Euthanizing aggressive dogs

A Jack Russell terrier type dog (not pictured) was killed in a local pound last week because of his extremely aggressive behavior, according to 4 Luv of Dog, a Fargo dog rescue. Because of the dog’s aggression, he was considered by the pound to be “unadoptable.”

My immediate reaction was shock. Was there really no one in the area capable of helping this dog? How can a group call themselves a rescue if they aren’t willing to rescue every dog? Why didn’t I help him? (In this case the pound would not release the dog to rescues due to its aggression, according to 4 Luv of Dog.)

My more logical self reminded me that I hadn’t volunteered to foster this dog even before I knew he was aggressive. I also realize dogs are euthanized every day, including healthy dogs, young dogs and friendly dogs. This dog was not friendly and probably not healthy either.

When is it acceptable to kill a dog due to aggression issues? Is it ever OK?

Ace the mutt - Euthanizing aggressive dogsObviously there is no correct answer. But sooner or later, anyone involved in dog rescue and even some who aren’t will play a part in making this choice.

My simplified answer: There are circumstances when the best choice is to kill the dog.

That being said, I also believe every dog can be rehabilitated to the point of living an almost normal and safe life. It’s just that resources are usually unavailable, the risk of a person getting injured is too great and more laws are out there banning dangerous dogs.

I admire the web master of 4 Luv of Dog Rescue for honestly posting info about the impounded terrier on its home page and admitting he would not be rescued. I’m sure the organization will get at least some negative feedback for its decision to post this info, even if the pound would not release the dog.

No other shelter or rescue group in the area was able to help the terrier either. Adopt-A-Pet of Fargo Moorhead did not. The F-M Humane Society did not. 4 Luv of Dog Rescue was the only group I am aware of that at least acknowledged the dog.

No one helped this dog, and everyone who is a true dog lover should feel at fault for the result.

Euthanizing an aggressive dog

My own parents – two of the world’s greatest dog lovers – had their aggressive spaniel “dealt with” when I was about 3 years old.

I’m not sure if Abby ever got a new home, but her chances were not good. Dog aggression is a serious issue, even more serious when a 3-year-old and a baby are at risk.

In his book “A Good Dog,” Jon Katz wrote about the intense bond he shared with one of his rescued border collies, Orson. Anyone who criticized Jon’s decision to euthanize Orson after the dog attacked multiple people is missing something. People are quick to criticize others.

Confinement, medical treatment and endless rehabilitation are always choices, but not necessarily options in the best interest of the dog or the people who love him. No dog is worth the life of a human.

As for the terrier supposedly euthanized in Fargo last week, he is one example of why more work needs to be done – more communication, more education, better information on training, on socialization, on exercise and adoption.

It’s not just the big dogs, the shepherd mixes and the pitbulls that end up as victims. It is every dog.

Do you believe it is right to euthanize an aggressive dog?

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  1. Rachel on December 2, 2013

    Thanks Lindsay. Sorry to hear you were attacked. I have experienced that too and it’s scary! Isn’t it crazy that despite having tons of positive experiences with dogs, one bad experience can have such an effect?

  2. Penny on October 9, 2014

    I’m not sure anyone is still active on this thread but I (we) could really use some support with the decision we are have made.
    I found this website/thread last year after we rescued at pit mix. We had every intention of re-homing her in fact she has gone to 4 separate places but has always been returned. We were adamant that they notify us before making any decision to surrender her to the pound because we knew what the outcome would be.
    We’ve had 2 separate trainers out to our house for training, we’ve done everything to work with her and get her more socialized. The first incident she went after a neighbors dog when we opened our gate (we didn’t see the neighbor walking her dog but she did) and ended up giving the dog a puncture wound. Paid that vet bill and tried to make amends with our new neighbor but from that point on anytime she walked by our property with her dog Lit’l Bit would go crazy and race back & forth along the fence to the point of getting our other two dogs in a frenzy as well. Neither one of our other two dogs ever acted this way when people walked in front of our property until Lit’l Bit arrived.
    The 2nd incident was when we were introducing her to a couple that was very excited about adopting her and fell in love with her (she is a very pretty brindle & has a very sweet disposition) but as we were making the handoff another little dog showed up and in some freak accident kind of way she struggled in a way that released the latch on her leash. She went after the dog (who was previously traumatized) and we ended up with a $2000 vet bill. Needless to say after seeing that the couple decided against taking her.
    After that we worked diligently to keep her contained in our 1.5 acres but she continued to find ways out and we’d get calls from our neighbors that she was out running around. Thank goodness she never did anything while she was loose. The funny thing is she is normally ready to go after any other dog she sees but for some reason she got along with the dog behind us, in fact when she would get out that is usually where we would find her.
    Two nights ago on our walk we encountered a family with their dog so we went up a drive way to avoid them but as they pasted and we started walking Lit’l Bit tripped me and as I went down I lost control of the leash. She took off after that dog like a rocket and by the time I got there she had a hold of the other dogs ear and was clamped down, it took everything in me to pry her jaw open to release the other dogs ear. Luckily for us the people were very understanding and nothing serious happened to their dog, two of them had some serious road rash from going down on the asphalt.
    After that I came back to this thread and read & re-read posts and realize putting her down is something we need to do. As others have stated we need to do something before its too late and she does some serious damage to another dog or person that may be trying to break up the scuffle. But as others have stated this is one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make because 95% of the time she is such a sweet, loving beautiful dog it is breaking my (our) heart.

    How did some of you deal with others that knew what you have done and the judgement(s) you got from them?

    My head knows this is the right decision but my heart is breaking. Thanks for letting me share.

    p.s. I’ve had others tell me to try and find her a place where she can be a guard/attack dog but the thought of her being in that kind of environment and not a loving home seems worse to me.

    • El on October 9, 2014

      Hi Penny,
      Everyone’s situation is different but I really feel for you right now. We had to have our little dog PTS and although it was heartbreaking and I regret HAVING to to it, I don’t regret doing it. It was absolutely the right decision in our case. She would have seriously hurt someone. Anyhow, unfortunately people do judge, and although the majority of people understand and were supportive, a few were not. I can understand why people jump to conclusions, as before we had to do this, I would have probably had the same opinion. In fact I did. I recall a couple I know had to have their dog PTS and I was a critic at the time. Of course when you are put in this awful position yourself, you see things differently. Don’t worry about other people and what they think, do what is best for your dog and for your family. You don’t have to explain your actions to anyone.
      If you know that what you are doing is the best and kindest thing, then it really isn’t any one else’s concern. Sending positive support at this very difficult time x

    • Lisa West on October 9, 2014

      When we were struggling with this a friend said “to give him another chance is to give him another victim!” That really helped us make the decision. My vet really questioned us to be certain we had exhausted all other options and then she agreed with our decision. Up until then I would never have imagined that I would put down a healthy dog.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 9, 2014

      Hi Penny. Gosh, I’m so sorry. I wish there was something I could say to make it better. I wish you did not have to make such a hard choice, and I know you will ultimately do what is best for your dog. It’s obvious you love her very much. Other people will judge, but that is because they can’t possibly understand.

      Take care.

  3. Penny on October 13, 2014

    Thank you so much El, Lisa & Lindsay for your comments/posts, it really means a lot to have others understand and be supportive of the heartbreaking decision we had to make.
    We lovingly helped usher Lit’l Bit into doggie heaven. Even though I felt judged by a few of the front desk girls I truly appreciated the care and understanding we got from the vet. She said the same thing you did Lisa but in different way.
    As others posted previously we were not aware of how much stress we were under by always being on alert and our walks are like night & day now, I forgot how nice walks can be. We miss her dearly even feel a little guilty because we are enjoying how peaceful our house is especially with our other two dogs.
    Thanks again for your support and care it means more than you know.

  4. Jen Gabbard on January 6, 2015

    Thank you for sharing this – it’s a sensitive subject for sure, but you make some great points. Unfortunately we don’t have endless resources to help all dogs become stable/even tempered enough to be adopted by the average family. Looking at the numbers alone of homeless pets vs. how many no kill rescues there are illustrates it pretty well. I don’t run a rescue or shelter yet I’m always outraged when I see people online causing an uproar when an animal is euthanized due to aggression. It’s never the most desirable choice but it happens, and as you say it happens all the time to young, healthy dogs as well. Since the young, happy dog’s don’t have a ‘compelling’ story like the ones who’ve bitten someone no one ever hears about them. It’s a sad situation all around, and I wish the people who are so eager to call out rescues/shelters when they euthanize knew what it was like to actually work with it. It’s heartbreaking – calling people out but failing to act themselves is pretty distasteful.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 6, 2015

      Yeah, such a sad and difficult situation all around. One of my foster dogs was quite aggressive, and part of me still wonders if I made a mistake by not encouraging the rescue to have him put down. He got adopted to a wonderful, single woman with no kids and she seems to be able to manage him well, but he’s not a stable dog and it’s hard to now what’s best sometimes. :(

      • Bruce Johnson on January 6, 2015

        My wife and I adopted a 2 year old Boxer 2.5 years ago. He is extremely dog aggressive and very people friendly including small children. His dog aggression has cost us a court appearance even though he did not injure the dog he attack. He is not adoptable due to his reputation and he has a record with the county animal control unit. He has been to the University Behaviorist, several dog trainers have given up on him. Like Lindsay Stordahl’s story above I believe I can manage him and keep him from trouble and harming dogs but last week my wife was walking him and while she was cleaning up his droppings another dog walker approached and my wife was not ready for the encounter. The neighbor dog walker knows about Rocky’s situation and insisted on approaching him rather than moving around him. He grabbed her dog and started to shake it before my wife could intervene. They called the County Animal Control and they visited us again. Our only savior was the neighbor was using a retractable least that exceeded 6′ which is Georgia requirement. I love this dog and he is now seeing a trainer who is a student of the Norwegian trainer Turid Rugass. I wil continue to try and manage Rocky and keep him from trouble.

  5. Rachel on January 6, 2015

    Bruce, so sorry to hear about your dog’s aggression. It’s frustrating when even the experts can’t fix it. I admire your dedication to your dog and wish you all the best in managing him safely. So sorry, I can relate to how stressful it is to keep your dogs behavior safely under control at all times.

    • Bruce Johnson on January 7, 2015

      Thanks for you reply Rachel. Maybe some of you can help me with this question. I believe my dog is depressed because he wants to go outdoors. His trainer insist that he must not be walked because she believes his anxiety escalates when he is outside. The trainer believes that his brain has to cool and he looks to me too often for guidance. She says he is not making decisions because of my control of him.

      My question is: Do dogs experience depression? Do owners sometimes intervene too often and prevent their dog from thinking?

      • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 8, 2015

        Hi Bruce. I would say yes to both of your questions. Yes, dogs can get depressed and at the same time I do think owners sometimes intervene too often in their dogs’ decisions.

        That being said, I don’t know what is best for your dog. Might be worth getting an opinion from a second trainer and a vet’s opinion.

      • Rachel on January 20, 2015

        Bruce, does the trainer suggest an alternative outlet for Rocky’s energy, if not walks? I don’t suppose you are lucky enough to have a fenced yard where you can play fetch without putting other dogs at risk? If you google indoor activities for dogs, there are quite a few creative ways to exercise your dog without the walks, though that doesn’t mean he won’t miss them. Veterinary behaviorists have even been known to prescribe antidepressants for dogs in some cases.

        Yes, I do think that we can intervene too often with our dogs. But to be fair to ourselves, managing a dog with aggression is really stressful and a huge responsibility. It is hard not to become anxious yourself and micromanage. I believe that with my previous dog, who had aggression issues, we developed a sort of co-dependency, and I think that I was always scrutinizing him for signs of trouble, which probably sometimes made him nervous, which I could see in him, which would in turn make ME nervous, and so the cycle goes. So while it is ideal that he look to you for guidance when it’s appropriate, you want him to be able to relax too without constantly checking in with you. It can be hard to break this cycle in yourself since there are valid reasons why it developed, but perhaps the trainer can continue to guide you in that. Best of luck to you and Rocky!

        (I should add that this is merely my amateur take on this.)

        • Bruce Johnson on January 21, 2015

          Hi Lindsay, Rocky has been seen by the University of Ga behaviorist, and 3 different veterinarians, and 6 trainers. 1 vet said euthanize him, University of Ga behaviorist said euthanize, 3 trainers said euthanize him, but he does have a record of attacking 2 dogs in his county and the animal control has not declared him a vicious animal. He is such a wonderful dog with people when the county officers visit they cannot believe he is anything but wonderful. I do not have a fenced yard and cannot build one due to being in an HOA community. His current trainer say exercise him with nose work. We do this but I don’t think it is all he needs. His current trainer is following the CAT and BAT and Turid Rugass, Norweigan based trainer.
          Mine is also amateur but amateur dog owners also offer me some very good advice. Thank you
          Thanks for all you feed back.

        • Bruce Johnson on January 21, 2015

          I do not have a fenced yard and cannot build one due to being in an HOA community. His current trainer say exercise him with nose work. We do this but I don’t think it is all he needs. His current trainer is following the CAT and BAT and Turid Rugass, Norweigan based trainer.
          Mine is also amateur but amateur dog owners also offer me some very good advice. Thank you
          Thanks for all you feed back.

  6. Sadness on January 14, 2015

    I’m the process of making a tough decision for a little friend. When i say friend i truly mean that with all my heart i am his and he is mine. I rescued him as a foster parent and knew he had issues when i picked him up from the shelter though i had no idea to what extent until i got to got him out to the street and had all the strong tell tale signs of fear / reactive aggression toward other dogs. His guarding issues were fairly easy to change and after a few weeks of “therapy” have never returned. He’s an eager learner and food. I’ve read and digested every book on re-activity and aggression i can find from BAT training to studying DVD’s from the late Dr. Yin. Living in an urban environment has proved difficult for him and from me. He’s come along way from his day’s that a dog 100 feet way would send him into a Tasmanian like stupor and now his threshold is more like 20ft though there are dogs in the neighborhood that we’ve gone on multiple pack walks with that he will except into his life. I always thought that as long as he needed one he’s have a home here with me where he’d be loved until the right family or situation came along but after a year i am exhausted and depleted. I’ve given up vacation for a year because i can’t leave him with anyone and we’ve posted for a home for him up to 6 hours away in which i would happily drive him for the right home. No one wants a dog with known aggression issues even if he is the sweetest albeit crazy little man when it comes to humans. from the time i took him into my home a year ago it took him 6 months to stop sleeping under the bed or running for the hills when i opened the fridge. He’s a happy little guy when there are no dogs around… I’m moving and can’t take him with me… We’ve asked for new fosters in the country with no avail. I’m in rescue… I’ve given my heart and soul away hoping i could help him and even now after he’s grown and conquered so much it’s still not enough and I’m close to making the decision to let him go. Not because he’s bad, or that i think that with more training he’ll be ok (another year or two) but because i’m emotionally and physically exhausted. I wish to leave his legacy alive and tell you all how brave he is and what a fan i am of him. How sad it is that he would not have come to me had he been socialized as a pup and trained appropriately. Instead he’s been through the shelter system 2x both times saved at the last minute by his charm and charisma. I truly don’t know how to to this…

    • SadToo on January 14, 2015

      Sadness, my heartbroke and I’m crying at work reading your post. I wish I could help you. Do what your heart tells you. Remember we can’t save them all and sometimes saving them, means letting them go so the demons are no longer chasing them.

    • Bruce Johnson on January 14, 2015

      I also adopted, Rocky, Boxer who is a special needs dog 2.5 years ago. He has been evaluated by Behaviorist at the University of Georgia, he as worked with 5 different trainers in Georgia. When he was very new to us the people at UGA recommended returning him. I was already in love with him but returned to the shelter where I adopted him and ask questions about returning him. They agreed to taking him back and I then ask “You are a no kill shelter, right?”. They replied yes, but he will not be adopted now because of his dog aggression. Rocky and I returned to my home. We, my wife, myself and Rocky have stayed at home more. Recently my wife, Susan, was walking and training Rocky when she was approached by a neighbor walking two small dogs on a retractable leash. Rocky slipped out of Susan’s hold on the leash and attack the dogs. Susan ran to get Rocky but they were tangled in the rope like material used in retractable leashes. Animal control was called and an officer came to our home. Rocky being he wonderful self around all humans including children proceeded to obeying commands, never jumping, sitting and staying and going to his place when directed. We described the incident best we could to animal control. I told the officer that my wife had to separate the dogs from the rope material of the retractable leash. The officer expressed a dislike for the retractable leash but never wrote a citation, thank us and left.

      We in an HOA and they are now fining us $100.00 and stating the next incident will be $500.00 and double $500.00 if Rocky is without a muzzle.

      I had no idea that the HOA can fine me for an incident on public streets. Rocky is 5 years old now and his training continues. I am confused by his aggression toward some dogs that bark at him and his complacency with other dogs.

      As Sadtoo stated I am also saddened.

    • Rachel on January 20, 2015

      How heartbreaking. It’s such a hard situation to be in. It sounds like you are knowledgeable about how to handle him and have given it your all and his aggression is just so deeply rooted. It’s such a paradox for a committed animal lover to have to make this decision for a dog they love, and yet that’s the way it is sometimes. For me, it was probably the most painful decision of my life, and yet I didn’t see any responsible, compassionate way around it. Thank you for fostering. I wish you and your dog peace. Take care, and know that you have done all you can.