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When To Euthanize A Dog That Bites – Three Stories

What do you do when the dog you love is likely to cause serious harm to someone? Is it OK to euthanize a dog that bites?

I don’t know.

There’s never an easy answer, rarely a “right” or “wrong” choice.

We do the best we can.

What I’ve learned through my work as a pet sitter and rescue volunteer is sometimes dog lovers will disagree, and that’s OK. It’s OK to disagree as long as we can still support one another.

I know euthanizing aggressive dogs is a difficult topic, one many people won’t want to read about.

But it’s a topic we need to talk about. There are aggressive dogs out there – some treatable, some manageable, others not. Many remain in a “gray area.”

The following are the stories of three dog lovers willing to share their personal experiences. My hope is that their stories will help others.

Please share your support in the comments.

When to euthanize a dog that bites

When your dog bites

Chinook the mixed breed

“I am a dog trainer, in part, because of the one I couldn’t save.”

Trish McMillan Loehr fostered and raised a puppy with the pup’s mom and littermates back in 1997.

“I was living with a boyfriend, apprenticing to become a dog trainer at the time, and raised the puppies by the book, lots of early handling and socialization,” she said.

She decided to keep one of the puppies, an “eerily smart” chocolate pup named Chinook.

Chinook with a rope toy

“At three weeks of age, Chinook was growling during routine puppy handling,” she said. “He was spooking away from strangers by eight weeks of age and lunging and snarling at us over possessions by four months.”

At six months, Loehr said it took four people to restrain Chinook for the blood draw needed to put him on Prozac.

“We tried a number of different behavior meds for the next year, but nothing could make Chinook a safe dog,” she said. “He had a lot of training, more than any dog I’ve had before or since and was very smart and obedient most of the time. Until he wasn’t.”

She said her dog was worse at night and around resources – some real, some imagined.

Chinook showed aggression as a puppy

Once, Chinook attacked Loehr’s boyfriend on the back porch where the dog had gotten into some trash the night before but had since been cleaned up. Another time, Chinook lunged at Loehr after she set his food bowl down. He then stood over the bowl and urinated in it.

As the dog became older, Loehr said the bites became harder, leaving punctures and deep, black bruises.

She described her experience living with Chinook as living under house arrest, unable to have friends over. She would walk her dog in the middle of the night and had nightmares that Chinook had escaped from the yard.

“Toward the end, Chinook gave a threatening growl if he saw a human roll over in bed at night,” she said.

“He had to start sleeping in a crate in the living room after that but lunged and snarled at the bars if he saw movement or if anyone approached after 9 or 10 at night. It was as though he didn’t even recognize us. In the morning, he would wake up happy and kissy as he had been as a puppy.”

Chinook at Christmas

Loehr made – and cancelled – two appointments to have Chinook euthanized because she said he was never at his worst on the day of an appointment.

“On his last day, Chinook had my boyfriend trapped in the living room and me in the office. He was lunging and growling at each of us if we moved.

“I managed to get to the kitchen, ball up some sedatives into a piece of bread, toss it to him, and wait for the meds to slow Chinook down so that we could take him to the vet for that last, final needle.”

She described her dog as brilliant, beautiful and otherwise healthy, but she believes ending his life was the most humane choice for everyone.

“After being hostage to him for 18 months, I decided I had to let him go.”

Today Loehr is a professional dog trainer. See her site LoehrAnimalBehavior.com. She also wrote the beautiful essay for the Huffington Post, “No, It’s Not All How They’re Raised.” Please read it.

Belle the pointer mix

Elizabeth said she and her husband gave their dog Belle “five wonderful years.”

When they adopted her, they figured they were Belle’s third home because her previous owner had gotten her from a shelter a month or two earlier.

After picking her up and getting her home and settled, they knew Belle was dog reactive and to keep a careful eye on her around other dogs.

Later, Elizabeth said they had some issues with their living arrangement but described Belle (the dog with the white chest) as a “trooper” through it all.

“We spent 93 days in a hotel, then in an apartment building with other people and finally were allowed back into the house. That’s where things started going weird.”

Belle the pointer mix

For example, she said Belle and another dog had a small fight in the street.

“She actually broke the screen on the back of my honey’s truck to go attack a puppy at a friend’s house,” she said.

“The second time she did that, my other half got her and our other dog back in the truck and pointed his finger at her and said ‘no.’ She nipped his finger and our other dog growled at him. He knew right then and there that he would never trust her again.”

Because their other dog, D.O.G., had backed up Belle, Elizabeth said her husband gave D.O.G. six months to “turn around” otherwise they would have to put him down as well.

“My other half just recently told me that that was one of the hardest things that he’s done,” she said. “Wait and see if our aggressive dog had taught some of it to our other, more mellow dog. Thankfully, she had not.”

Elizabeth said the day they chose to have Belle euthanized was a horrible day at work. She called their regular vet and made the appointment.

After giving Belle a thorough exam, the vet tried to talk them out of it at first.

Elizabeth said this gave her a little “glimmer of hope” until the vet said they couldn’t take Belle anywhere that would make her reactive.

“In the end, we made the right decision,” Elizabeth said. “I miss her. She was my summer lunch buddy and my girl. But the stress in our house was gone that evening. I never realized how much she had us wound up.”

Silky the coon hound mix – when to euthanize a dog that bites

Hound mix - when to euthanize a dog that bites

Susan chose to euthanize her dog Silky 10 years ago due to aggression.

“Next to losing my daughter at birth, it was by far the most difficult moment of my life, and I am not being dramatic. I still think about her almost every day,” she said.

Susan and her family had adopted Silky (not pictured) from a shelter when the dog was about 2.5 years old. She said Silky adapted quickly to their household, which included Susan’s 2-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.

“However, she was very, very food aggressive and on several occasions growled and became aggressive when kids were carrying food around,” she said.

Over the next two years, the aggression became a big issue.

“With kids going in and out all the time, we sequestered her on our second floor,” Susan said. “We saw several trainers, used a pet psychologist and were looking to re-home her when she had a series of bites.”

She said Silky would often get between her and the stove while barking and growling for food.

Within a two-week period, Silky bit two of her son’s 6-year-old friends. One incident involved food. One did not.

Silky also attacked a neighbor who was clearing food off the table, Susan said. This neighbor went to the hospital for stitches and required several rounds of IV antibiotics.

“After consulting with our family vet and several friends who are vets, we felt the right thing to do was to euthanize,” Susan said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Her vet tried to talk her out of it but Susan knew the dog would not be safe in any home.

“I still remember the heartbreak and of holding her as the vet put her down,” she said. “The looks from the vet techs who shook their heads at me and told me not to do it.”

Yet, she knew it was right.

“After hearing the screams of six year olds who were bit and seeing the agony of my neighbor, I know that it was the best thing to do.”

Thank you to these three women for sharing their stories. – Lindsay

If you would like to share your story about an aggressive dog, please do so in the comments. I’m so sorry for anyone facing this difficult situation and decision.

Related articles:

We can’t save them all – euthanasia & aggressive dogs

When to euthanize an aggressive dog

Do I have to be there when my dog is put down?

When to euthanize a dog that bites

Cathy

Tuesday 13th of July 2021

I am actually in the midst of considering euthanasia for my beautiful 4yo dog and it's breaking my heart. We adopted him from the local spca at 4mo. to join our family which included our large, older dog and two cats. Looking at his teeth, he was a pup but definitely older than 4mo. The spca told us he had a bit of food aggression which didn't worry me as I have had dogs all my life and knew how to fix that. Within the year, it was obvious it wasn't food but just generalized anxiety and survival tendencies he exhibited. As time went on, he became more anxious - about everything. To meet him, you'd see a beautiful large dog who just wants to be pet - over and over - to the point of annoyance. If I walked out to get the mail, he greets me as if I'd been away for a week. There is like a switch inside that gets hit and it's not consistent, a look in his eye - maybe - and sometimes he'd react, sometimes he didn't. This isn't just a snapping action, it's all-out snarling, biting aggression. Several vicious fights with the older dog wore the old guy down and I tried to keep them separate. He attacked the cat out of nowhere twice. He stopped attempting to work with us at intermediate puppy training even though he was such a quick learner and the trainer thought we should go for therapy dog training. He also started lunging at one of the other puppies. He was kicked out of doggie daycare for "tracking" another dog continually. He has since snapped at a child, gone after other dogs, attempted to jump out the window at dogs on the street, and bit the vet for attempting to examine him (while on anxiety meds). To have his nails trimmed, I have to put him out because of his reactions. The vet wouldn't believe me until they saw for themselves when they tried to do it with a mild sedative. Those on this thread shouldn't judge - Cesar Milan is not available for everyone - I'd gladly give up my baby to live on his compound, but it's not an option for most of us.

Cathy

Tuesday 13th of July 2021

@Lindsay Stordahl, thank you. my husband, who is not an avid dog lover, wants us to continue trying - which I'm willing to do. One bright spot, he doesn't attack adults unless he feels extreme anxiety. It all just snowballed the past two years and Co-vid didn't help the socialization issue.

BTW, I've been following your posts since acquiring my pup. You are about as real as you can be about training, issues, etc. Keep up the good work.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 13th of July 2021

Oh I'm so sorry you're faced with this. I hope you can find peace and support with any decisions you make.

Sarah

Sunday 11th of July 2021

Mammals are nature AND nurture. It’s unfair to expect the most challenging dogs to be able to find homes with life changing trainers who may not be able to turn them around. These stories are heartbreaking. I do think it’s important to work with a trainer before putting a dog down as one did and Maybe the others did too but didn’t say. You can’t have a dog that’s attacking. You have to assume these were all good homes and the owners were heartbroken. We took dogs out of the WILD. some dogs still have that wild and can’t shake it. Some dogs suffer mental illness and trauma as all mammals do. Every day in America enormous numbers of women end the lives of babies growing in their bellies. Is it wrong? Well, now that we’re acting like a third trimester baby isn’t alive, yes. But a baby isn’t fully formed in early pregnancy and if a woman feels she can’t handle it why bring life into the world? Yes there are situations where putting down a dog is evil or lazy. None of these situations sound remotely like this. I don’t see any vet techs offering to adopt or rehome the euthanasia scheduled dogs. I trust the judgment of someone who’s homed a dog a long time. I just recommend training always before euthanizing. The dog deserves that chance. Also most people euthanize sick dogs and let’s not pretend it isn’t about money and convenience in most cases. I am so so so so sorry for all your losses. Thoughtful series to read. Thank you!!!

Jillian

Sunday 11th of July 2021

My heart goes out to these three women and to anyone having to face this truth! Sadly, I know personally how difficult this decision is. It's NOT an easy choice to live with but unfortunately it's one that a responsible pet-parent has to make for the sake of other dogs so they will be able to get a chance at the life they deserve!

Lynn

Thursday 9th of March 2017

Very emotional subject! I had to rehome a dog who was fine except she kept attacking my other girl dog. Bitch fights I was told are the worst. Anyway she got a good home. But I wouldn't hesitate to put down a dog that could be a liability, there are lots of great dogs who need homes. Why wait til someone gets really hurt or killed?

Sheri

Tuesday 20th of December 2016

That's so sad especially in the last story where the vet techs were being judgemental as if it wasn't hard enough for the owner to begin with. We had a similar situation with a dog when I was in high school and we decided that it was what was best for everyone including the dog. We tried everything we could at the time, talked to trainers, vets, etc. But in the end we decided it wasn't fair to him to be living in constant fear to the point where he felt the need to lash out aggressively all the time. We also felt it was just a matter of time before someone was seriously hurt by him even with good management there's always the potential for an accident to happen like him escaping out the door or something.