When is euthanasia the right answer for behavioral issues?

A dogs life, hanging in the balance. If you behave you live, if you do not you die. Seems harsh and extreme, but it is a reality for millions of dogs. Not one, or two, or ten, but millions. Maybe not your idea of a functioning healthy relationship, but for others IT IS.

In shelters, even ‘no kill’ shelters, which is an article all unto itself, dogs are temperament tested and if it is found the dog is dangerous and cannot go back out into society safely, they are euthanized. For some shelters it is simply overcrowding that buys a dog the euthanasia ticket, and sometimes it is the breed or breed mix. Don’t look the right way? … adios amigo.

In homes with low tolerance levels, dogs may pee on a carpet, shred a pillow, bark too much, or nip at the baby who was left unattended with the dog, and the dog is euthanized. Simple and easy decision making for some, a quick drive, and drop off!

Over crowding. Bye.

Multiple dog household conflicts. Bye to one of you. Eeny meeny miney moe …

Unmanaged, under exercised, bored, and jacked on sugary food? Too much to handle. Bye.

Moving. Bye.

Baby is arriving in two weeks and we never got around to socializing our dog to new people. The risk is too high. Bye.

Dog that is routinely hit by owner in the name of training, and then the dog finally fights back against the asshole person. Bye.

Neighborhood dog attacks your dog every time you leave the house, and now your dog is reactive to all dogs that come close. Can’t have that on off leash trails and friends summer bbq’s. Bye.

Seem unrealistic to you? These are all very real scenarios, lived by very real people, that I have talked with or even worked with over the years. And I am just one trainer in one city, in one state, in a very large country. You do the math.

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We fostered a dog years ago, a four year old male border collie, Oceans brother as it turned out. He was taken to the veterinary to be euthanized, the veterinarian agreed, but the veterinary technician called to see if a border collie rescue could take him, or possibly me. When I asked what was wrong, she simply said, “nothing, the older couple is afraid he might pee on the Persian carpets one day, and they would rather have him euthanized than send him back to the shelter”. So we took him, and he was fostered by some of our clients for a bit, and then came to live with us for almost six months before we found him a forever home.

There was a lot more to his story, like four years of horrific abuse that was almost unimaginable, before he went to the shelter. He wasn’t a dog for just anyone, and I can imagine the difficult time the older couple was having with their decision making. He was WAY over their skill and comfort level. They did what they thought was humane, for a dog that had been dealt a shit hand of cards from the get go. I do not fault them at all.

He lived with us for an extended period of time because he needed time to decompress, learn to trust again if that was even possible, and just breathe. During this time we interviewed people that were interested in him. His next transition was to be forever, and we were going to see to that. We did find him an awesome home eventually, on a  ranch, with a farrier couple, that also did mule pack trips into the back country. He found the ‘golden wrapper’. And for all of the horror he lived through in his earlier life, he was given the best of the best life for any dog.

But this is rare, so super rare.

There aren’t people lining up for dogs with major emotional damage, that have the potential to inflict great damage on other people or animals.That is a fact.

So do I ever recommend euthanasia or support my clients who come to that decision on their own?

Yes.

The the owner/guardian of a dog has the only decision making power that counts though.

And I have recommended euthanasia. In almost thirteen years, I have recommended euthanasia five times. Keep in mind that I work with about four hundred puppies/dogs a year.

Here is my criteria when I recommend euthanasia –

  1. When a dog has caused damage/harm to a person, dog, or place. Two or more times. Damage or harm is real damage or harm, not just barking or growling.
  2. During the temperament evaluation and history gathering I find two or more indicators; anti social to humans, resident dog (tied or chained in yard, or kennel), no training or knowledge of human words, unable to function in the presence of humans (eat, breathe normally, walk normally), handled with corrections, unsocialized (to people, places, things, events and other dogs)
  3. AND, and these are BIG AND’s – when I find that the OWNER/S of the dog has no concept of training, management, socialization, or care. AND that there will be no compliance to working or managing the dog. AND there is little to no money to build a fence, buy a kennel, and/or care for the dog nutritionally or medically. AND they believe through some miracle, that tomorrow their dog will act like Lassie through absolutely no effort on their part (unrealistic expectations)
  4. Because of the bite/damage history, the dog (for liability reasons) cannot be rehomed, or go to a shelter or rescue.

So for me, it is a dog and owner combination that would lead me to recommending euthanasia. It is for the safety of the home, but also the neighborhood and community.

Is it the fault of the breeder, dog, or owner? I don’t know. Perhaps a perfect shit storm. But it never ends well for anyone. Either they take my recommendation, or they don’t. And the ones who have not usually end up living with some pretty gruesome memories forever, because they were holding out for a perfect dog, in a perfect life.

It isn’t a pretty conversation, nor one I talk about daily, but it is there nonetheless. I am not a save every dog kind of person, I don’t think that is realistic. But through more knowledge and better choices, I would like to believe that we can all do better.

With kindness and love ~ Nancy

5 thoughts on “When is euthanasia the right answer for behavioral issues?

  1. 😦 This brings tears and heartbreak to me in remembering the one and only dog I ever had to euthanize because of behavioral issues – I still struggle with the guilt and the memories every day because like it or not – the ones you spend so much time working with and managing and loving to turn them around are the ones you are most attached to (okay well some of us have that issue). Nicely written Nancy!

  2. Beautifully shared. Unfortunately, the families who do abuse, abandon and neglect their dogs are the very people who need to hear this message LOUD and CLEAR. I think it is nearly impossible to change the human, I think our only hope is to build upon the mission of rescue for all viable animals and proper placement into FOREVER homes.

  3. Nancy,

    Thank you for this posting, it brings me back to the first dog I took in from a shelter, I was totally inexperienced and so in love with her that I made several mistakes. The first time she put her teeth on me I was totally shocked but knew I needed expert help. The first animal behaviorist I consulted admited after two sessions that she herself was afraid of the dog. After trial and error with two more trainers I had to make a decision about the dogs future, euthanize or work harder for her sake. I decided to try a few more weeks and found a retired military dog trainer. I took her into the room and began talking about the dogs behavior,
    he said, “enough about the dog, it is YOU I want to talk about”. That day began my new relationship with that dog and I kept her with me for 12 years until she passed away with cancer. It was not simple and I did have to “manage ” her all that time but she was my Teacher and I loved her.

    This is not to say that this is possible for many dogs/owners. I have taken in 8 dogs in the past 15 years, having as many 6 in my home at one time. Three of my dogs came from shelters, three were rehomed to me and two came from border collie rescue. They all taught me so much but none like that first girl from the shelter.

    I feel deep pain for owners who make the decision to euthanize. However after 10 years as a pet sitter I can see that many many people make very bad decisions when choosing a dog. I have seen so many wonderful dogs living bored, under exercised and unstimulating lives because the owners got the wrong dog or simply were “low information” owners, as I was at one time. It is surprising that more of these dogs don’t become unstable and dangerous.

    Time to stop rambling, step off my soap box and play some games with Fallon.

    Patricia

  4. I currently have a dog I am sure would not have “lived” through the system. While he is a handful, he is not destructive to others or his place. But we are still learning. And yes, WE are still learning. For Stitch, big exercise walks ball frisbee help tremendously. I am leaving a message, because when I first got Stitch, many people thought that I would have to give him up. But I am commited to his learning and safety. And making each day of his life a success. I am so sorry for the dogs that have too deep of a life scar…and hope they all come across a vet like yours, or even you! ps could you email me a training park in so cal like yours?

    1. sometimes it is just the dog, but most of the time it is the pairing of a person/s that are non compliant to management and care, and a dog way over their skill level. That is the shit storm that can cost a dog its life.

      When there is a person willing to step up tot he plate, learn more, do better, and adjust their life in order to learn more about the dog they have, change can happen.

      It is almost never that I see a dog with a caring and well managed household that needs to be euthanized.

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