owns (who is a great dog who's never shown aggression and has always been a "roam free" dog).
I think what made this all so terrible is that the vet has made us feel like, he's attacked people and he'll do it again and you have to decide if you're willing to lose everything if he bites the wrong person. And while we don't want to put him down at all - my husband and I were both in tears over it last night - we also are so afraid at how his behavior could change with a new baby. I honestly feel like he will love the baby like he loves us if he we approach it correctly and train him well with it, but our vet also made it very clear that his aggression is a personality issue and not something that we've done wrong or could've influenced.
 

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Sounds like a easy fix.
Do not allow him out alone, or build him a safe pen outside where he can hang out with out a worry. Sorry but just because every one does it, doesnt make it better. Or just because you have done it in the past with out a problem. dogs are individuals and thus will be different. This is such a easy fix IMO. To kill a dog just because every one else lets theirs wander is silly. He sounds like he is territorial or fearful to me.

A vet is NOT some one to go to for training advice. they are medical pros, not behavorists.
 

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Sounds like a easy fix.
Do not allow him out alone, or build him a safe pen outside where he can hang out with out a worry. Sorry but just because every one does it, doesnt make it better. Or just because you have done it in the past with out a problem. dogs are individuals and thus will be different. This is such a easy fix IMO. To kill a dog just because every one else lets theirs wander is silly. He sounds like he is territorial or fearful to me.
We're not killing him because everyone else lets their dog wander. Our vet seems to think that because he's bitten that his aggression will only get worse. We WILL keep him restrained from now and I hope it doesn't seem as though we're considering putting him down because we can't leave him on his own anymore. Our biggest concern is how having a new baby could affect his aggression, and the lengths that we will have to go to from the lifestyle that he is used to, and we are used to, in order to change his behavior. He will basically never leave our yard for fear that he may bite someone. Now we will have to wonder, can we walk him in public? On a leash - yes, I do use a leash. The ONLY time he is ever unrestrained is on our property, by the way. Believe me, I know that it seems like the simple answer is to just never leave him unrestrained, and basically, that is the simple answer. I think we're worried about his aggression continuing even if he IS restrained. I'm not a dog expert, I have no idea if aggression is something that is only displayed in one way - meaning that he's territorial with strangers and would NEVER be aggressive with us - or could that behavior change one day if he got anxious enough?
 

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If the dog is never free any where but your own house. How did he manage to bite FOUR people, FOUR differnt times on your inlaws property. Sorry but this is bad dog managment, he has bit FIVE people due to own neglect IMO. I dont see why he couldnt go in to public. Have you socialized this dog at all? No one here can tell you how he will act with a new born/baby/toddler/child.
 

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...but our vet also made it very clear that his aggression is a personality issue and not something that we've done wrong or could've influenced.
Well, your vet made it very clear that's what HE thinks it is. I happen to disagree completely. You probably won't want to hear this, but I think the santa claus incident probably scared the bejeesus out of him and helped to create a phobia about strange people approaching the house, a phobia that was reinforced by the next several incidents when not only was he left in (in his mind) the same scary situation, but that those scary strangers backed off after he bit them again and again. He's simply learned that a particular behavior (biting) makes a scary situation (strangers approaching outside) stop and the scary thing goes away.
 

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No, you're absolutely right, we're willing to make the lifestyle change. However, for us it will be a huge lifestyle change - he will basically be relegated to our backyard to never leave unless we can be with him constantly. That's to say that we do a lot with our in-laws, he goes where we go a lot of times and he's always been fine to be on his own in their yard, usually with his litter mate brother that my brother-in-law owns (who is a great dog who's never shown aggression and has always been a "roam free" dog).
I think what made this all so terrible is that the vet has made us feel like, he's attacked people and he'll do it again and you have to decide if you're willing to lose everything if he bites the wrong person. And while we don't want to put him down at all - my husband and I were both in tears over it last night - we also are so afraid at how his behavior could change with a new baby. I honestly feel like he will love the baby like he loves us if he we approach it correctly and train him well with it, but our vet also made it very clear that his aggression is a personality issue and not something that we've done wrong or could've influenced.
Has your vet done any kind of bloodwork at all? That would be the first step, though it sounds like Sassafras is right (it's a learned thing that works), a quick personality change in my normally laid back dog would make me wonder what was going on and if there wasn't a medical reason for his sudden change of demeanor...
And if he's confined to the yard...I honestly don't see the big deal. I live in a rural area as well, and scraped the bank to fence in over 1/2 acre for my dogs and cats so they could be outside without my supervision without feeling seriously confined. If anything, you could fence off another area and make your yard "bigger" if you're worried about him feeling confined.
FTR, there was a family that had a pair of human aggressive dogs they let roam in a rural area. Farmers warned them over and over to keep their dogs at home, but they continued to let the dogs go free. The dogs finally went home in a body bag, they were dangerous to humans, livestock, and other pets. My dogs aren't aggressive, but I sure as heck wouldn't let them roam out of my sight for all the above reasons, not to mention the ones we can't think of.
 

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I agree that it was probably the 'Bad Santa' incident that really got things going.

First, many dogs don't react well to strangely dressed people. Therefore, extra caution is needed around holidays where people dress in costume. Halloween is the worst. Overcoming this phobia is a slow process, generally done by slow introduction in a controlled and positive setting. No flooding or other high anxiety methods.

The second thing is that it sounds like the dog was rewarded for the behavior, for being a good guard dog. To the dog, he may think he's doing the right thing being aggressive toward strangers. You'll need to make it clear to the dog that people aggression won't be rewarded but remaining calm will be.

How well is this dog trained now? Does he know the basics like sit, stay and come? Does he follow these commands reliably? Of the current training is good you can begin working on non-aggression training right away. If the dog is lacking in training, then rehoming to someone willing and able to put in the training time may be best given your situation.
 

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I think what made this all so terrible is that the vet has made us feel like, he's attacked people and he'll do it again and you have to decide
Why did the Vet make you feel like that. It's something you already knew, your dog has attacked people.

Many times through the years I have told people that many loose dogs end up dead dogs. That's a fact. You pour a 15 ft by 5 ft pad of concrete and put a 4 by 12 portable kennel run (9 gauge) top it off with a roof and you have an enclosure to keep your dog and people safe.

We moved to rural (let all your dogs run loose area) and the 1st 5 years we were here we would get phone calls from people that did not understand the concept of operating a kennel. If a dog is running loose call the kennel it must be their dog.

I lost my patience years ago with people that think dogs should be free like the wind.

We spent 15 years building alligator type protection dogs and never had a person bit (except an occasional slow moving agitator)
 

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To answer some of your questions...our dog has definitely been well socialized. As a puppy he was always around people that loved on him and for the first couple years of his life he was able to go to work with my husband (who's a builder) and did absolutely amazing on job sites - he could go with him and was not restrained, would hang around the job site, brings sticks for strangers, etc. Then my husband got to where he was unable to take him to work because of different reasons, none having to do with the behavior of the dog. That switch also started around this past December, and was also when I got pregnant. We've wondered if there's been any connection between those events and his sudden aggression.

As far as "why are we listening to the vet" - I would completely agree with you, but our vet is a behavioral specialist and has a lot of training in this area with dogs. So we do see him as an authority on this matter, although I'd like to consider getting a 2nd opinion from an actual dog trainer.

Our dog is very well trained and is great at basic commands - he's incredibly obedient at home and while he does have typical dog behaviors of getting in the trash occasionally, we could not say enough good things about him. He's definitely more of a passive dog - he doesn't need a lot of attention but he's very loyal to me and my husband (especially my husband).

I know this all seems like we're terrible dog owners because we've let him be outside without being restrained, and that's fine if you think that. I know otherwise. I will absolutely admit that after the first few occasions of him biting/nipping (he's never broken skin or sunk his teeth in anyone, it seems to be more of a warning "hit" with his teeth) we should've been more careful and I take full responsibility for that. He no longer goes to our in-laws unless we're there, and now when strangers come to the house when we are there we make sure to watch him. We've not had any incidents with him biting in a number of months and it is partly because we've changed our approach with him. However, this incident at our home just seemed so odd because we've had strangers come around and he's not done anything. There was something about this particular man that he just didn't like.

I never realized that the Santa ordeal could've brought this on, but that sure makes a lot of sense. We definitely do not want to put him down, and are willing to put in the training. I'm just happy to see that you all, despite obviously thinking we're terrible owners, don't think we should put him down. It's hard to feel like you can argue with the opinion of your vet when you're not trained in dog training. And yes, I realize that you all cannot tell us how he's going to respond to a baby. I was just hoping that someone might have an idea of how we could work with this or what kinds of behaviors could come out from bringing a new baby home.
 

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Why did the Vet make you feel like that. It's something you already knew, your dog has attacked people.

Many times through the years I have told people that many loose dogs end up dead dogs. That's a fact. You pour a 15 ft by 5 ft pad of concrete and put a 4 by 12 portable kennel run (9 gauge) top it off with a roof and you have an enclosure to keep your dog and people safe.

We moved to rural (let all your dogs run loose area) and the 1st 5 years we were here we would get phone calls from people that did not understand the concept of operating a kennel. If a dog is running loose call the kennel it must be their dog.

I lost my patience years ago with people that think dogs should be free like the wind.

We spent 15 years building alligator type protection dogs and never had a person bit (except an occasional slow moving agitator)
Yes, but he was never loose and running on people's property and getting into things he shouldn't have. And I have honestly never heard so many people say that in their rural areas you just don't let a dog run free, because here in our area, EVERYONE let's their dogs run free (Run free meaning, be in their OWN yard without a leash - not run free to everyone else's house and land). And I'm sorry if that makes us naive because we did too but when my husband can go his whole life incident-free with Labs that were great with people, and Labs are known to not be aggressive, history would tell you that it was okay to let our dog be on OUR PROPERTY and nobody else's (including my in-laws b/c he never left their yard, either) without being on a leash or in a kennel. I understand that after the incidents we had that we should've changed our behavior - I get that. But the bottom line is that, he's shown aggression now, and we're afraid if we can trust him or not once a baby comes. Like I said, I don't worry about him being aggressive with the baby, I worry about how the change in our life of having a baby will affect his already territorial behavior and anxiety.
 

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Well, your vet made it very clear that's what HE thinks it is. I happen to disagree completely. You probably won't want to hear this, but I think the santa claus incident probably scared the bejeesus out of him and helped to create a phobia about strange people approaching the house, a phobia that was reinforced by the next several incidents when not only was he left in (in his mind) the same scary situation, but that those scary strangers backed off after he bit them again and again. He's simply learned that a particular behavior (biting) makes a scary situation (strangers approaching outside) stop and the scary thing goes away.
I agree. I remember very clearly reading a section of Dr. Patricia McConnell's "The Other End of the Leash" where she describes what happened to a client of hers. The client had an awesome dog, never any problems, but, one time the client got a new coat during a bad winter. The coat had a fur trimmed hood. The client came home, all bundled up, hood on, new scarf around it, and the dog ran and hid in the bathtub. When she tried to coax the dog out, still wearing her coat, the dog bolted and hid under the bed.
So, if this can happen with a dog's owner, imagine what can happen when a dog sees someone dressed in a red outfit with a beard and hat. I mean, a dog has an idea of what "humans" in general look like, but Santa looks pretty different and could be scary. Heck, lots of babies are afraid of Santa.

Also, it seems a bit different from "standard" (if this exists) aggression. He's not randomly going after people, when you take him places, when you go on walks. He is going after people that are invading his area. And, if you are often at your parent's home, he probably sees your folks' home as an extension of his area.

Put up Beware of the Dog signs, and keep him indoors, or on a tie-out.
Also, a medical check up (with a different vet) might be a good idea just to rule out any medical conditions. But, his behavior hasn't changed with people he knows, right? So, it's probably not medical. I say a different vet, because you are obviously not comfortable with the things this vet has said or insinuated (about putting this dog to sleep). I wouldn't go back to this vet, as you seem to be affected by his insinuations.

It seems to me that there are reasons to euthanize a dog, but this seems to be minor compared to other reasons. Please don't misunderstand me, I know this is a serious issue, and you are greatly affected by this situation with your beloved dog. But, unless I read it incorrectly, you stated that the first, second, third fourth, and fifth times the dog nipped at peoples' arms. The last time seemed to be an actual bite.
If the dog had been aggressive, he could have easily bit all the others instead of nipping at the arms of people that he was unsure of.

I would manage the situation, so you don't put him in a situation where this could happen again.
 

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I agree. I remember very clearly reading a section of Dr. Patricia McConnell's "The Other End of the Leash" where she describes what happened to a client of hers. The client had an awesome dog, never any problems, but, one time the client got a new coat during a bad winter. The coat had a fur trimmed hood. The client came home, all bundled up, hood on, new scarf around it, and the dog ran and hid in the bathtub. When she tried to coax the dog out, still wearing her coat, the dog bolted and hid under the bed.
So, if this can happen with a dog's owner, imagine what can happen when a dog sees someone dressed in a red outfit with a beard and hat. I mean, a dog has an idea of what "humans" in general look like, but Santa looks pretty different and could be scary. Heck, lots of babies are afraid of Santa.

Also, it seems a bit different from "standard" (if this exists) aggression. He's not randomly going after people, when you take him places, when you go on walks. He is going after people that are invading his area. And, if you are often at your parent's home, he probably sees your folks' home as an extension of his area.

Put up Beware of the Dog signs, and keep him indoors, or on a tie-out.
Also, a medical check up (with a different vet) might be a good idea just to rule out any medical conditions. But, his behavior hasn't changed with people he knows, right? So, it's probably not medical. I say a different vet, because you are obviously not comfortable with the things this vet has said or insinuated (about putting this dog to sleep). I wouldn't go back to this vet, as you seem to be affected by his insinuations.

It seems to me that there are reasons to euthanize a dog, but this seems to be minor compared to other reasons. Please don't misunderstand me, I know this is a serious issue, and you are greatly affected by this situation with your beloved dog. But, unless I read it incorrectly, you stated that the first, second, third fourth, and fifth times the dog nipped at peoples' arms. The last time seemed to be an actual bite.
If the dog had been aggressive, he could have easily bit all the others instead of nipping at the arms of people that he was unsure of.

I would manage the situation, so you don't put him in a situation where this could happen again.
Thanks for this nice reply. We've been getting different opinions on what has "set" him off - our vet says it's just his personality, others think it was me getting pregnant (literally the week I found out I was pregnant was the week he attacked Santa), and you guys seem to think it was Santa himself, which actually makes the most sense to me. We will definitely change our behavior - put up signs and always have him contained or restrained. And no, we don't ever worry about him attacking or biting on a leash or anything. We took him to the fireworks a few weeks ago and while we couldn't stay with him because we didn't know you weren't allowed to have dogs there, the little bit of time we were there, we had people around and a couple kids pet him (w/ our permission) and he was just fine.
As far as the last time he bit, I should clarify and say that he's never broken skin, not even this last time. It was the same kind of "knock into them with my teeth to let them know I'm not happy" kind of bite. I asked the man if he bled at all and he said not really, that there were just little dent marks from where the dog had put his mouth on him. So it seems like he's still exerting some kind of control and not doing the "bite and shake" move.
 

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Did the vet test for thyroid problems? A sudden change from happy-go-lucky lab to bites-everyone lab warrants a blood test for thyroid. If it hasn't been done, insist on it. Hypothyroidism can cause anxiety and aggression.

I wouldn't kill this dog. this is either a medical issue and/or an owner-created situation. He was rewarded for biting initially, allowed to continue biting and then, suddenly, "oh, noez, vicious dog, we must kill him!" He can be managed and retrained, and that's assuming that the fix isn't synthroid, which is cheap and easy.
 

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Did the vet test for thyroid problems? A sudden change from happy-go-lucky lab to bites-everyone lab warrants a blood test for thyroid. If it hasn't been done, insist on it. Hypothyroidism can cause anxiety and aggression.

I wouldn't kill this dog. this is either a medical issue and/or an owner-created situation. He was rewarded for biting initially, allowed to continue biting and then, suddenly, "oh, noez, vicious dog, we must kill him!" He can be managed and retrained, and that's assuming that the fix isn't synthroid, which is cheap and easy.
He was not rewarded for biting - we were not able to properly discipline him because we didn't see the bite happen the first time. We just knew it had occurred when my brother in law came in the house and said that Bo had bit him. We didn't run out and give him ANY positive reinforcement for what he did. Granted, we didn't punish him because I've heard many times that you can't punish a dog for something that you didn't witness that occurred 5 minutes prior. So maybe not disciplining = rewarding, I don't know. I just want it to be clear that we in no way told him "good dog" or anything for doing that.
That's a good suggestion re: testing the thyroid. I have wondered about that so I will ask our vet.
 

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I think what made this all so terrible is that the vet has made us feel like, he's attacked people and he'll do it again and you have to decide if you're willing to lose everything if he bites the wrong person. And while we don't want to put him down at all - my husband and I were both in tears over it last night - we also are so afraid at how his behavior could change with a new baby. I honestly feel like he will love the baby like he loves us if he we approach it correctly and train him well with it, but our vet also made it very clear that his aggression is a personality issue and not something that we've done wrong or could've influenced.
I'm a little surprised that a good vet wouldn't suggest some tests for a dog whose behavior suddenly changed well past social maturity. I'd want a test for tick borne diseases like lyme and erlichia and a thyroid panel (not just a T4). These illnesses can cause sudden behavior changes including aggression. I'm also a little amazed (but not surprised) that a vet wouldn't suggest having the dog evaluated by someone who specializes in behavior. As to being relegated to the back yard, is he not allowed in the house? Dogs who spend a great deal of time alone make up their own rules.
By the way, how serious was the bite? Was it a single bite, how deep were the tooth marks? Did the man require emergency care or stitches?
 
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