Discussion: Alternatives to Death for Dogs Labeled Aggressive

Is there anyone among us – canine behaviorist, dog trainer, rescuer, foster owner, breeder, shelter director, pet lover or county official – who is so qualified to judge a dog’s so-called aggressive behavior that his word alone is good enough, even if that word means death?  I would think not.

But what about cases where the dog’s behavior has been judged by two or three individuals – will any two or three individuals do or should they bring specific qualifications to the table?  For example, what if one breeder, one pet lover and one county official all agreed a dog should be killed due to behavior – is that acceptable?

What about alternatives to death – for example an offer of evaluation by an accredited behaviorist and possible sanctuary placement based upon the behaviorist’s recommendation – should such alternatives ever be ignored when the dog has a death sentence hanging over him?  If a reasonable alternative is ignored by a rescue group or shelter when killing a so-called dangerous dog, can that group truthfully call itself no kill?

Keep in mind as you answer that there are many different types of dogs who get labeled “aggressive” by rescue groups, shelters and individuals including:

  • Dogs who have no bite history of any kind
  • Dogs who have attacked other animals but never a human
  • Dogs who are fearful and snappy in a shelter environment
  • Dogs who have bitten a person (or people) resulting in varying degrees of injury

In other words, not all “aggressive” dogs are equal.

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55 Comments

  1. I will tell you that from someone who supports no kill and has been working with a shelter that is working to achieve no kill for a year that this is, by far, the toughest, grayist area for us. We have two certified trainers on staff, and it is still a challenge. Dogs don’t necessarily show you their true colors in a shelter environment, and level of aggression is a very sliding scale (but I can tell you, none of the animals get “better” living in a shelter environment). And honestly, there aren’t enough highly-skilled fosters who can take on this type of project, nor do most rescues want these types of projects. And sanctuary? Given that there are really only a handful in the nation right now and they don’t have unlimited availability (I offered $5,000 for one to take a dog about 18 months ago and was declined).

    Meanwhile, it is irresponsible for us to be sending aggressive dogs out to the public — most of whom are not equipped to deal with it. Even highly dog-aggressive dogs are a problem as many incidents happen when individuals try to break up dog fights. You can’t be doing that either.

    The biggest problem is that this is a very sliding scale and very difficult to determine when enough is enough. And this may vary from shelter to shelter depending on its resources, set up, and quality of fosters. And while I realize many shelters err on the side of killing too many animals, we must be cautious to not err the other direction as well, lest we lose the trust of the adopting public and city officials.

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  2. I fully agree with Brent. On one side, we want to save as many dogs as possible, on the other side we do have a responsibility towards the public. I also would like to point out that there can be a difference between a aggressive dog and a dangerous dog. A dog can be aggressive without being labeled dangerous. But once a dog is labeled dangerous it is very difficult to get him out. We would never adopt out a dangerous dog in to a private home. With a aggressive dog it might be different. However, if a rescue/sanctuary with a track record of dealing with aggressive/dangerous dogs would offer to take such a dog from us we sure would let the dog go.

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  3. db

     /  January 2, 2013

    Was this column was triggered by the likely killing of a young German Shepherd by a “rescue” in NYC? If so, then I have to weigh in on the side of pursuing every possible option before making that determination to kill an “aggressive” dog.

    I’ve had two personal experiences with this situation. One was a young, fearful puppy I fostered who was badly placed (not by me) into a home with young children. She bit one of the toddlers and, since she was now considered a “biter” by the humane society, was killed when returned. I didn’t realize that she had been placed in a home with toddlers and if they had asked me, I would have certainly recommended against that. And had they told me before they killed her, I would have taken her back, but they were (are) so concerned about liability that they didn’t tell me about her until she was long dead.

    The other was a likely bait-dog-fight-dog in training by some across-the-street renters who moved out but left the 6 month old puppy in the fenced in backyard without food/water/shelter (which I provided with the home owner’s permission to enter his property). These people would bring over other dogs and antagonize the pup until she went after the other dogs. One day they left the gate open and I managed to get her into my garage without them seeing it happen (as was suggested by animal control). She had a few days of love and toys and being a puppy before ac picked her up. They tried to work with her, but she was so aggressive toward other dogs that they ended up killing her for lack of options.

    It’s just not clear-cut, in my mind. What I do believe is that all options need to be explored before the decision to kill a dog is made. Death should be a last resort.

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  4. anon

     /  January 2, 2013

    These are really hard questions.

    Some ways to consider this:

    Safety – What’s the risk to other people/dogs in the environment? If it’s a history of a dog that has not caused injury (even when close enough), chances are that with training his emotional response can be changed. There is a very low safety risk for everyone involved in the training or if errors are made in the future. If it’s a dog that has caused severe injury to people are dogs, there’s a high chance that given the opportunity this would happen again. Is it worth the safety risk to the other animals in the environment? The volunteers? The veterinarian?

    Numbers and Types of Triggers – What kinds of things or situations do you know make the dog react this way? A dog that only is worried about one thing is going to be an easier ‘project’ than a dog that dislikes cars, dogs, strangers, kids, handling…

    Number of Behavior Problems – An ‘aggressive’ dog with separation anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder will be a lot harder to work through than a dog who just has bit (with no injury) during nail trims.

    Resources Available – Does the facility have an appropriately skilled foster home or trainer/s on staff? Are the regular care staff capable of any of the specific handling instructions necessary on a day to day basis? Does the facility have the money to get a diagnosis and treatment plan for a veterinary behaviorist? Do they have the time to dedicate to the training needed? Who is doing the training? A volunteer who has gone to those appointments and learned the skills? A trainer who volunteered his or her services? How do you know if that person really is appropriately qualified? Most trainer certifications are more about completion of program than skill level. Is it appropriate to use a training plan that involves a lot of stress? A lot of trainers justify being very harsh with aggressive dogs to get results. Is that okay? Or is it inappropriate, especially given that there are lower stress effective ways to change behavior?

    Stress on the Dog – The “aggressive” dog is stressed the experiences that result in the ‘aggressive’ behavior. What is his quality of life on a daily basis? How do we even begin to measure that? Does he bite because he’s scared of people and you have a staff of 50 different people who have to leash him and take him in and out every week? Do you have a dog that lunges and barks at other dogs and he has to walk past 15 barking dogs 2-3x a day while coming in and out? Is this a dog in a foster home, scared of everything, hiding under the bed all day, and will bite and shriek if leashed to be taken outside? Should we be “okay” with this for a few days until we have a better plan in place? What if this is going on for months? Years? What is an acceptable and unacceptable level of stress or duration of stress? How do we get the time/money/skilled people resources to provide the training these dogs will need? If the dog is sent to a sanctuary but still experiences this level of stress on a daily basis, is that appropriate? What percentage of places labeled as ‘sanctuaries’ have the resources to meet the behavior/enrichment needs of all dogs, let alone the ones that come in with behavior problems?

    My primary job is training. It’s really hard when people think they adopted or purchased a normal dog to fit into their normal lives, but in reality it’s a dog that will take quite a bit of work or that will not be appropriate for their family. Or people who find a stray dog and spend time and money on training but still can’t place the dog. They can’t take the dog to a shelter for fear of euthanasia, they can’t keep the dog because of safety concerns for other pets in the household. They’re trapped with the dog.

    In my volunteer time at the shelter, I’m struggling with some dogs living in what -for them- is a high stress environment for weeks, months, years on end. The primary reason they aren’t getting help? The head staff don’t recognize the signs of stress. They see the barking as happiness. They think the dog hiding in the corner will just get better over time, go and pet him even though he’s trying to get away from you. They just don’t see that the dogs are stressed.

    Thank you for starting this discussion, it’s –so– important. I wish I had answers.

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    • mikken

       /  January 2, 2013

      “The head staff don’t recognize the signs of stress. They see the barking as happiness. They think the dog hiding in the corner will just get better over time, go and pet him even though he’s trying to get away from you. They just don’t see that the dogs are stressed. ”

      Oh wow. How can anyone who is working with animals in a professional capacity be so ignorant? That’s very disheartening.

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      • Jessica

         /  January 3, 2013

        Good intentions rarely confer the knowledge and experience needed to accurately read and work with dogs. Most shelter workers and head staff are people who “love animals” but they are not necessarily animal savvy.

  5. anne davis

     /  January 2, 2013

    A couple of weeks ago I saw a cat on the kill list at the NY ACC. He was deemed vicious, aggressive and uncontrollable. I pulled him off the list and a couple of days later he was brought to my apt. in a large metal cage. They said he was too vicious to be put in a regular cardboard carrier. This cat was given a bed, food and water and kept in my bathroom. Even though the door to the bathroom was left open after the first day he would not come out. He was stressed and scared out of his mind. He wouldn’t touch any food. And he had lost one lb. in one week at the “shelter”. That’s a lot. But after a week of me cooing at him and slowly petting him he came out of the bathroom, explored the apt. and is now the sweetest cat ever. He plays with the other cats, eats, curls up by the heater, looks out the window and lets me kiss and cuddle him.

    The reason I tell you this is because he was going to be murdered because he was “vicious” in the shelter. What most evaluators don’t take into consideration is the environment of these murder factories. Don’t the think that the pets can tell what kind of place they’re in? Don’t they understand that these animals can smell the death and disease? We have GOT TO BECOME A NO-KILL society. It’s the only way these scared but sweet animals have a chance.

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  6. Melissa

     /  January 2, 2013

    I am a strong proponent of No Kill equation, and personally would be unable to sentence a dog to death for any reason, except if they were suffering due to serious illness. That said however I don’t think it’s that black and white, especially with a system that is so broken. I just don’t think I’d be able to do it personally.

    I too was following the story of this GS, and similar to some other situations I had read about, as soon as interest in the dog starts building, the rescue (in this case) battened down hatches, shut down their FB page and went silent. In this world of social media such a calculated lack of transparency is the absolute worst road they could have travelled. If there were experienced people/sanctuary willing to take the dog, why on earth wouldn’t they try? This was less about the welfare of the dog and safety of potential adopters than it was individuals determined to assert their authority and maintain control of their domain

    I don’t think any of the labels are useful or helpful for many of the reasons already stated. In a perfect world (obviously we’re nowhere near it), the context of each situation would be taken into account. My 10 year old lab mix has been “expelled” from 2 doggy day care situations because she bit other dogs. I wouldn’t call her vicious or dangerous, but more reactive and anxious than any other dog I’ve encountered. I don’t leave her unsupervised with other dogs and we only do leash walks. She is only food reactive with other animals, but a person could stick their hand in her mouth and remove food. she’d be fine. Would she be considered adoptable? Highly unlikely as she’d already been returned once.

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  7. bealsie2

     /  January 2, 2013

    This isn’t going to be popular, but there are some dogs that need to be removed from society. If there is no place for them to go where they can have a reasonable quality of life, then the best course of action for them and the safest alternative for those required to care for them is that they be killed. As you might expect, I am also a proponent of the death penalty in the case of some humans.

    If an aggressive incident is predictable, based on known triggers which can be managed or avoided, and there is a place for the animal where the triggers can be managed and avoided and the humans involved can be safe, then I do not think the animal should be euthanized.

    But just as with humans, there are some sociopaths in the dog world. They are unpredictable and they can be over-the-top aggressive. And just as with humans, if they are violent and a danger to those around them I believe they should be killed.

    In my volunteer work with my local shelter I have met two of these dogs. Both creeped me out for reasons I could not define at the time. Both were well-mannered and both were liked by the staff. Both one day attacked without provocation and without warning.

    And just to clarify – these are the only two cases in my experience when I truly felt that the attack was unprovoked and without warning.

    All that being said, dogs like these two are a vanishingly small fraction of the dogs that are killed for “aggression” and are the only behavioral types that I believe should be killed even if there is an alternative available.

    The other comments above relate to “normal” dogs – dogs with issues that can be treated and/or managed. I believe that dogs like these should be given a chance, with or without a bite history. But in our litigious society it is unlikely that this happens with any regularity.

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    • Jessica

       /  January 3, 2013

      I have met one or two of these canine sociopaths in my career as a trainer, and I think that if they maintain the violence even after strong psychiatric medicines are administered by a veterinarian, there’s little you can do, other than perhaps keeping the dog crated/muzzled/drugged at all times and . . . is that really the right thing to do?

      Other than that, I think it depends on the competence of the people involved. If you have available people who can and will work with the dog, then by God YES use them! Unfortunately in my experience in Oklahoma, those people are few and far between . . .

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      • Jessica

         /  January 3, 2013

        I meant to put also that if those people aren’t available, it’s unethical to place the dog with people that cannot handle it, and thus you have little choice. The effort, however, must be made to try.

    • Bealsie2 said: “This isn’t going to be popular, but there are some dogs that need to be removed from society. If there is no place for them to go where they can have a reasonable quality of life, then the best course of action for them and the safest alternative for those required to care for them is that they be killed.”

      First, I think what you have said IS popular!! I think Animal Control and the many killing apologists consider it their life’s work to remove dogs from society. I think the difficult/unpopular part is how we argue (often after the fact) about WHICH dogs need to be removed.

      As for having a place for them to go, and as for quality of life, or anything else that anyone in particular wants to consider reasonable…well, these, in themselves are also very popular topics, but I myself have a sliding scale on each and every point!

      I really appreciate this discussion. Than you Shirley for posing the question, and to each of you for participating in it.

      I have requested death for several difficult dogs. One was a huge liability and I was unable to find him a safe place and opted to choose death rather than risk him hurting others (human and otherwise) again. One was a mere pup, he wasn’t wired correctly. He’d follow and emulate my adult dog, but even at eight weeks of age he was aggressive and not particularly tractable. I saw no point in allowing him to mature into a huge problem. He was a stray, but I declared myself his owner in order to make this difficult decision. Animal Control is the government body that has been created to choose when we (owners, pet parents, *the irresponsible public* —choose your title) refuse to do so. They have various level of choice just like each of us, and they often catch a ration of crap no matter what they choose too!

      Oh well. It’s their JOB. It simply breaks my heart that so many of them do it so poorly.

      p.s. don’t forget, follow the money. Fines generate revenue, and death is cheaper than boarding.

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  8. alice in lala land

     /  January 2, 2013

    how about if the owner makes the decision? why should the shelter have to take in a dog that bites that belongs to someone and decide what to do with the dog.. where is the responsibility for he OWNER. if a person drops off a dog and says “it bites’ the shelter should say.sorry we don’t take biting dogs. You must make the decision to either live with the dog.. or put it down. as for ‘aggression” what is that exactly/.. yesterday i read about a dog deemed ‘aggressive’ because it jumped up on a person..aggression is more than 50 shades of grey and sadly dogs are ow seen to be aggressive if they act like normal dogs.

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  9. KarenJ

     /  January 2, 2013

    Good and necessary discussion.

    The distinction for me – as a compassionate AC Director starts with the distinction between Aggressive and Dangerous. My experience is that in almost every case Aggressive behaviour can be dealt with postively – with time, living environment, rescue/foster experience, sanctuary availability, only dog home, only animal home, no children home, no senior citizens in the home, stay at home animal parent, Feral Cat Colony availability, etc. I generally have even found that isolated animal on animal attacks are Protective and Instinctual and not necessarily Aggressive. I really feel that when I have felt that the word Aggression could be used – and when I trained staff – that there are types of Aggression. NOT just the one word. Fear Aggression, Food Aggression, Crate Aggression, Animal Aggression. I have trained my staff and potential adopters and rescues that the label Aggression – to me/us means “workable.”
    WORK will need to be taken to help this animal; and though sometimes it’s difficult to get through in every animal’s case…it is workable.

    I do not feel the same way about dangerous. I have seen many dangerous animals. Regardless of the cause – and we RARELY know the cause – there are dangerous animals. Animals that are given numerous chances. Social, Crate, Food, Humans, Children, Dogs, Cats, Human Males and Females, Seniors, Water Hoses,
    Loud Noises, and more. When an animal continuously responds in an “inujurious” or dangerous manner to many stimuli – or NO stimuli – I call in a Master Trainer or a Behaviorist. Every AC Director and Shelter/ Rescue needs to have these relationships in their network. At this point – the liabilty of the entity that “owns” or is in control of the dangerous animal has to be considered. The safety of the public – both human and animal – must be considered. No matter how precious every life is – there are some animals that there will not be a safe place for.

    I believe – though sadly – every animal in every shelter in America is there because of humans…whether it be lack of judgement, lack of resources, carelessness or neglect.

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  10. KarenJ

     /  January 2, 2013

    If an animal was brought in to me – by the owner – to surrender due to biting a human – as Director I would have a consultation with the owner. If possible – obtain medical records on the injury. Learn about the living environment. Most times it is very easy to tell from this conversation that the human has made mistakes and the animal is not to blame for a one time bite. In many states – like Tennessee – if a dog bites a human – no matter what the reason – and the owner does not want it – the animal will be killed. The State of Tennessee supports a “one strike” situation -BUT it is not requires of anyone. Due to this – there is a great liability to adopting out a bite dog in Tennessee. There is no tolerance.

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    • Melissa

       /  January 3, 2013

      If only a third of the AC directors thought as you do, what a different world we would be in. Sadly not the case. It doesn’t help things that last year the insurance industry paid out over $100 million in dog bite claims alone. In Massachusetts, even though BSL is now illegal none of the insurance carriers will provide homeowners insurance if you have a certain breed of dog (or more likely..looks vaguely like a certain breed of dog). The list varies between companies, and even though some say they consider case by case depending on the circumstances, they really do not. If one needs homeowners insurance and you disclose that you have a certain type of dog, it has to be through Mass Fair Plan act which is underwritten by the state. If your dog (no matter the breed), bites any human and breaks skin, you will lose homeowners insurance or if you already have the Mass Fair Plan, you will need to sign a restriction of coverage excluding that dog. The other companies mostly drop your policy entirely. They do not distinguish based on the severity of the bite. The only difference comes down to the $$ damages. This is not speculation either, it’s what i went through the last year. In a moment of not paying attention my dog walker coming back from a walk let both my dogs basically get in the face of the mailman who they do not care for to begin with. When they went up the front steps and saw him “their” porch, they both lunged and she lost control of the leashes. He was bitten on the hand, not sure even by by which dog, but needless to say pitbull took the heat. Shortly after I received notification that unless i signed restriction of coverage to exclude the dog within 10 days, my policy would be cancelled. I had no choice, and now had to purchase “dangerous dog” liability insurance for about another $700. Prior to this there was no bite history or any issue with the dog. Its one strike and you’re out. The one thing I would say to anyone is make sure you have liability insurance. This was for a bite on the side of the hand that did break skin. There were no stitches needed, just precautionary tetanus shot. After work that day he went straight to the police. He stayed out of work for 2 days, and subsequently I received letters from the post office saying there might be third party liability.. Let me just say that even though i was at work when this happened, I know that it is my responsibility. I am the one who reported it to animal control. Biting is obviously not acceptable and I would absolutely cover out of pocket costs, medical, lost wages etc. The problem is no one called me or my insurance. Next thing the mailman has retained a personal injury attorney.. and they are negotiating the “pain and suffering”.
      As an aside when i reported the bite to AC, i was told it was the third mailman bite reported that week.

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      • What an awful experience. All of my dogs go crazy when they see anyone approach the door. Once our grumpy senior rescue doxie leaped out the door and bit a child at the door. The doxie had never done anything like that. Thankfully, the skin was not broken, and the father did not take action.

        I have a beagle who has bitten me badly – always my fault. Once I let a stray into the house, they fought over a bone, and I stuck my hand in. It hurt – but so what? It hurt when I closed the car door on my hand once. Accidents happen. I just don’t see the reason for all the hysteria.

        Meanwhile, my Boxer/Pit pulled from death row and supposedly aggressive and hating men is a sweetheart – just totally traumatized by being in a death factory, but he’s a love dog now. I think that until a dog causes serious wounds resulting in hospital admission, there should be no action other than a fine to the owner.

        As for shelters, they need to find people like me willing to give so-called “aggressive” dogs a chance. Once I was showing a Pit mix who had been at the No Kill shelter for a year – the dog got over excited and bit the man – blood running down his arm, he took the dog anyway. The man had no kids, No problems at all – they are devoted to each other. There are people out there – it’s just a matter of finding them.

  11. Karen F

     /  January 2, 2013

    I too have followed the story of the NY dog, and my reaction was that she should have been given to the sanctuary. All options should be explored. Opinion, no matter whose and no matter how many, is not enough to go on in determining who will live and who will be killed.

    Also, although I appreciate the distinction being made by other commenters between dogs who are aggressive and those who are dangerous, I see this as another area in which opinion alone could determine who would be killed. I am against the death penalty for humans, as well, for the same reason: a mistake can be made that is permanent.

    The law is no more reliable than individual opinion on this issue. The head of a Washington-state sanctuary I support wrote a long and very eye-opening post about Dangerous Dog law and how it really works. The sloppy, biased and unpredictable way in which this designation is applied by local governments is every bit as disturbing as the overuse of the term “aggressive” by shelters.

    http://www.olympicanimalsanctuary.org/2011/04/whos-really-dangerous.html

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  12. People are stupid! This is too humane and makes too much sense!

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  13. Thank-you for raising this topic, and thank-you to all who have replied. It’s a very interesting course of discussion.

    I think that certain aggressive and dangerous behaviour from a dog could be enough to justify it being put to sleep instead of being rehomed. That said, I don’t think most shelters are capable of determining this through ‘behavioural testing’. As many have noted, the shelter environment is not ideal for ascertaining an animal’s normal behaviour. Furthermore, it should be a multi-person decision, and not left to one member of staff to determine the suitability of a dog for adoption.

    The big thing with dogs is that they could kill people, and with a single bite. Take the case of the jack russell in the UK who bit a young child, just once, and killed it. Or Liam J. Perk, who was killed by a single bite from a weimaraner. This is not just a matter of ‘safety’, but a matter of life and death. Furthermore, it’s possible that a ‘bad dog’ rehomed through rescue may significantly influence perceptions on rescues and impede rescue in the future – both at a legislative level and on an attitudinal level.

    Dr Ian Dunbar advocates for dogs to be assessed not on whether they’ll bite or not, but the level on which they will bite. He calls this bite inhibition and claims that if a dog is biting at a particularly level (like Level 2, when you feel teeth but no skin breakage occurs), it will always bite at that particular level, regardless of circumstances. This means that, if there is a dog that is ‘being aggressive’ towards dogs or people, but not doing any damage, this dog is not a risk. However, for a dog that occasionally bites, but delivers injuries that require stitches, this dog is a far greater risk.

    Dunbar also advocates for shelters to ask a bite history that celebrates a dog that bites on a inhibited level. He claims that dogs that surrendered with owners saying, “He’s never bitten!” are a big risk by being an unknown. However, a dog surrendered with a bite history of, “He gets pretty grumpy when the kids go near his food. He’s bitten them before, but he’s never done damage” is a much ‘safer’ dog.

    I have a tolerance of dogs that attack other animals (I have been quite involved in greyhound rescue!), but I am deeply disturbed by dogs that significantly harm or kill other dogs. Again, bite inhibition comes in here – a dog that has been involved in many fights but with no vet bills is not troubling at all. However, a dog that has had two fights, and killed the other dog both times, is a huge risk.

    I have worked with dogs that have shown degrees of aggression towards dogs, but I think a dog who has killed another dog with its mouth has shown an uninhibited bite that is not worth risking in the community. I would probably euthanise a dog in my care that killed another dog with its mouth.

    Fearful-snappiness is not a big deal. It’s a dog responding to fear and, if you can find a situation when the dog is not fearful, then the ‘aggression’ goes away. I have rehomed fear-snapping dogs with full disclosure and support for their new household.

    I am in Australia, and I do not know of any sanctuaries available for pets that are deemed behaviourally unsound to be rehomed. While this might be an option for human aggressive dogs, I think it would be a nightmare for dogs that are dog-aggressive. Dog-aggressive dogs, clearly, don’t like dogs, and I can’t think of anything they’d like less than living in an environment with other dogs all around them.

    I am an advocate for full disclosure to adoptive families. They need to know everything you know about the dog’s behaviours. I can’t imagine there’d be too many households that, when you said, “This dog has killed several dogs and has delivered bites to people that have required stitches.” would be enthused about adding that dog to their family. Maybe I’m pessimistic, but I truly don’t think that biting dogs come at the top of the list for many adoptive families.

    Just my two cents. In summary: Some dogs might be aggressive enough to be euthanised, especially if they have bitten, and done significant damage, before. Shelters aren’t well equipped to make this decision, and adoptive families aren’t well equipped to live with an aggressive dog in safety. Sanctuaries may be an option for some dogs.

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  14. Victoria

     /  January 3, 2013

    I adopted a fear-biting chihuahua who was Urgent on death row. She was “too fearful for adoptions.” The staff had to put a towel on her in order to grab her so they wouldn’t get bit. I was even told that I may want to wear gloves for the first few days. They asked if I had children ( I do but she is 18 and used to dealing with behavior dogs, we own another one whom we had to put through classes ) and warned me that she is a biter. She lived underneath my bed for the first week and would growl when I put treats in front of her. She only came out from under the bed at night to eat and drink. After a week, she gave up her protest and is now a valued member of the family. She doesn’t trust strangers so she can’t really be around guests but she will live a long happy life.

    If the sanctuary is willing to accept the animal, then at least there is no blood on my hands. If they later determine that they have to put him down, at least I know I have exhausted all available possibilities.

    This is why I don’t think I could be a shelter director, even though I love helping animals. It would kill me to see even behavioral dogs die, much less healthy, adoptable ones. It takes a certain type to be a shelter director and a rare type to come into a high-kill shelter and turn it into No-Kill. I’m so grateful that there are people out there who do it.

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  15. There should do some type of test for proposed shelter directors! Fire the bad and see the outcome. You can’t train people to love animals and political assignments don’t work! They suck!

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  16. Any dog can bite and many will at some point in their lifetime for some reason, so if you’re going to go down the “liability” road with dogs who haven’t done anything yet, you have a responsibility to kill them all… right?

    I’ve heard a lot in the past few days from people who consider themselves “experts” on aggressive dogs, but when they consider a dog “too aggressive” (which is extremely subjective with no two people having the same definition), they kill them or have them killed, which seems to me to defy their self-proclaimed expertise.

    I myself am not too concerned with dog aggressive dogs because even the worst of them have an easy solution: keep them away from other dogs.

    I am not an expert on aggressive dogs, but I have been a dog handler who has worked in sanctuary, some of my own dogs have bite records, and I continue to volunteer in sanctuary with dogs who have been deemed “dangerous”. I have scars on me and I’m not particularly proud of them but they do represent an education: each one is a mistake I made, something that could have been done better, and I reflect deeply on the cause of each one. I work in environments where death due to behavior is not an option and I fully accept the risk I take.

    And that’s how you learn. That’s how you learn to improve these cases, how you learn what makes dogs tick, how you learn what is possible, what is rehabilitatable. Frankly, sanctuaries are getting better at that all the time, and if more careful and thoughtful people dedicated themselves and their orgs to the exploration of every option prior to death, we would have a much broader and more common understanding of how to help these animals. I wish more who had the resources to do so would take a crack at it.

    A few years ago it was fairly commonly accepted that dogs seized from dogfighters were too big a risk to the community to ever live among people. We now know that that is not always true because of some people who broke the mold and decided to explore what is possible.

    I have seen dangerous dogs rehabilitated when people do not give up on them. I know it’s possible. Is it possible in all cases? Not yet, and we don’t have enough qualified sanctuary space available in the US. Sometimes you reach the end of the road, the end of your options, but this does not relieve you of an obligation to explore them for an animal in your care.

    Reply
  17. María Roselló

     /  January 3, 2013

    I can’t kill or put down a dog just because of his temperament. My dog, which is a lab mix, is agressive. Even though he bite me once, and my husband told me to put him down I refuse, because it was my fault. There is no agressive dog, is us humans that put a dog in a fase or stess that they attack. If the dog is with rabbies that is another story.
    I am a pet lover I don’t know about their behavior, but when you give them love and care for them, they respond to your care.

    Reply
  18. Sabs

     /  January 3, 2013

    This is such a hard topic. Being part of a small organization that relies solely on foster homes (most of which have their own dogs and sometimes cats) and has no kennel site, it’s so incredibly hard when you grab a dog that has people or dog issues.

    We had a case like this a while ago where the dog had bit people and attacked other dogs, we didn’t know this as he was pulled from Kijiji (Like craigslist) being given away for free and was said to be social and good with other animals. He went to a home with no other pets and was on the brink of being surrendered back to us after biting his owner and attacking another dog, which would of been a huge issue as we would of had nowhere safe to put him. He had shown some aggression issues with other dogs in his first foster home (Hence having an ‘only dog’ requirement) but seemed like a super sweet guy when I met him. We hired a dog behaviorist to come in and work with the dog and the family at our expense and he was able to stay within that family but with a different member who could manage his issues better. I’m at a loss as to what to do if he loses that home though, it keeps me up a night :( He’s a great dog just so incredibly unpredictable in certain situations and requires the perfect owner to make the situation work – and he’s a large black male to boot.

    The whole situation has actually made me incredibly terrified to pull dogs with unknown histories which in the long run, with the breed we deal with, are the ones that need the most help and are the worst situations.

    In a perfect world there would be enough experienced owners or sanctuaries that would be able to take guys like him, but there just aren’t enough or they are already full. Given the option we would of paid thousands to move him to a place that would be safe for him but finding one is difficult.

    Any suggestions/comments would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  19. Those are tough questions, my family just recently adopted a JRT mix. The shelter told us he was sweet, fun and loveable. We got him home and no kidding he is the “dog from hell” We have contemplated giving him up or putting him down, he is dangerous, he just snaps and goes “postal” as we call it for no reason and my Dad and I particularly have marks to prove it. Bad breeding and abuse play into his behavior from what we can guess, but he has everything a dog could want…so what is his problem? We love him and have made the final decision to keep him, dangerous or not. However his behavior if not just people targeted, a calf and poor wild groundhog was once his target too, luckily for them we were there, but Amish buggies and horses, he goes crazy over and takes chase if somehow off leash. So you ask who should determine when a dog is dangerous or should be put down, my answer is this…can the dog be rehabilitated, and be helped or is the dog dangerous? In my case…I say our little demon dog should have never been adopted out and would be a case for euthanasia…no matter how horrible that word is. The reasoning is that, my family has worked with him and given him anything and everything, yet he still turns on us, so is he a case to be helped, no. His past and situation tells me that, maybe when he is old and gray he may finally come to peace, but the fact of the matter is he is miserable and does not feel safe,so tell me, Would you seriously adopt out a dog you know is dangerous and then look the other way, knowing you could be causing more harm and pain to that family or would you decide to put the dog down. I used to think one-sided but our devil dog taught and showed me otherwise. Some dogs just can’t be helped, and instead of putting them in an uncomfortable position and the new owners, do what is right for both not what you want. If you say it is stupid to keep a dangerous dog…you are correct, but like I said… because the shelter I got him from could not tell us the truth, we have fallen for him and because he has sort of taken the place of our recently lost dog, we can’t bear to give him up. My family is used to taking care of animals that no one else would keep…fact is we don’t give up on them, and we hope someday down the road, our pup will learn to trust and settle down, until then I use gloves to handle him, and we keep our distance unless he asks for attention, but even then we never know. So the answer is not science or a deep discussion it is really simple, Is the dog adoptable. if not is euthanasia an answer or a life in a cage at some no-kill shelter better, or if adopted out, will and does the dog show signs of aggression and a tendency to bite. Just think on it, and this is from a person who has dealt with this, just saying…keep us adopters in mind too.

    Reply
    • Cristina – You are framing the conversation in terms of false choices: “life in a cage at some no-kill shelter”, “adopt out a dog you know is dangerous and then look the other way” or killing are not what anyone here is advocating and these certainly are not the only available options. You say you do not want to consider “science or a deep discussion” in examining this issue. If you are being truthful, this is not the place for you. I tried to make that clear in the post and in the title. We are looking at the science of behavior, those qualified to judge it and having an in-depth discussion about the many gray areas of this complex issue. I’m sorry you are living with a biting dog but if you are willing to consider science at some point, I would suggest help is available to your dog and your family from an accredited canine behaviorist. I hope for all your sakes you will at least keep this option in mind even if you are unwilling to take action at this time.

      Reply
    • anon

       /  January 4, 2013

      It is not appropriate to adopt out dogs like this. These are the cases I hear every week and that keep me up at night. Some shelters know about problems but keep quiet because they just want the dog to walk out alive. Other times, the dog is too stressed in the environment to show these behaviors. Other times it just doesn’t come up.

      Now, the good news. As he’s is in your home and there is some sort of bond, you do have options and improvement can VERY likely be made. Contact your veterinarian and ask for a referral to a ‘board certified veterinary behaviorist’. If that is absolutely too far away, have your vet call and talk to the nearest one to discuss diagnosis/treatment/referral to a closer vet who specializes in behavior (but isn’t board certified).

      Reply
      • It’s not appropriate to adopt out a dog who chases fast moving objects/animals? That covers a lot of dogs!

      • anon

         /  January 4, 2013

        If a dog has known strong predatory/reactive behaviors, no, he should not be adopted out to the average pet home. The average home doesn’t know what the appropriate behavior modification takes in terms of skill, time, and effort. An adopter should not be afraid of his/her dog and have to use gloves to handle the dog on a regular basis (as the poster seemed to describe).

        From just the description, no, I don’t think the dog should be euthanized, provided a facility had the resources to humane provide the appropriate training.

        And the underlying frustration and sadness in the comment… it’s something I want to avoid others experiencing as much as possible.

      • Sabs

         /  January 4, 2013

        Dogs (Especially hunting breeds like your JRT) should not be put down because of natural instinct. The dogs I deal with are greyhounds and if we started killing them for prey drive the breed would go extinct.

        People really need to do their homework when it comes to what dog is going to work for them.

    • Why not take your dog to qualified trainers or behaviorists before presuming he is the dog from hell? Or, at the very least, getting some books by trainers like Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller…there is a lot available here at http://www.dogwise.com. Much of his behavior sounds like normal predatory behavior (he is a terrier, and they do like to stalk, chase, and bite). I’m glad he is with you (it sounds like you will keep him), but what you are describing does not indicate he is unworthy of being alive or that he is unmanageable.

      Reply
      • mikken

         /  January 4, 2013

        Agreed. Sounds like an untrained terrier with a high prey drive and lack of structure.

        My neighbor had had Labs all her life. One day, she adopts a JRT and is completely thrown for a loop. She had no idea that not all dogs are like Labs and thought that she was a very capable dog owner – until she has this little terror standing on her dining room table peeing on the silver charger plates and defying her every command (including “don’t eat the washing machine”). She ended up giving him to someone with terrier experience, who turned him around into a properly-behaved dog.

        Of course, this same neighbor then gets a Cane Corso puppy for her kid….

      • Are they just like Labs too?

      • mikken

         /  January 4, 2013

        Turns out, no. But she read on Wikipedia that they made good family dogs, so she figured that it was ok.

      • I wonder if the Wiki entry for every breed of dog says they make good family dogs. Hell, maybe every entry says “they’re just like Labs” for all I know.

      • mikken

         /  January 4, 2013

        She called me while she was on her way to buy the puppy…I implored her to do her research on the breed before buying. She found the wiki entry on her smartphone, which apparently reassured her that she was making the right decision.

        That dog got rehomed as well after the kid was bitten twice.

      • So you’re saying checking Wikipedia on your phone while driving (!) to pick up your puppy does not qualify as research? How uppity.

      • mikken

         /  January 4, 2013

        Yeah, one of my many failings.

    • Laconic

       /  January 5, 2013

      It sounds to me that you have a perfectly normal, decently-bred Jack Russell terrier that lacks a meaningful job and structure in its life: it’s a horror-story. Like many functional breeds, they come with strong predilections that it is up to you to either channel productively or else suffer as they come out as the dog sees fit.

      ‘Fixing’ the dog is really a case of fixing yourselves: you’re going to have to rise up to the challenge of giving it something to do, training it (with consequences for misbehaviour, not ‘no cookie’ — its drives are far too strong and self-rewarding to care) and remaining consistent. Get in touch with your local chapter of the JRTCA http://www.therealjackrussell.com/index.php They have lots of members who know all about the challenge of keeping jacks and can help. Check out their advice columns in particular — I bet you’ll see your dog in them!

      Good luck.

      Reply
  20. I’m not going to delve into your first question, as evaluating “aggressive” behavior can be complex and managing/modifying/treating behavior is also dependent on a whole host of factors. I think others have addressed those issues.

    If a well-run, qualified sanctuary is available, it should always be used. (Well-run and qualified are up for debate, of course).

    Reply
  21. jesse isaacs

     /  January 4, 2013

    my dog was labeled as viscous and mean and agressive.. she was a akita. never been in a cage or on a leash being we are from the country. when she was in there she clearly was terrified and scared. also if they were more educated they would know how stubborn akitas are and how they are one person owners they will sit wait for their owner till death very passionate dogs. they put her to sleep because he ” growled” at people who they got close to her cage or tried to get her out.. never bit snapped or anything. she was put down because ” the staff” didnt want to work with her. instead of giving her more time to adjust or work with her they put her down. ohh by the way its mostly volenteers who are 15 n 6 years old who porbley dont know a thing about breeds or mean dogs and have no right to say my dog is mean. she was scared she was waiting for me. so when her 72 hour hold time was up they killed her.. they kileld her two hours before i got there. the point is.. they killed a dog because they were unedutcated young idiots who had no right making a call lik that. they didnt take into account they she might not have ever been caged or that maybe she needed a few more days. oh and the kennel wasnt full they had more then enough room to give her a few more days to adjust and settle in. she passed her test and everything they said but i guess the next day she started acting up the next day or what ever. but she had no bite historyand didnt bite attack or anything while she was up there.. she simply was scared and didnt want no one to hurt her. she was a super great dog. and super sad… but if you ask me they had no right juts cause some 16 yr olds said shes growling that doesnt mean shes mean or going to bite. they were able to walk her and said she played with other dogs and what not.. doesnt sound mean. so if you ask me killing any dog should be ilegal. they should only take in a dog or stray if they have room to keep her til adoption or send her off some where else to be worked with. and if the dog does bite or attack then yea put ti down its dangerous but some dogs just freak with out there owners and dogs like that need more time and shelters need more educated people there who will take into account the breeds and previous living conditions andall dogs should have a 3 or 6 month hold to allow them to adjust and be worked with.. 72 hours is not enough. it could take some dogs weeks to adjust to a enviroment like that..

    my opinion is.. no kill. its wrong. its i,moral and if there going to continue this process dogs need more time to adjust and only educated professionals need to work at shelters who are educated enough to make these dicisions. not 16 yr old volenteers. every dog stray or not at one time had a home and some one who lvoed them but they dont give poeple or the dog enough time to find homes or their owners. or in my case the time to come up with the money to get her out.

    please. stop killing our dogs.

    Reply
  22. KarenJ

     /  January 4, 2013

    I know we can all see how difficult it is to get a straight line answer – or an agreed upon protocol for Killing animals OR euthanasia. There are so many factors and so many breed characteristics to consider. What should NOT happen – I think we all agree is”
    1. ONE person should NOT be the only opinion to decide on the life or death of any animal
    2. If an animal has somewhere to go that is safe and reputable – then the animal should be allowed to go there
    3. Breed should NEVER be the deciding factor on a life
    4. SPACE should NOT be the deciding factor on a life
    5. BUDGET should not be the deciding factor on a life

    The NO KILL EQUATION takes all of these items and more into consideration. The reason it works is because the speculation, the lack of transparency, and the ego and power struggles are taken OUT of the decision tree.

    When a Shelter or AC Director works with rescues and volunteers – the options for animals immediately open up – where there were no options before. When open hours match the hours needed to get adopters to the facility to meet the animals – even more options open up for the animals. ALL of these people have networks and friends even if they personally don’t take an animal.

    NO ONE has the ability to save all the animals in one facility alone. It takes a community – it takes a village…

    Great dialogue everyone.

    Reply
  23. This is timely, as I just heard yesterday of a local rancher who has two female feral(?) dogs on his land. One (described as “Rotty mix” and “aggressive”) has an older litter of pups that a local rescue is rounding up today, the other is reportedly pregnant. The land owner apparently is threatening to shoot whichever dogs aren’t rounded up soon. And the rescue people seem to be kind of shrugging their shoulders because there’s no where else for “aggressive” or supposedly feral dogs to go. (Keep in mind this is all second hand info.)

    I’ve offered to temporarily foster the “feral-acting” puppies, but don’t have the set-up or experience to handle a large scared mama dog. We’re in rural, North-Eastern Oregon and have very few resources at our fingertips. The rescue doing the pup round-up is one of the only ones in the entire region.

    Got anything for me? I suggested they contact Olympia Animal Sanctuary for advice, if nothing else (I know he’s usually busy and full.)

    Reply
  24. I am no expert. I have heard from a couple of trainers who have been in the business a long time that they feel some of what we are seeing is related to:
    The dog food
    EMF smog sensitivities (similar to whales/dolphins)
    So my question is without a history of being a fighting dog etc- are there other therapies that can be used? Drug, environmental, dietary. Just saying…

    Reply
  25. Tonya

     /  January 15, 2013

    This is a huge issue, i know recently at a local shelter here, a mastiff mix he came in as a stray with a bullet wound and about 50 pounds underweight. after the 5 day hold, he was killed. My feelings are if he was recovering from a bullet wound -maybe a quick eval was not the answer.

    Reply
  26. Catherine Duff

     /  March 12, 2014

    I volunteer in a shelter with a dog that is toy possessive and is now displaying signs of aggression toward people/staff he does not know. Once outside in the fenced dog park and after lots exercise he becomes a more relaxed dog. To my knowledge no behavioral work is being done with him to work on the possessiveness or his aggression. His future is uncertain and he has been labelled in the shelter, but I am certain more can be done to make him adoptable to the right/experienced home.

    Reply
    • db

       /  March 12, 2014

      It sounds, unfortunately, like he doesn’t have a good chance of making it out alive unless they are willing to put him in a foster home with some training support.

      Reply
  27. Grumpigramp

     /  March 26, 2014

    But then you have dogs like Mickey. The one who not only killed a dog, but then later bit the face of a 4 year old so bad that he will be going through surgeries for years, and may have mental issues from it for life. Yes children do get PTSD and even more severe. Yet a judge, who has no qualifications sentences this dog to a lifetime in a sanctuary or kennel and it may NEVER be adopted, must be neutered (good thing) and have his fangs removed. Having killed another dog already means a lifetime in a cage.

    Which is more humane, all this, or euthanasia?

    Reply
  28. Maggie

     /  June 15, 2014

    I found this article while researching what others are doing to re-home ‘aggressive dogs.’ I’ve been a specialist now for many years, caring for aggression cases and the truth is there is A LOT OF INFORMATION to be learned from these dogs. My bleif is that some of them should be made available for teaching schools for dog trainers then placed with families/people who then have access to the professional support they need right off the bat. Not to mention these dogs would have the opportunity to receive some serious training and experience in the interim. Just a thoughtful solution.

    Reply

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