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Euthanizing Aggressive Dog

5771 Views 37 Replies 15 Participants Last post by  LeoRose
I’ve posted on here several times about my aggressive rescue dog. I’ve been training/managing her for several years and I’m not sure how longer I can do this. I loooove her so much, but there is been little to no improvement. Unfortunately, I may need to resort to euthanasia which completely breaks my heart. She has bitten three people...all of whom were forgiving because they were family and friends. She honestly rules my life and is more of a source of stress than enjoyment. I am anxious everyday, afraid that she will hurt someone or some animal.

I’m wondering if anyone here has had to make this difficult decision and if so, how did you deal with it after? Did you feel guilty? Could you forgive yourself? Did you feel like you made the best decision possible? This is a decision I do not want to make, but I may need to in order to keep people and pets safe and maintain my sanity. Thanks so much.
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I have not had to do this, but I would not feel guilty, for a few reasons:

A) One can't responsibly rehome an aggressive dog, as it's a liability. Surrendering it to a shelter or rescue would be irresponsible, not to mention it would be taking the place of a non-aggressive dog who needs it. If keeping a aggressive dog isn't on the table, euth is the only responsible option.

B) If it's stressful for the owner, imagine what it's like for the dog -- it must be in a frequent state of anger and/or fear, which is no way to live.

C) Humane euth is not a cruel process. Humans have a lot of hangups around death, but dogs don't. There's no need to feel like putting a dog peacefully to sleep is a betrayal, especially not when one has exhausted all other options to improve its quality of life.

And that's all just from the perspective of helping the dog. The owner's mental state matters, too. Owning a dog will obviously have its ups and downs, and we all have to make sacrifices for our pets -- spending money on medical care when we didn't expect to, skipping out on trips or events when there's no one to watch the dog, stuff like that -- but no one should be expected to keep themselves in a constant state of stress and anxiety over a pet. It's not good for a person's health.

THAT SAID, in your specific case, it really sounds like your dog is resource guarding you, which can actually be trained away. You also say she's never broken the skin or even left marks, which means she's got great bite inhibition and is warning people, not trying to harm them. You also don't mention having tried any sort of medication to relax her, and you say that the techniques your trainer gave you are working, albeit slowly. I don't think I'd consider this dog a lost cause.
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I haven't done this with any of my dogs but a friend and former roommate of mine did. I lived with her and her aggressive dog. Unless she, Aussie, knew the person well, NO ONE got into our apartment. There was a serial rapist breaking into apartments at the time and I tell you, I never lost a minute of sleep with Aussie around! She was vicious and probably would have killed anyone who broke in. The only person she ever bit (to my knowledge) was me, when I came around her as a puppy when she was eating. After that, my friend was vigilant around her dog when other people were around.

When my friend got married, was moving to a suburb neighborhood and was planning on getting pregnant soon after, she knew it was time to let her pup go. She was so afraid that in the new neighborhood if her dog would get loose, she may bite a child. That is something she could never have lived with. She couldn't do it so her brother and I took Aussie to the vet. To this day, as much as she loved Aussie, she still believes it was the right decision.

You know you've done everything you can for your pup. She knows she is loved and you gave her the best life (and probably longer) than she would have probably had with anyone else. That's a lot. Everything Crantastic said too. It's difficult to do this, but this is so much better than if she bit someone who wasn't so forgiving. Euthanizing her would be out of love for her.
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I know someone who euthanized a dog for aggression. It is hard. It is heartbreaking. And sometimes it's the best thing to do for all the parties involved.

I've been there a few times and I'll share a few stories. I've been in the room till the very end, I've been on the other side of the line with a client, I've been in meetings where the dog's life is on the line. It is never easy. But I feel no guilt or regrets.

The one that affected me most was a dog of whom I thought, "finally" when his life was ended. I was there when the injections were done. I wish it happened weeks sooner. He was aggressive towards certain people, aggressive towards dogs with a few puncture incidences, and had separation anxiety. We tried our very best, and finally decided it was time when he nearly chewed through the wall to get out of the room. There was literally a crater in the wall. Every night when I was the last one to leave I had to walk by his room, unable to help him, and hear him have a complete meltdown. When he could be with people his eyes were totally bloodshot, and he'd just sleep from the exhaustion of living. I wish he was put out of his misery much sooner than he was. We no longer wait until that point of suffering, and it is one of many reasons I have so much respect for where I work.

I was on the phone with a person I was working with, whose human aggressive dog was making huge strides. The family could finally comfortably have guests over since the dog was finally content to be contained in a certain part of the house, as opposed to reacting at people's every movements and fighting to get out of the space. He also resource guarded certain things from family members. But no worries - these were smart people who put a ton of effort into training and management. They got over that hump too. They even did muzzle training. But as this dog matured, his aggression became more severe. Suddenly he was snapping and growling at the child (who was an older, mature kid) simply for being in his space. Previously they were best buds. It used to be that the dog was awesome around family and only needed careful consideration around strangers. Now the family felt unsafe with the dog in everyday, familial situations. So the choices were to keep this dog confined every second of his life, be hypervigilant for a bite -to strangers AND their child- for the entire lifetime of the dog. Or euthanize the dog. They chose the last option and although I did not suggest it, I was fully supportive. I think it was the right decision.

A dog was surrendered for being "scary" and reactive towards strangers. No bite history. The dog at the shelter was very goofy and loving towards staff. He had this endearing habit of picking up a toy any time someone looked into his kennel. He was doing great with volunteers too. One day, as he was being moved out of his kennel routinely, he shot out and beelined it for a volunteer who was well out of the way. This was a volunteer he had positive interactions with before, and was even walked by with no issues. That day, he inflicted a puncturing, bruising bite to the volunteer's ribs through his jacket. The previous owners were called and they did not want the dog back, they were worried something like this would happen. That dog was euthanized. The previous home chose to surrender the dog rather than euthanize him themselves, and they were not at all surprised by the outcome, as unfortunate as it all was.

The dog transferred here had no bite history and did great with people and dogs. He was a little quirky and a little shy of some reaches but no one worried about him. He was met with by a few potential adopters and never had any issues, mixed with dogs, etc. One day, a family was meeting him in an outdoor space and he inflicted a level 5 bite (bit and punctured 2-3 times up the arm) to the man meeting him. A trained, experienced staff member was supervising the interaction and could not determine any triggers; the dog had met so many people of all genders and sizes without any issues prior to this. The dog was euthanized.

A dog adopted from the shelter had no issues for months and was doted on by the family. One day we get a call. The dog lunged at the person's face and bit off the tip of her nose. The dog was euthanized.


I have more stories, but I think I'll stop here. The reality is you are weighing a life against another life. There is so much heartache and pain that comes with the death of a loved animal. There is so much heartache and pain if/when an animal sent to a loving home seriously hurts someone and alters the course of a person's life forever. I often wonder when an aggressive dog is rehomed, if the person TRULY believes that the dog has found paradise, a family with THAT much ability to train and manage and still give the dog a happy life... Or if it's more of a hope, a passing off of responsibility. Like somehow the story ends there and the consequences, whatever they may be, have the option of being turned off. I am not at all implying this is the case here. I just have thought about this a fair bit and it's sad no matter how you look at it. But I have never second guessed these kinds of decisions when they were made.
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I agree with everyone else, but keep in mind that in this particular case we're talking about a resource guarder who has never even left a mark on someone's skin, let alone drawn blood.
Right. And I am not at all suggesting the OP should euthanize this dog. However, I don't think it is my place to say not to either. The chances this dog has depends on many factors, not just if the dog broke skin or not. If this person is in a part of the country with overpopulated shelters, they would likely euth the dog. A shelter like mine could probably take in a dog like this, at the right time (NOT an actual suggestion, just an example). Or maybe a shelter could take the dog, but if they don't counsel properly and place the dog with a bad match...
Thank you for all of your replies and insight. To clarify, my dog has broken skin twice...one friend and one family member who were gracious enough to be forgiving. She has attacked other dogs as well but has not done damage because she had her muzzle on. Visitors are difficult to have over and walks are constant management. This is such a tough decision. What concerns me the most is her upredicability...she can just snap at an instant and I have no idea what the trigger is. I hope I know what to do in time.
you should not and never feel guilty. No one walks in your shoes. Euthanizing is a real and valid option.. And as owners there will be some tough decisions that we will always to make. I know we have all given our personal experiences so you have the best information to consider and ponder over if any stone has been left unturned to consider or try. for my own dog it was 100 % management of environment to start, and I am still sorta weird today with my current dogs (leaving my dog in the vehicle first to walk in a building an check out what we walking into, whats the lay out, any trouble areas lol) and continued OB training between the two of us, I don't train for the dog to change his mind, only the dog can do that, fakers are never trust worthy. I trust a dog holding his sit heel position foaming at the mouth wanting a piece of you, over a dog sitting quietly waiting for an opportunity for you to get closer because he is sitting quietly, and then take a cheap shot... exactly the reason I don't try to train how they feel/react about something out of them. None of know how our animals are going to turn out, it's a work in progress as (we) go through all their life stages and experiences, and adjust to their needs, at their level. Keep them safe the best we can, set them up to win the best we can, and have those OB skills together that will get you through and out of situations for the best for both of us when idiot real life happens. You can't train for everything, You can only count on having each other to look too for what to do . and they depend on you, when you have control of situations of them being in, that you set them up to be safe from decisions they not ready for, or they just can't make the right decisions.

we all face hard decision we make for our animals, your right you will know what decision is right for you and your pup. Am sorry your in the situation your not alone in having to consider it. Hang in there.
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I know of dogs euthanized for bite history or aggression.

In one case the dog was older and had lost his sight. He had always been a bit iffy in (shy) temperament but as he aged and lost his sight he became less predictable. He gave a warning snap to his owner one day and that was the end for him. Mix breed from a shelter.

Next dog was an absolutely strong, confident well bred working German Shepherd. Handled poorly with insufficient structure he became the ruler of the house. He wanted the couch, he got the couch. They tried to handle him with cookies and love and he needed clarity and structure. By age 5 he was running the house. He could give their 16 year old daughter a look and she would run from the room crying. He was returned to the breeder. Handled now with structure and around very experienced dog people he no longer ran the show. No one did anything with him other than kennel or food and leash walk for potty for 3 days. No direct eye contact. Day three, as anticipated, he decided enough was enough and could not be gotten out of a kennel or crate without being a very dangerous animal. Took two experienced people to get him to the vet for euthanizing. Shame too. Would have been a top patrol dog if he had been handled and trained properly. He had a ton of fight drive which is why he was so dangerous.. no way to diffuse or redirect it when engaged because he always won and was rewarded for it from a very young age. Once IN fight drive he would fight to the death.

Another dog with a similar history as the dog above. Difference is this dog was unpredicatable so there was a measure of instability. About day 4 during a normal training session (teaching the dog "how to" do something so not being corrected) the dog decided he had enough. If someone outside had not heard the ruckus the handler would have been killed by the dog. As it was the handler had to have several hand surgeries.

Last dog was fearful and defensive. Behavior escalated to "I will bite you first" which was rewarded because people backed down. Too unstable to trust. Rescue dog that just got worse with age. Never abused, just unstable and owners had no idea how to deal with it and did not have thousands to spend on trainers and training. Euthanized.

In all the cases mentioned, the one thing that was clear is that every dog that was either returned to the breeder or euthanized by the owner the people returning the dog or euthanizing the dog felt two emotions. One was guilt and the other was RELIEF the problem was no longer in their lives. No longer had to worry about the dog or about walking on eggshells or whether or not a kid or person was going to be bitten.

I wish you luck.
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This is so sad. We are so quick to just kill animals; yet we don't do this to people.
This is so sad. We are so quick to just kill animals; yet we don't do this to people.
no one is being "so quick" where did you get that?
I am not voting one way or another on the decision. But in terms of managing the dog (after I read all the other replies down below - as in human resource guarding) have you considered managing the dog's diet? I learned after the fact (after my older dog had aged out) that my dog may have been missing some balanced nutrition, or perhaps he should've been compensated for a lower amount of what he actually needed. And that could've contributed to some neurological issues that made him irritable, and over reactive. Not always, just unpredictably. So if you're going to experiment with diet, I would eliminate commercial food. It could be anything from flavoring to dye to so many unnecessary additives. Then work with a minimal ingredient diet. Human edible grade protein and a carb (NOT peas/legumes). Or perhaps raw. You can eventually introduce a supplement (prebiotic/probiotic) Dogs Naturally Market is a great place for holistic approaches. If you're using chicken, I would change to red meat. Or vice versa. But keep a log. Try a holistic Vet for homeopathic support.

In terms of the dog's behavior, it is already reacting to your high anxiety emotional level. I don't mean this in terms of being accusatory or pointing out something that's wrong, to increase any guilt. Just that dogs are a product of their environment. When my household became erratic (due to the failing health of a member) it created enormous anxiety and emotional turmoil, and my aging dog acted out. Your anxiety and fear is feeding your dog's same level of emotional upheaval, except without his/her understanding. If the dog is not dog aggressive, maybe she could be place in a country setting with skilled individuals willing to "retire" her to a calming lifestyle. Just a thought. Once you've tried absolutely everything reasonable, then you'll be able to make the right kind of a decision in your own mind. Wishing you the best.
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This is so sad. We are so quick to just kill animals; yet we don't do this to people.
So how many people need to be bitten and how severely before euthanizing a dog should be considered? How many animals does a dog need to maim or kill before euthanization should be considered? How many years does an owner have to be hyper-vigilant about every aspect of their life to safely manage a dog's behavior before euthanization should be considered?

I had a dog who had a few screws loose. I loved her dearly (seriously the BEST dog I've ever owned), but I had already made up my mind that if the day ever came when she couldn't safely be managed, she would be euthanized. Even without a bite record, she was a liability.
I have once come as close as actually making an appointment with the vet to have the dog euthanized, but fortunately it never came to that.
The dog came from a kill shelter death row and we were fostering him for about 6 hours.. when we took him for a walk, something my boyfriend did triggered him and the dog literally tried to kill him. My boyfriend ended up in the ER with half a dozen puncture wounds (they seeped for about 2 months), missing piece of flesh on his arm, a tooth that was pulled out from his inner elbow, millimeters from major blood vessel (and the worst of all, pretty significant PTSD)... I was able to grab the dogs ankle and hold on while my bf managed to get to safety.. I'm not sure what would've happened if I didn't manage to grab a hold of him.. the dog was eerily quiet through the whole thing, determined to bring him down on the ground and go for his throat. There is a good chance that if my bf wasn't a big muscular guy this would not have ended well..
As I coordinated things with the rescue group (who technically still owned the dog) to get him euthanized, honestly, I was very concerned for my own well being. I just had to put a dog down several weeks prior (he was almost 13 dying of cancer), I was in a very bad state and I tried to save another dog in order to deal with loss. Having that end with putting another dog down was going to be tough, but I didn't see any other options. Then the other owner of the rescue group called and said that she feels the dog hasn't been given a chance, because he wasn't decompressed properly (mostly because we didn't know what decompression was and no one told us, so not something I would argue with) and that she wants me to take the dog to a rehab place 7 hours away, which I ended up doing. I have no idea what happened to him, since the rescue group stopped talking to me shortly after.
I grew up in Europe with a pretty aggressive airedale who bit a number of people and dogs -- nothing that came close to the incident described above, but once he bit a 12 year old girl, because he didn't like her dog and she needed to go to the hospital. That was tough. We brought the dog with us to the US when we came here. He lived till he was almost 13 and died of cancer. We had several incidents in the US, but he mellowed out dramatically as he got older. Having that dog was a lot of work, but where I came from aggression wasn't considered abnormal and it wasn't bred out of dogs, so it wasn't that uncommon. The thought of rehoming him or euthanizing him has literally never ever crossed my mind.
I now have a VERY fearful dog, who requires so much work that it made me feel like I know nothing about dogs even though I've had them most of my life. He has never bitten a person, but I put a lot of effort to not put him into a situation where he might feel like he needs to. He is part doberman and barks very intensely at all visitors and strangers. It takes him probably dozens of interactions with people who are good with dogs in order to become somewhat comfortable. He does not warm up at all to people who are not respectful of his boundaries and limitations.
What helps him greatly is de-stressing daily, which for him means going off leash and running through the woods. I go out early in the morning or late at night to places where no one else goes so that he can do his thing. He also has a number of dog friends who he sees regularly. They make up his social life, because he can't really go anywhere where there are people or strange dogs. It's not ideal, but given his personality (he was not at all socialized most likely and was considered un-adoptable by the shelter he came from and was about the be sent back south) he has a pretty good life.
I would say that having a fearful anxious dog has greatly increased my own anxiety, since when I take him out I'm constantly on alert. There are a lot of things I can no longer do, places I can no longer go to, people I no longer hang out with because of the dog. A HUGE part of it is learning how you, yourself, need to behave in order to convey to your dog that you are in charge of the situation, you will protect him, you are his fearless leader and you will take care of the situation so that he doesn't have to. It's not easy, but I feel like it's a worthy goal. Another big thing is accepting his limitations, which is also not easy and something I struggle with, but I do believe that's a big part of finding peace.
You may need to find very knowledgeable people to help you.. and as others said, regular dog trainers have no idea how to deal with aggression. There are, however, some that do and they may be worth searching for.
Of course what you do is up to you and what I'm saying may not relevant at all. I come from a different culture, where
a dog is not really a pet, but your companion and your dependent. I also feel that, as St. Exupery says in "The Little Prince" -- you are forever responsible for what you have tamed.
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This is so sad. We are so quick to just kill animals; yet we don't do this to people.
Have you been there in the room with a suffering dog, in the room with a client in tears? There is a lot of empathy in euthanasia and it is never an easy or quick decision. It takes a monumental amount of strength, resolve, and heartache to reach that conclusion.
Not sure why the reply came to me, as I’m not the OP. I don’t think anyone here can answer definitively. And a rhetorical question like (…how many injuries, accidents does it take …) isn’t helpful because it’s a different kind of statement. And the answer is zero. The fact that we can’t assess the dog in question makes this debate irrelevant. However I did read recently in a “pure breed” specialty magazine that such an affliction exists, which is called: “sudden rage syndrome” where a dog’s anger was truly unpredictable and unexplained. And that most of those cases couldn’t be remedied. In fact I don’t believe the final decision CAN be made by an amateur, and the dog must be assessed by a truly experienced and skilled animal behaviorist. In the end, no matter how much we love these pets and assume their connection with us … they are animals. To some degree (perhaps) the "wildness" is never tamed. So none of our own human based “analysis” applies. Safety and control must be the primary requirement. Only how that is achieved varies. To that purpose, such considerations must be evaluated in context.
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It wasn't exactly rhetorical. People are shamed and harassed for behavioral euthanasia. According to the OP, they have been dealing with this for years now, and the dog has bitten three people. They say they are under a great deal of stress from living and working with this dog. As for deciding whether or not to euthanize a dog for behavioral issues being "made by an amateur", in the end, it is the owner of the dog who needs to decide if they can continue to live with and manage the dog.
I am really sick and tired of people acting as though the owner considering their own quality of life when euthanizing a dog -for behavioral reasons but also medical - is some kind of horrible act.

Whether behavioral or medical, the same factors are basically in play: The dog is suffering. The owner has to watch that suffering and the emotional, social, and financial toll can be enormous. When owner AND DOG are both suffering, and there's no natural end in sight, it is absolutely okay to say "no more".

And it is absolutely double true in the case of an aggressive animal who poses a danger to the safety of other people and other people's pets.
I think replies keep coming to me as some sort of mistake (the word "horrible" never appears in any of my comments). However I am compelled to keep re-reading the situation in order to make clear this statement:

Couple of things stand out. (One) for a truly dangerous, problematic dog (carrying a liability), if you have that kind of "red line" dog then you're going to know it, and not waste time seeking the "opinion" of perfect strangers (us). (Two) if the dog can't be changed in a matter of years ... another red flag. "Changed" is an odd word, as opposed to being controlled. In this State, if one bite goes on record with authorities, then a consequence is created by animal control. Even if folks seem forgiving, you never really know what they're likely to do on the back end. (Three) if the dog has bitten once without provocation (to the degree of creating this much worry) the real decision is whether or not to absolutely keep the dog sequestered in a yard (escape proof) and away from people or end it's life. There is no excuse for taking further chances... the dog doesn't belong on the streets or interacting with extended family/friends. That it's bitten 3 times ... is another red flag. (Four) that someone would exchange their peace of mind along with that of others (and for what) indicates a rational thought process is lacking. Again, a red flag. And finally, in terms of weighing a guilt factor ... which is worse, surrendering the dog, or worrying about what could happen the next time it is destructive. Which is perhaps the final, and most telling of all red flags. The post speaks for itself.

And do not be fooled, I have seen at times where a hypothetical situation is posed, placed in a social media forum, with responses tracked and evaluated, so that a term paper can be generated.
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