When Should You Put An Aggressive Dog Down (Euthanize/Euthanasia)

Dear John,

At what point would you advise putting an aggressive dog down? I have no problem doing it if it is necessary, but I’d also like to give the dog the ability to change his behavior if it’s possible.

My dog growls and snaps at everyone in our family often when we try to take toys or food from him. We have tried all of the things the trainer advised (taking the toy, saying “No!” loudly, giving him food and then taking it away, making him work for whatever he has, etc.) He has never bitten anyone else, but he has growled and snapped at a child when we were at a playground. (Yes, the child was running toward him and yelling. It was a kid at a playground, I expect nothing less.) We obviously haven’t taken him out to places where kids are, but we are thinking maybe it’s time to just put him down.

Thanks for your advice.


Dear Sarah,

Great question. I’ll do my best to answer about when you should put a dog down for aggression but if you are accurately conveying what ‘the trainer’ has advised it is highly likely that you have an amateur trainer.

Read these and decide for yourself whether you’ve been getting the best advice. It’s possible you and your dog have been set up for failure?

  1. Puppy Mouthing, Nipping and Biting – When It Doesn’t Get Better Or Is Getting Worse – This Is Probably Why – by John Wade (Free)
  2. ‘What Are The Different (and best) Puppy and Dog Training Methods? – by John Wade’(.99 cents)

Options When You Have An Aggressive Dog

When you have a dog that is continually threatening to bite and/or is biting or is only not biting because of owner diligence and precautions and the behavior is unrelated to physical health issues, you have four options. It is more of a funnel really as one leads to the next.

Option One Out Of Four In The Funnel


The first option is assessment and training with an experienced trainer. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. Although sometimes there seem to be more trainers then there are dogs I have a hard time finding qualified trainers for the people that write me with this level of issue or even legitimate companion dog obedience.

If you strike out locally, I do offer very thorough telephone/Skype consultations.

Note: Behaviorally speaking, one very significant reason so many people run into behavior issues with their dogs is that of the level of expertise in dog trainers they encounter.

The concept of Caveat Emptor is as apropos in the companion dog training world as anywhere. Perhaps more so.

Companion dog training is an unregulated industry unfortunately now dominated by people without the educational background or in its place, the intellect, and the self-discipline to acquire an understanding at the very least of critical thinking, scientific methodology, cognitive bias, etc. This has left many unable to distinguish between legitimate and applicable behavior science and pseudo-scientific ideology.

The end result for companion dog owners are the following two realities:

          1.  The majority of trainers companion dog owners now encounter have been influenced by ‘All Positive/Purely Positive/Force-Free’ or ‘Might Is Right’ companion dog training dogma and not actual science.
          2. There are fewer legitimately trained dogs, far more dogs unable to lead lifestyles not akin to ‘house-arrest’ and far more re-homing and euthanasia.

Assuming you have access to legitimate guidance, it is essential to keep in mind that when safety is a priority even with the best advice there are variables that may eliminate behavior modification as a reasonable option.

Many dogs can be “fixed” in theory. When it can be sourced, legitimate training will almost always positively impact behavior, but a legitimate companion dog trainer will read the fine print to you. There should be a lot of “Subject to:” clauses.

For example, Subject To:

  • The owner(s) having the necessary handling skills
  • The owner(s) having the time to invest
  • The owner(s) are able to provide a safe environment for all concerned during the rehab period

Option Two Out Of Four In The Funnel

Work Arounds

The second level of the funnel is the possibility of “the workaround.” This is where we look at how we might strategize to reduce risk when training has little or no impact, or we need some wiggle room between our start and finish lines. For example, the wearing of muzzles, higher fences, more diligent use of crates, etc. For some behavior problems, the risk might be manageable. For others, history has proven it is not, and reliance on the Work Around option at best results in nothing more than a “next-incident” delay.

Option Three Out of Four In The Funnel


The third level is “find the dog another home.” This might be an option when it appears that training will turn the tide and the current owner cannot for whatever reason make that happen. The problem, of course, is that an ad saying, “Child Aggressive Dog – Free to a Good Home” isn’t going to make the phone ring off the wall. Some might suggest finding someone without children or a “place on a farm.” This is a fairy tale, not a reality. Children are everywhere, and farmers aren’t dumb.

Option Four Out Of Four In The Funnel


Sometimes a balance between our responsibility to the dog we love and our responsibility to our family, friends, neighbors, and strangers, etc. that will be exposed to our dog’s aggression simply cannot be found, and we’re down to funnel-level four, which is euthanasia.

Some people worry about what the kids might think and/or what others might think. When a dog is a danger, and the difficult choice to euthanize is made, what I think is not that you did not love your dog. What I think is that you loved your own children, others children, your friends, neighbors, and even strangers – more. As hard as it may be, that, in my opinion, is as it should be.

John ‘Ask The Dog Guy’ Wade
Embracing Science and Common Sense

Like this article?

Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on Linkdin
Share on pinterest
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment

6 thoughts on “When Should You Put An Aggressive Dog Down (Euthanize/Euthanasia)”

  1. Paige Marie

    My dog is aggressive there is no denying it. I have been tossing and turning for days now. He is NOT people aggressive. He hates dogs, he has had multiple trainers out and the only thing that happens is he fears the handler, my dog is timid so it’s not working for him and defintiley not me. He is my baby and I love him so much it makes me cry seeing him the way he is. He will lunge bite, flip around on the lead, snap snarls, scream and shakes excessively. He has also peed one time. Any time he sees a dog it’s like holding back a giant mastiff in a tiny French bulldog body. We tried positive and negative reinforcement we also tried balanced training nothing works. He has bit numerous dogs and the muzzle is affective. You name it, we have done it. I got that desperate I even tried spiritual healing, I know ridiculous. It’s to the point where I see no improvement. He does agility and trick training but I can not work with him in this aggressive state. If you have him chilled out or ignoring a dog it only takes a split second for him to turn and lunge which doesn’t make me enjoy owning him at all!!! As I say I love him so much but I have been thinking is he eligible to be put down? If he is it only takes him to bite one more time and someone call out for him to have him PTS. If your wondering he left a bull mastiff with a bloody eye, a pig with a bumpy nose and a little tiny puppy without a chunk of fur and red roar.

    1. Hi Paige,

      You have either not tried a real trainer or you are not following through on what it takes to help you and your dog. FWIW, anyone can call themselves a trainer. Very few are anything more than someone that loves dogs and wanted to work with dogs. Either way, no trainer can make your dog like dogs but I’ve never met a dog that couldn’t be taught to behave around other dogs. You are doing something wrong either in who you’ve chosen to work with or how you are following through.


      John ‘Ask The Dog Guy’ Wade
      Embracing Science and Common Sense

  2. Michele Spooner

    I feel your agony and your frustration as I also have a dog that has become aggressive with our other dogs in the home and nomatter what we have tried (believe me, I work with my dog constantly with the trainers advice) and he still is not changing his behavior. He has severe anxiety and fear which adds to the issue. I have tried MANY calming aides and have tried prescriptions from the vets and he still shows signs of aggression at the vet etc. It seems we step one step forward to only step two steps back lately. He used to be good on walks and would pay attention to only me when going by another dog and just tonight he acted aggressively towards another dog and it was totally out of the blue and not expected. We love him but honestly, I am not sure our marriage, family life can take much more of this stress and this constant “rotating of animals” around the house and the fear he will pounce at any moment! We have appt with a animal behaviorist this weekend and this might be his last chance at staying in our home and not being put to sleep! Please say a prayer for Stitch and our family as this has been going on for over a year now!

  3. Michael Gendron

    We just put down our beautiful St Bernard yesterday due to serious aggression. He was only 3 years old. I’m not dealing with the loss so well and the guilt and pain is extreme. I know it was the best but I still feel like I failed him. The first year of his life was great we took him everywhere he had no issues with anyone. Then 4 months later he didnt want to go anywhere and would lunge at strangers and people he knew prior but never at us. It would take me everything that I had to restrain him. And would not clam down until the person was gone. We tried putting him out side but he would then wreck the door to try and come back in. The hardest thing was that he absolutely loved us but his aggression towards others was extreme. The last 18 months we couldnt have visitors or family over they were all afraid of “Cujo” as they would call him. The last straw was this past Friday my wife was asked to watch our niece. So because I was not home she put the dog in the upstairs bedroom and when I can home work I let him but held on to him because I knew and sure enough as soon and he spotted her just sitting on the recliner he wanted to attack. Totally unprovoked. We tried re-homing him a few months ago but decided it wasnt fair to put him or a new family though that. It was the fist time I have ever had to put a dog down, and I dont ever want to go though that again. The pain is just too much. I cant stop thinking about him and reliving the last moments with him. We also have a 9 yr old Dalmatian who great with everyone and since we put the St Bernard yesterday the Dalmatian has been acting like a puppy again and rolling around all over the house, almost like he is relieved. Thanks for listening and for your article.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top