Dangerous Dog

GSD in ActionHi John,

I have a 6 year old purebred German shepherd. I have taken him to several obedience classes and one instructor wouldn’t let him come back, and another said he had ‘issues’. He does not like strangers touching him, not even the vet. He will bite. He is also like this with other dogs. I have to put him away when people come to my house and I have to muzzle him. He has never growled or been aggressive with me. I feel like the situation is hopeless and euthanasia is his only option. I have considered many times, because I feel he is dangerous. – A.H. (Toronto)

Dear A.H.

Almost any dog can be trained. However, a dog’s potential for improvement in the behaviour department is not the most significant factor in a successful outcome. The problem is that no amount of training is going to change a dog’s nature. You can’t get a dog like yours to turn into Lassie and love all two legged and four legged creatures if it’s not in his nature. Training however can teach him to exert self-control so that he says, “May I bite this one now? How about now?” and based on what you write it’s likely that he will keep asking.

Sometimes I can equip a dog owner with the skills and a program that will bring about a change sufficient enough to keep the dog alive and others safe. Sometimes, in order to do that I need to keep the dog for a couple of weeks and then work with the dog owner and dog for a while. Sometimes, after looking at the overall situation and weighing it against over 20 years of working with aggressive dogs I see that there’s a good chance that while we’re fixing the dog, a family member, friend or innocent bystander might get hurt and as much as I like dogs, I love people more and I if asked I recommend euthanasia.

Bringing about a dramatic lasting change in a dog’s behaviour always means a dramatic and lasting change in the dog owner’s life as well. For some people no matter how motivated they are these changes can be impractical even impossible. All sorts of things have to be considered. Nutrition – what to feed, when to feed. Exercise – a real daily run, not just a walk and in order to get there most of these dogs have to learn how to ‘Come’, regardless of the distraction. New household etiquette rules for a dog like yours would likely motivate Queen Elizabeth to abdicate the throne if the same were asked of her. The dog has to be supervised like it’s a two year old child. The dog owner has to always be able to get to the dog before it gets into trouble. Bare minimum the people involved in the dog’s day to day activities would have to be equally capable of looking after a 2 year old child for more then 24 hours. It’s not easy, and to be honest during the transition phase which lasts about 3 months it’s stressful and a real strain.

In the end, when a dog is dangerous, if all else fails, as much as we owe for the love and companionship given to us, we cannot ignore our responsibility to our family, friends, and neighbours.

-John Wade the Dog Trainer

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