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Why We Can’t Save Them All – Euthanasia and Aggressive Dogs

One of the most challenging decisions a dog owner could face is whether or not to euthanize an aggressive dog.

I’m talking about killing a dog in order to prevent harm to others – pets, children, elderly parents, a spouse, neighbors, strangers.

I have long believed no dog of mine will ever come before the safety of any person, but of course unless I’m faced with such a decision I can’t be sure what I would do.

And that’s the thing.

How can I possibly judge someone else for making a decision I know so little about?

euthanizing aggressive dogs

I re-shared an old post of mine recently where I’d written about language and how we should be careful with phrases such as:

“Blame the one on the other end of the leash.”

Or, “There are no bad dogs, just bad owners.”

Sometimes these statements may be true. More often, they’re not. You can read the full post here.

My foster dog, Barkley

I fostered a small dog with serious aggression issues awhile back.

He was turned into the rescue because his owner could not handle Barkley’s outbursts. He had been going after another family member. Read about Barkley here.

In my house, this 15-pound dog would get upset and lunge for my throat. He would launch himself towards my face.

After these “episodes” he would pant and tremble, sometimes urinate, seemingly afraid and confused about what had happened.


He was a nice, little dog 99 percent of the time, but the other 1 percent was something damaged and frightening, even in a small package.

I often regret my decision of not encouraging euthanasia for that dog. Had he been larger, there would’ve been no question, but I think the rescue and I did make a mistake.

Of course, these situations are judgement calls and we can only do the best we can.

Rescue groups and foster homes are not always right. Neither are dog owners, trainers or vets. See the essay, “The Wrong Dog.”

Is it wrong to kill a dog humans have ‘failed’ on?

On Facebook, someone left multiple comments on my post. She said it’s wrong to kill a dog for aggression because humans have “failed” that dog.

This is her belief; it’s not mine.

Yes, people do “fail” on dogs all the time.

Usually this does not result in aggression. Sometimes it does.

For me, once a dog seriously injures someone, the question is no longer just about what is causing the aggression.

The questions become:

Can my dog live safely in society?

Who can safely care for my dog if I have to travel?

Will my dog harm another person?

Is there hope for improvement?

How is this affecting my dog’s quality of life?

How is this affecting MY quality of life?

Is my dog getting worse?

Yes, people make mistakes. We fail to recognize the early warning signs. Often, we’re simply in denial about the animals we love so much.

It’s never simple.

Sometimes the aggression is caused by a physical issue, a mental illness, pain, confusion, trauma as a puppy, an unexplainable instinct.

It’s true, there are no “bad” dogs but dogs are capable of incredibly damaging behavior.

Dogs can do bad things.

When we ignore that, we do a disservice to all dogs and the people who love them.

I want to share this quote from an anonymous commenter on my blog post who goes by the name “A.”

“I decided it was time … for her to have a peaceful, dignified passing and for us to no longer live in fear of her. I love her …”

My dog Ace

All I wish for people and dogs is peace.

Have any of you ever found yourself judging another dog owner’s decision about an aggressive dog?

Further reading:

When to euthanize an aggressive dog –

New York Times essay “The Wrong Dog” – summary on

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