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When to euthanize an aggressive dog?

How do you know when to euthanize an aggressive dog?

If you’re facing the decision of when to euthanize an aggressive dog, I am so sorry. I hope you find peace with your decision.

Some dogs are truly dangerous to society. They have tried to bite or they have already bitten or attacked. They are capable of causing serious injuries.

If you own or love one of these dogs, I want you to know:

  • It’s not your fault
  • You’re a good dog owner
  • You love your dog
  • Only you know the right answer
  • People will be insensitive

Most people love animals, but they can also be incredibly unloving to one another.

When to euthanize an aggressive dog

Ever heard anyone say something like this:

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

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

These “no bad dogs, only bad owners” messages can be painful to someone who loves and cares for her dog but is dealing with serious canine aggression. Aggression in dogs can be caused by a variety of complex issues. A “bad owner” is just one possibility among many others. Labeling all aggressive dogs as dogs with “bad owners” is not going to help people get the support they need.

Dangerous dogs

The issue of dangerous dogs and what to do about them is a tough topic for those of us in the animal world. (And I’m not necessarily referring to dangerous dogs in the legal sense, which is another complex subject.) We all want to believe we are capable of “fixing” these challenging dogs. Sometimes we are capable. Sometimes we are not.

When to euthanize an aggressive dog

When a dog owner is faced with the difficult choice of whether or not to euthanize an aggressive dog, the rest of us are quick to judge. We think we could’ve done “better” had that dog been ours. We would’ve been more patient. We would’ve spent more money on a better trainer. We would’ve loved the dog more. Given him more time. We would never “give up.”

How arrogant. These attitudes are not helpful.

While I believe 90 percent or more of aggressive dogs can and should be rehabilitated, I believe we also need to admit when we are dealing with the other 10 percent.

We can’t fix them all

When to euthanize an aggressive dog

No amount of love or training or experience will fix every single dog. At least that is my belief.

While I support the movement to end the killing of healthy, adoptable dogs in U.S. shelters, dangerous dogs don’t fit into that equation for me. Some aggressive dogs can be managed safely in the right homes, but other aggressive dogs are not adoptable. And some should be killed. That is my belief anyway. No dog of mine will ever come before the safety of any human.

I have been on the receiving end of a dog attack, and it is not pretty. I’m not saying this dog was in the 10 percent. I’m saying each owner needs to look at his or her own dog and make the best choice for his or her unique circumstances. I will never tell another dog owner what to do.

When to euthanize an aggressive dog?

Until I have had to make the difficult choice on whether or not to euthanize a family dog – not to end his physical suffering, but to protect others from harm – I can’t possibly criticize others.

We all need to turn our judgments to empathy and be supportive:

“I’m sorry to hear of your situation. I wish I could help.”


“I’m so sorry to hear of your loss.”

Diane B

Friday 15th of May 2020

I cannot say enough how thankful I am that I found this blog and so appreciative of all of the comments. Believe me, I have carefully read each and every comment searching for the answer to the same question you all have had. How can I put down a healthy animal that I love? Our story began five years ago when I found a small puppy on a country road behind our house. It was apparent that he had gotten free from a tether that had been around his neck for way too long. The vet felt that he was a pit bull mix and about 4 months old. Based on his wounds, he had endured a large amount of abuse in a very short amount of time. (I will forego the specifics). Therefore, I was determined that he would finally feel loved and that this would be his forever home…no matter what. My daughter named him Conrad. At the time we found him, we already had two dogs. Buddy is a 8 year old lab mix that had come from our local shelter, along with his own set of issues. One being that he was caged with a much larger dog, which probably added to his insecurity issues and made him the future target for Conrad. Sophie is a 9 year old female rot/lab mix and she is the most laid-back dog I have ever had. Both were very accepting of Conrad and we never had an issue with them. However, everything changed 3 years ago when we had the first of a series of attacks where Conrad would attack Buddy. It was like something you would see in a National Geographic special on lions in the Serengeti, with Conrad playing the role of the lion and Buddy is the poor gazelle that does not stand a chance. Yesterday was the most recent episode and the worst yet. Conrad latched on to Buddy’s neck and would not let go. My husband happened to be there and pored a bucket of water on the both of them, which finally put an end to it. There was nothing apparent that brought on the attack. This is when I realized that something had to be done…but what? My daughter told me that euthanasia was not an option. My question to her was should I give Conrad to another family and risk him hurting someone else, possibly a child? He’s never been around children so that would be a strong possibility. It may sound silly, but to a dog, a child is nothing more than a small animal. I contacted our local chapter of The Humane Society and they forwarded to me the names of behavior specialists and dog trainers who work with aggressive dogs. They provided other suggestions as well, but euthanasia was not one of them. By the grace of God, one of my co-workers heard about my plight and showed me a picture of a friend of hers who a week ago was attacked by her pit bull mix. Literally, half her face was gone. Her only mistake was trying to protect her child, as that is who the dog was initially after. This did it for me. I promised to love Conrad forever and I will. I will be there for him and I will hold him as he quietly goes to sleep. I will protect his memory so that it includes happy memories and not ones of regret, sadness and anger. Moreover, I will always remember him as the sweet puppy that was taller than me when he stood on his hind legs, who loved to play ball, who would cover my face with sugars and who always loved a good belly rub.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 15th of May 2020

Oh, I'm so sorry, Diane. I wish you peace with your decision.

Rilriia Kilurden

Monday 10th of July 2017

First and foremost, I had to stop crying in order to write this. Our baby has an appointment to be euthanized on Wednesday afternoon. Like too many, he was a Craigslist rescue that went horribly wrong. Long story short, his are not issues simply of dominance, he has actual mental health issues that are beyond us.

Naturally, it is the first response of most (including professionals who shouldn't be anywhere near animals considering the egotism and insensitivity) who say "all you need...". And they do so without even listening to the issues at hand because they are so sure of themselves--until they see the aggression first hand. Then and only then do they understand that this is not a lack of training or letting him "run wild". We have trained him ourselves (and we both have extensive history with rescues). Nor is this a lack of professional training.

Like some humans, our boy simply has issues that cannot be fixed. And dragging this out would only ensure that he was miserable and we were endangered. (Incidentally, the worst of his aggression was after the 72hrs of "professional" training with someone who had 43 years of experience.) Unlike humans, we can't send him to a therapist or enroll him in DBT therapy (which I think would help if it were possible).

He was starved and very likely abused as a puppy. Sometimes you can fix that, as our three rescue cats demonstrate; sometimes you cannot. And having people assume that we're lazy or incompetent or simply haven't tried has really made things so much harder on us.

What I want to say to anyone reading this is that you are not alone. You are not an evil or lazy person. You are not unloving or callous and uncaring. In order to euthanize a fur child, even for serious medical reasons, it takes breaking your own heart and doing what's best for the animal.

I also want to say that I assume anyone who has been through this did what we did; relying first on traditional training techniques and problem solving, then wracking your brain to think outside of the box for the issues and resolutions to those issues. Then you spent money on trainers, only to have things ...get temporarily bandaged at best. And throughout the whole thing, you step on eggshells because you're constantly aware that you and your family are in real danger. You're walking on emotional broken glass because we, as humans, believe we can fix everything. You shut yourself in because having guests and friends come over is not safe, and you devote every waking moment to this in one way or another.

And you are not alone. We are right there with you. And it is breaking our heart because we know your pain. We understand how difficult this is. We understand how easy it is for those not in this situation to view you as a villain. And we admire your courage for doing the right thing.

Peace and love to all those reading this. May the pieces of your heart one day be mended, and hopefully in a way that lets you open your home and self up again to a fuzzy friend. May you also find love and compassion and empathy is this most terrible journey. But most of all, may your baby find the peace they could not in life.

That is my hope for all of you.


Thursday 3rd of November 2016

This is such an unfortunate thing and my heart goes out to everyone who has had to put down their dog for aggression. I honestly think the phrase should be "There are bad owners, there are bad dogs, and there are tragic accidents."

Yogi came to us even I was just a toddler. She was a lab mix, very sweet, but had a bad past. She was one of those dogs who had a bad owner who would beat her and because of that, she snapped at hands. Mom and dad had to make the decision to give her up because they had two very young kids and no resources to help her. I don't know if she was put down for her aggression, or ended up getting the help she needed. As an adult, I still think if her and what could have done to help her.

We have a Sheppard lab that killed a Chihuahua 3 years ago. It was a freak accident. The dog got into our yard and our big goofy blond saw it and decided to play! She shook it too hard and killed it. No blood was drawn and she dropped it as soon as the neighbor shouted at get to stop. She's not a bad dog, no aggression at all, and we are not bad owners. I don't trust her with my Chihuahua babies though. She will never get to see them outside of behind a sturdy fence.

Bad dogs are tragic and I urge anyone with an aggressive dog that it is NOT your fault. Remember that Cesar Mallin, the man who saved many misunderstood dogs from being abandoned for their behavior, also came across aggressive dogs he couldn't fix. It is not your fault. As much as it would kill me to put down any of my babies, I would make that choice if I had to.

That doesn't mean every aggressive dog is beyond help. I spent time with a couple that takes care of special Chihuahua cases. They ended up with an aggressive old chi and had enough resources to take care of her properly. Within a year, she went from a horrible terror to a dog I barely recognised. Luckily her bites didn't hurt because she was toothless.

Sandy Weinstein

Wednesday 2nd of November 2016

i hate to read abt this b/c i think it is the owner and they way the dog was raised. just look at M Vicks dogs. all were rehabilitated and i think there was only one that was never adopted out. several became companion dogs, agility dogs, etc. however, i know growing up, my neighbors had a chow. the dog knew me, i was petting him and he turned around and bit my face. i was abt 4 or 5, had to have over 60 stitches in my face. the dog was put down b/c there was no way to test him for rabies back then. i have been skeptical of chows since. my brother also go bit by a doberman, that we know. we were walking home from school and the dog races out of the house and attacked him. we were not even in the yard. we also knew the people very well and the dog. i just have a hard time killing of animals, especially dogs, pets, etc. people can ruin good dogs.


Wednesday 26th of October 2016

Love what you said about the bad owners part. I have a 25 lb terrier mix, she is unpredictable with people and dogs, she has bitten both. I manage by controlling her surroundings which sadly means no parks or walks due to not being able to control other people or their dogs. The worst part is she was awesome with everything until a neighborhood dog attacked her. I've tried trainers and we have made progress, but she will never be great again.