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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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Darlene F Appling

Sunday 28th of January 2018

Hi. We have a neighbor next door who has a pitbull who was trained to be an attack dog. He actually got out of his yard and bit me. My neighbor felt so bad. BUT I get the dog. I know he can't help it. She does her best to keep him in her yard and he hasn't gotten loose since. I have also seen how cesar Milan works with agressive dogs on his show. I do believe they can be retrained. My neighbors dog is not agressive to her at all. If she has to take hI'm somewhere she muzzles him. I feel bad for her. Her 2nd dog another pitbull is a real sweetheart. She thought about euthanasia but I said don't do it because of what the dog did to me.


Tuesday 17th of October 2017

I have adopted 6 retired racing greyhounds thought out the years. The last one was different from the breed, which they loving sweet gentle souls. She was also all of these things, well trained and very loving but out of the blue she would strike. No warnings. The first time I got bit in the forehead. A couple of moths later, my lip. The last time she grabbed my head and wouldn't let go. Had to call my husband to get her off. Luckily for me the stitches were either at my hairline or on my scalp. Now I was afraid. The rescue group would not take her back because they could never place her and encouraged me to euthanize her. It took time to wrap my head around it but knew she could not be trusted. I truly believe that there was a problem with her brain wiring. So sad.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 17th of October 2017

Oh I'm so sorry to hear of your story. That sounds so sad and so scary. So sorry you had to go through that.

Jen Gabbard

Wednesday 30th of September 2015

It's never a fun subject but when a dog becomes a major liability something has to be done. I've read a lot of heartbreaking stories of people coming to grips with having to euthanize their dogs for aggression - and in each case my heart broke for them - but in the end I believe it's the right decision. There are some dogs that are too aggressive or unpredictable to make suitable companions.

And when it comes to the saving them all mentality I know it's good in theory, but people tend to forget that the meaning of no kill means healthy, adoptable animals won't be euthanized. In general shelters/rescues can still be no kill if they're euthanizing 10% or less (for behavior/medical issues). But that argument is another story..


Wednesday 30th of September 2015

I work at a shelter, & staff deal with these issues often. It sucks. What makes things murky for me is dogs that have animal aggression (I've certainly been redirected on) or play too aggressively. I wish there were resources to try & rehab them all...give a few a chance. There aren't, of course, & safety & well-being first. Its just sad.


Sunday 28th of January 2018

Temperment testing in most shelters haven't changed in the past 20 plus years. Many good dogs have died because of this. Animal farm is a GREAT resource for shelters and rescues. If only these shelters and rescues would implement them. Less dogs would be set up for failure.


Monday 28th of September 2015

Lindsay, as usual you do a wonderful post. Belle, our first rescue and my first dog was put down a little over a year ago because she nipped my other half. The man who had picked her up from the local shelter, took her on walks, car rides, etc... She decided that she didn't like a puppy across the street from a friend of ours and she broke the netting in the back of a truck canopy to get this dog. Our other dog followed suit and CV was worried we would have to put both dogs down. The vet we saw tried to talk us out of it, and then told us of a golden retriever she had that she didn't trust around her kid. The dog nipped with no provocation from the child when she went to the bathroom. And so the dog was put down. The way I look at it is this: we gave her 5 wonderful years in a pretty stable home and if we had her we wouldn't have Missy. And Missy is a hoot. A total princess and goofball but we completely lucked out with her. Thanks for the heartfelt post on such a tuff decision.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 28th of September 2015

So sorry about your loss, and thank you for sharing some of your story here from time to time. I know it's helpful for others to hear they're not alone. I am also thankful you gave Belle a wonderful 5 years and I know how much she was and is loved.