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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.

Sarah

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

Training

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

Re-Home

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

Euthanasia

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

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