Aggressive Labrador Retriever

Hi John,
I have 3 dogs; a 7 year old Blue Heeler X female, a 6 year old PomChiand an aggressive Labrador Retriever that is 5.5 years old and female. 3 years ago the lab bit me in the face. She did growl to warn me, unfortunately I didn’t perceive it as a warning since she had not done that to me before and the next time I put my face towards hers to pet her, she bit. There were no further aggressive incidents involving biting until this past weekend when she attacked the PomChi; seemingly unprovoked. She punctured the skin at the back of his neck. He will be ok.
The lab, Sadie, is sort of a strange dog. She has issues with anxiety – she becomes “spooked’ by noises outside if she isn’t with the rest of the pack. She will occasionally retreat to the basement (not usual for her) and we know to leave her alone at those times. I have learned to read her body language fairly well now so as to avoid further problems with her. She is not good with outsider dogs; she will charge another dog with her fur raised, then when she gets too close, she will back off and run away crying.
I had some bloodwork done to ensure there were no medical causes for her recent aggression. There were not. Most of my family and my Vet included, feel that she should be put down because even if I rehab her, you just never know if she may snap again one day. I am really struggling with this decision though; on a day to day basis, to me she is a beautiful, loving dog. I can’t imagine packing her up one day to take her to her death – it just seems wrong. Yet I understand that because she has this in her, it can resurface at any time.
Do you believe a dog like this can be rehabilitated to the point of low/minimal risk for reoccurence? Any advice?
Thank you very much, your input is appreciated.
S. (Ontario)
Hi S.
Thanks for the email. Believe me I understand the emotional impact of the quandary you’re in. We have to keep in mind that I haven’t met your dog or can ask the questions I would ask in a consultation but I can say I have helped people with dogs like this but it’s very much a case by case scenario. I use a specific protocol to assess dogs like this in order to determine what the underlying influences are. It’s often not just one thing and some are more amendable to treatment than others.
You did the right thing regarding the blood work particularly if the dog has had what you would consider a behaviour about face by which I mean, aggressive behaviour was not a personality trait at any time, to any degree for the first 3 years of life.  When this is the case I recommend blood work, x-rays that include a careful dental check. I also consider breed and make sure the veterinarian is looking for any physical issues that are known as common to the breed.
Behaviourally speaking you really need to connect one on one with someone with some real experience with this sort of behaviour.
I offer telephone consultations if you can’t find someone locally to help.
John Wade

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