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Events Welcome to an ongoing inquiry about the behavior of people and dogs. And yet, sometimes, that is an option that dog owners have to consider.
These were some of the hardest cases I worked with when I was seeing clients full time. What a wonderful job you have! As hard as it is to talk to clients about whether to put down an aggressive dog, it is nothing compared to what the owners are going through.
Euthanizing a physically healthy dog, one who is joyful and loving part of the time, is surely the hardest thing a dog lover has to face. My intention here is to help people considering the option of whether to put down a dog who is seriously aggressive, in hopes that I can provide some guidance.
This is both a blessing and a curse. What I can do is start by sympathizing, and saying that I am so, so sorry that anyone is in the position of having to consider putting down a physically healthy dog because of a serious behavioral problem.
When I talk to people in this situation I emphasize how important it is to be kind and compassionate toward themselves, as if they were facing a serious illness. Their brain thinks they are. I ask them to surround themselves with good friends who are truly supportive, and to shake off any harsh judgements or unhelpful advice as best they can.
Usually conversations about serious behavioral problems include three primary options for dealing with all serious behavioral problems: Needless to say, option three should only be considered if options one and two are not viable.
But how do you consider if they are or are not? Here are criteria that I suggest everyone consider: That is true even if the dog is carefully managed and the owners work hard on a treatment plan. Would it be possible, I was asked, to work with the dog and make it safe? Yes, perhaps… anything is possible.
Who would be willing to risk that kind of damage to another person. There are lots of dogs who can be turned around, or at least managed, as long as the owners acknowledge that the behavior needs addressing, and can find good advice about how to do so.
First, if the injury was to another person, what risk does your dog pose to others? How would you feel if your dog put someone in the hospital?
Second, what are the consequences to you? What is your legal risk if there is another incident? Defend yourself in a lawsuit? If the bite was to you, can you spend a year healing your hand from a bad bite that keeps you from writing, or playing the violin as a musician?
In addition, and essentially, everyone has a different tolerance for risk. Can you live in health knowing that your dog might badly injure someone if you forget to lock a door? Some people are fine with a background level of risk, and in addition have little trouble following a rigid routine to keep things safe.
Owners have to ask themselves which category they fall into.
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Do you have the resources required to a manage the dog so that everyone stays safe, and b work on a treatment plan? Loving a dog is not the same as having the knowledge or logistical ability to treat a serious behavioral problem.
Perhaps they have been living in fear of their dog for years and are emotionally exhausted. I saw hundreds of people in that category: It is easy for some to dismiss such people, and argue that they themselves would never give up on a dog, no matter what the dog had done. But be careful of making judgments here: I have seen people whose lives were almost destroyed because of an aggressive dog.
A woman whose dog stalked her through the house and held her hostage in the upstairs bedroom at midnight while I and a colleague drove up outside to capture the dog and save her. One of my clients stitched up a long, serious bite wound in fear that getting medical care would force her to consider not keeping her dog.
Can the dog be re-homed? Aggression is often context specific, and if it is triggered by predictable, and manageable stimuli, then the dog might indeed be able to be re-homed. Perhaps the dog is only dangerous around children, and the current owner has three young ones.
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