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Euthanize biting dog?

Species: Dog
Breed: lab/shepard?
Age: 2-5 years
My name is Meghan and I am going through a super tough situation and thought maybe you could offer some insight.

I adopted a rescue dog (Eddy) in February of 2011 from our local Humane Society in Revelstoke, BC. I knew from the posting and meeting him that he would be a handful, but I was up for the challenge as I am very active and was looking for an activity partner and wanted to rescue an abused dog. I was also very involved in the search and rescue and noticed that his drive would be good for the CARDA program (Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association). We went through the certification process, but in the end I did not end up validating him, as I wasn't able to feel confident in our ability as an avalanche team. That said, he was still a great companion and exercise buddy. He has always had huge drive. He was neutered very late (after I got him so probably around 1.5 years old). I think he is a lab/shepherd cross but I'm not sure. He shows lab tendencies while eating and shepherd tendencies for everything else. Anyways, as I said, he has always seemed to have a screw loose - barking and biting at the tires when taking him biking/running etc. I tried to calm him down with a shock collar and that seemed to work...but only to an extent.

2 summers ago I was out for a run and a friend of mine biked by...I didn't have a good hold of the leash and Eddy took off with vengeance. He barked at my friend and actually bit him in the shin and broke skin (not deep but still enough to devastate me). I realized the situation was him being overly excited and decided I would try to mitigate this. Later on that summer I was taking him for a run. When I let him off his leash, he got so excited that he actually jumped up on me and bit my bum, broke skin (not deep). Again, I was more shocked than anything else...and after a week or so I had almost forgotten about it (since it was me that he bit). This past summer, some friends took him out mountain biking (I wasn't there), and when one friend tried to reprimand him for barking, he took a large chunk out of his hand that required stitches. My friend was ok with it, saying that he had provoked him and that he was wearing a bark collar so he thought he associated the shock of the collar with my friends hand. Anyways, still no excuse. I decided that from then on that was the last straw, and I would take him out biking with me only, or me and one friend so I could be there to control him.

That seemed to work well. However, a few days ago, my roommate was babysitting a 5 year old boy. Me and Eddy were out for a run and when I got home, I let him off his leash as I normally do. I didn't realize there was a child there and he went roaring up to him. The child started screaming just out of nerves and Eddy lunged at him. No skin was broken, but you could tell there was a red mark where he put his mouth. I feel completely defeated. I feel like I have tried so hard with this dog (and he is so lovely 99% of the time). But I just can't afford to have him bite again. I guess why I'm writing is to see if you think that the humane thing to do would be to put him down. I'm so upset but I just don't know what my options are, I love him so much but I can't keep having this happen and keep making excuses for him as to why he got aggressive. Is there any other solution other than putting him down?

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh, this is such a difficult situation. I can understand how devastating this must be.

As you already know, there is no easy solution to Eddy's behavior problem. It's interesting because your Eddy sounds like my dog Eddie who I had in college. Eddie was a lovely dog 99% of the time but every now and then he would get aggressive. In his case it was mostly towards other dogs. However, I would never leave him alone with children because I was always worried about the "what if".

Have you thought about seeing a veterinary behavior specialist? These vets are like psychologists for pets. They are very good at diagnosing why a dog does things like this and also training you how to train him. I have seen dogs rehabilitated from behavior problems like this but it takes a lot of work. It usually also takes medication such as Reconcile which is a form of Prozac for dogs. Dogs handle medications like this well and if it works well for him then he might be able to come off of the medication once he is retrained. If you were going to try this type of training I would only recommend doing it with a veterinary behavior specialist, not with a layman dog trainer.

The specialist can also tell you whether rehabilitation is likely. If they predict that success is unlikely then it is possible that euthanasia might have to be considered.

With my Eddie, I kept him on a leash all the time. In some sense it might have seemed unfair, but in my mind it was better than euthanasia. Another thing that you could consider if you wanted him to run free is getting a cage muzzle for him. It won't hurt him, but it will attract some unusual stares from people. A cage muzzle is a kind where he can breathe and pant just fine while it is on.

With all of this being said, if it is not possible to keep Eddy from other people, especially children then yes, I do think that euthanasia has to be considered. A dog who bites, even just occasionally can be a very dangerous weapon.

This is a really tough situation. Let me know if you have questions.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.