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If you haven’t paid your veterinarian to examine the health of your dog, AND haven’t hired a good, professional dog trainer and behaviorist to evaluate your dog, you shouldn’t be considering euthanasia for your dog. I should also mention that many “certified animal behaviorists” that veterinarians recommend are not qualified to address aggression problems. So, you need to be wise as to where you get your advice on behavior.
Think Before You Act
If you put your dog to death, it is going to affect you, and hit you hard, so make a good decision. When a pet dies, it is often just as intense as if a friend or family member dies. But, yet, it is different because a lot of the time, we are putting our dogs to death at the veterinarian’s office instead of letting the dog suffer and die a natural death.
My thoughts on euthanasia continue to change and develop over the years. What you read here is the result of a lot of thought and experience. What I might have done 10 years ago, I might not do today, or 10 years from now. There is no guide book on this stuff. So, I’ve been trying to develop principles about euthanasia that I can feel good about, and relating to you my opinion based upon all my years of working with dogs. It doesn’t mean I’m right. It doesn’t mean I still don’t wrestle with this topic. It doesn’t mean that others think the same as I do, or that you should agree with me. You are seeing where I’m at right now, and why I’ve come to these recommendations. I didn’t start out with all of this figured out. I’ve had to try and figure it out along the way. I have a heart for animals. I can’t stand to see them suffer. Imagine how hard it is to recommend euthanasia if you love dogs! It is the worst part about being a dog trainer. It hits me hard just as if the dog was mine. And I’m well aware of the dangers of a vicious dog, too. I’ve met some very dangerous dogs. Imagine facing a 175 lb, vicious, Great Dane. I’ve met a dog like that, and it had the potential to be a man killer. Size doesn’t always mean the dog is safer, either. Imagine dealing with a cocker spaniel with allergies so bad that it made the dog dangerous for everyone in the family – no one could even touch the dog, the vet couldn’t cure the allergy, and pus would leak out of all the dogs toe nails. That was a very dangerous dog. Imagine a herding dog that hated kids, that got loose in the back yard and attacked a man’s 14 year old son and put him in the hospital. Or the Chesapeake Bay Retriever mix, a huge black dog, that was the biggest and most dangerous dog I’ve ever met. It was good with the family, but dangerous to all outsiders and could easily have killed someone if the kids had accidentally left the front door open. I’ve met all these dogs, and more. You have to balance the good of the dog with the safety of the people involved. It is a messy decision that will always bother you.
It is also normal for many dogs, and many dog breeds, to not be good with other people, dogs or animals. The Fila Brasiliero is NOT friendly with strangers. That is normal. A Doberman is not to be faulted if it is aggressive towards other dogs… read the AKC breed standard. That is normal for the breed. These dogs need a different home if you can’t handle the dog, not euthanasia. Many breeds are watchdogs, guard dogs, flock guards, personal protection dogs, or hunting dogs, that were bred to attack and even kill. That isn’t abnormal for these breeds. It is YOUR FAULT, not the dog’s fault, if you put a dog in a situation that goes against its breeding. Find the dog another home, don’t put it down.
Then, there are dogs that aren’t well. A natural death would most likely either be one where the animal would suffer alone until it was over, or the sick animal would be attacked by a predator and killed instantly. Euthanasia requires us to play God and make the kill ourselves.
It is always hard to make that decision, and sometimes we end up prolonging the suffering of our dogs to avoid our own emotional suffering. It takes courage to do what’s best for the dog in these circumstances. Also, I think most pet owners feel waves of intense guilt when they make that final decision and tell the vet that it is OK to kill their pet, even if the pet’s life is clearly at an end and the pet is suffering horribly. It’s our respect for life that causes us to feel this way. I think it is normal. So long as you can justify why you are doing this, and are very clear the reasons why this is the best choice for the animal, then you can live with it. It is inhumane to prolong the life of a dying animal to the point that the animal is suffering. I have watched that happen, and it doesn’t make the end any prettier. If the animal is dying, then please, end its suffering by going to your veterinarian and having them put your dog to death.
There are two reasons why you put a dog to death.
The first is for health reasons. I think if the animal is suffering and has no way of coming back to being healthy, then it is time to put the dog down, and you can ultimately feel justified in doing so. Yet, what about the dog where the medical costs are beyond your ability to pay? Tough call. You have a higher moral responsibility to support yourself and your family over a dog, when push comes to shove. So long as you can’t find someone else, or a rescue group to take the dog and pay for it’s medical care, then euthanasia is justified. However… you need to exhaust all your options… ask people for help, donations, for the care. Many people will give money to help save a dog. It would be wrong to not ask, to not do a diligent job of asking for help. If there is an expensive health problem, and no money to pay for the medical care, and no place that will take your dog… man that’s tough. If the dog’s alternative is to suffer or starve to death, then it is justified to put the dog down. Have you done EVERYTHING POSSILBE to raise the money, get donations, appeal to vets to donate services, etc? What if the medical problem makes your home unsanitary or unsafe? I remember a situation where the vet botched the spaying of a Bichon Frise, so the dog could not hold in its urine. It peed on itself, where it slept, as it walked along in the home, it could not stop peeing. The owners put the dog down. Yes, maybe they could have put diapers on the dog for the rest of its life, but I believe their decision was morally right. It is also morally and legally wrong to just ignore a dog’s medical needs. You need to spend the money. And it is not right to let a dog suffer in pain and misery because you don’t want to face up to the possibility that the only right course is euthanasia.
The second reason is for behavioral problems. This one is a bit more murky because a professional evaluation needs to be done. If the dog is vicious, meaning the dog is mentally unbalanced and dangerous, then euthanasia is justified. A vicious dog is one that behaves in a way that is not natural for canines. It is natural, for example, for a dog to kill animals it sees as prey. So, killing a cat or horse or bird isn’t viciousness… if the dog wasn’t socialized with these as a puppy, then they are food to the dog. Sometimes, even with lots of socialization, you can’t override a dog’s natural tendency to hunt and kill prey… that means nature trumps nurture. It is natural for a guard dog to attack someone or another animal intruding on territory… that can’t be trained or bred out of a dog. Hurting or teasing a dog, or challenging it for dominance or for it’s food could provoke an attack. Again, that doesn’t mean the dog is vicious. Just because a dog bites someone or even kills them doesn’t mean the dog is vicious. That may not be what the law says, but that is true from a behavioral standpoint. If you put a dog in an impossible situation where it feels it must protect, and the dog attacks, then is the dog to blame? If the law is forcing you to put your dog to death, then the higher moral law is to obey the authorities, to put the dog down, and your decision is justified. If you don’t agree with the law, then work to change the law, or fight it in court. But, if you can’t or don’t decide to challenge the law, then the law is to be obeyed, and that is morally right, and euthanasia is justified. If the dog’s behavior is dangerous for the dog, then it is a more difficult decision to put a dog down. What if the dog is an escape artist, and there’s no way to keep the dog from jumping to its death out third story windows, digging out of the yard and being hit by a car, or chewing through walls and consuming something that would choke the dog to death? I think if you’ve done everything, including hiring the best professional dog trainer in your town to help you, and the dog is a danger to itself, and there is no way to find a new home and/or make the dog safe for itself… maybe you should put the dog down. I think it is morally wrong to put a dog down for behavioral reasons if you haven’t first worked with a professional dog trainer / behaviorist on the problem and taken it as far as their program, and your budget, will allow. I think the euthanasia decision should be made in conjunction with the advice and consent of your veterinarian, dog trainer and family. If all are in agreement that the dog is, in human terms, “suicidal”, and is going to kill itself, then euthanasia is justified to prevent the suffering of the animal.
There may be other examples, and you’ll have to decide yourself what to do. I know, personally, how hard it is. The grief and guilt can be pretty intense. If you have to put a dog down, and if you are a dog person, cry it all out, then get another dog once your emotions have calmed down. The new dog won’t replace the old dog, but the new dog will fill your heart with love and fill the hole that was rent in your soul when the other dog died.
I will say that is is crazy to put a dog down for behavioral reasons if you haven’t diligently worked with a good professional BEHAVIORIST to address the situation, including aggression. I have turned around so many dogs that I know for a fact that way too many dogs are put to death unnecessarily. I also see way too many dogs put down by shelters and rescue organizations for fear of liability. Look folks, you are in the RESCUE BUSINESS!!! You, of all people, should be working to turn around dogs with issues. See it as a cry for help, and if you need assistance, I’m sure many professional trainers will donate time, like I do, to help.
Behavioral Reasons for Euthanasia: My current factors considered for recommending euthanasia for potentially dangerous dogs are as follows. Decisions and recommendations like this are never easy. All these factors, as a whole, and other information, should be considered by the owner before deciding to put a dog to death. I think you should talk to a professional dog trainer before making this decision. NOTE: There is NEVER a justifiable reason for putting a dog down because of its breed.
* Training / Behavior Modification hasn’t resulted in an acceptable change in the dog;
* There is significant risk and/or evidence that dog is going to seriously injure someone; aggression problems don’t automatically mean the dog will injure someone or is dangerous; I am referring to the idea that even with reasonable precautions, supervision, training and behavior modification, the dog is still going to get around all of that and hurt someone;
* You have made a reasonable effort to work with the dog and situation; meaning you have PAID a professional to help you, worked the situation properly and diligently, and you still can’t trust the dog to not hurt itself, another animal or a person;
* The dog is so dangerous you can’t place the dog with someone else;
* The owner isn’t willing, or is unable, or unqualified, to work with the dog any further, even with supervised professional help; some people won’t follow instructions, so some of these dogs would be fine in the hands of someone else, but not the current owner;
* Regardless what you do (behavior modification, training, and/or behavioral medications) nothing has made the dog manageable, and your trainer is recommending you consider euthanasia;
* Even behavioral medications can’t alleviate the problem; I am experienced working with drugs prescribed by veterinarians and can give you feedback as to how things are going, or when you might wish to consider another drug;
* This dog is too dangerous to work with.
* Dogs that are dangerous with children: BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING… PLEASE READ… 1.) My Dog Growls At My Child ; 2.) What About Kids Teasing A Dog By Barking At It? ; 3.) Jealous Dogs ; 4.) Help! My Dog Bit My 10 Year Old Son For example, I won’t work with dogs that have demonstrated they are dangerous to the children of the family: I’m referring to dogs which have a “screw loose” and lack the normal social inhibition of biting children. Unless they can be placed in a responsible adult home, they are dangerous and should be put down. REPEAT: DOGS THAT ARE DANGEROUS AROUND CHILDREN MIGHT BE VICIOUS AND MIGHT NEED TO BE PUT DOWN IF THE DOG IS GOING TO BE AROUND CHILDREN. I’m referring to dogs that YOU HAVE HIRED A PROFESSIONAL BEHAVIORIST AND COMPLETED A FULL BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION PLAN, BUT CAN’T BE MADE SAFE, which would outright attack and maul a child if loose in the same room or yard. I DON’T BLAME A DOG that is defending itself from some bratty, abusive kid. I AM REFERRING TO A DIFFERENT TYPE OF DOG: if you were to let this dog loose in your living room, and the child was there, the dog would immediately lock onto the child with its eyes, run over, and severely injure or kill the child. Some dogs aren’t this intense, but still too dangerous to be around a child. If you decide to keep a dangerous dog, then you must keep the dog away from children 100% of the time. Not everyone can do this. DOGS THAT HAVE BEEN ABUSED BY YOUR KIDS NEED TO BE PLACED IN A DIFFERENT HOME, AND YOU SHOULDN’T OWN ANOTHER DOG. YOU ARE NOT A GOOD PARENT.
* The decision to put the dog down is being made in a rational manner. I have met people who wanted to put down a dog that didn’t deserve it. I have seen people imagine a dog is dangerous when really that person has emotional problems and the dog is just responding to an unstable home environment. There are cases where vindictive spouses put the family dog down just to get revenge on the other spouse;
* Placement is not an option. Many dogs do better in a different home. I have seen many cases of dogs that were 100% “cured” by living somewhere else. This isn’t always an option and doesn’t always fix the problem. But, a lot can be done in a home with experienced “dog people” who know how to manage a dog properly. On the other hand, you sometimes need to find a dog a new home, and no one, and no rescue organization, will take the dog; or, you are being forced by the law to put the dog down, or risk going to jail. When this is the case, then sometimes euthanasia is the only solution.
* The problem doesn’t change, or worsens, over time, even with professional help;
* The owners are justifiably fearful of the dog, according to the trainer / behaviorist, and there is nowhere else for the dog to go;
* The dog has been professionally evaluated, and the professional is recommending euthanasia;
* The problems have been going on a long time and the dog has been given every chance for change; money has been spent with a professional trainer / behaviorist;
* The behavior is unpredictable and/or uncontrollable;
* There is an extreme temperament problem with dog; the dog IS NOT TYPICAL OF THE BREED STANDARD;
* The problem cannot be solved with proper training, behavior modification, change in the way the dog is being managed, or a leash, muzzle, kennel and/ or fence.
Thus, it would be WRONG to kill a dog because you don’t like dogs; other people don’t like your dog; you don’t want to spend money on your dog; your dog makes you angry; your dog has bitten someone and you haven’t hired a professional to work out the problem; your dog has a manageable and/ or curable medical condition; your dog is a certain breed of dog; etc.
Euthanasia should ONLY be performed by a veterinarian. You should NOT do it yourself. First, because you might cause unnecessary suffering to your dog. Second, a trainer or veterinarian might be able to save your dog, and you’d be killing your dog without a good reason. Third, you could go to jail. Do you want to go to prison for killing a dog? Unless it is an emergency, like you are 1000 miles from any help and your dog is dying a painful death and you feel the only humane way is to kill your dog immediately, then there’s no moral, behavioral or legal justification for you to kill your own dog yourself.
I’m Not Perfect, So I Have To Be Cautious And So Should You
I have wrestled over the years regarding euthanasia recommendations. I have recommended euthanasia at times, and I wrestle even today with some of those situations. Here’s the problem. I can sometimes make a dog 90% better than it was, but the owners don’t maintain the lessons and stop following the rules I taught them. I am thinking of such a dog, a pit bull, abused by a drug dealer and his girlfriend. The dog was extremely dangerous. It bit a newspaper delivery man who reached over the fence. The man reported the injury to animal control, and even though the man clearly provoked the bite by what he did, the city got involved, the owner was fined. I made the dog 90% better. You could take the dog in public and strangers could pet the dog. Yet, I told them to never do this kind of thing. What did they do? A few months later, I found out they were taking the dog to pet stores an letting strangers pet the dog. They then invited a friend over and left the dog unsupervised. The dog bit the woman severely on the arm. They didn’t follow my instructions.
I also know of a dog that was owned by a dog trainer. He acquired the dog after the owner abandoned the dog. By all outward appearances, the dog was a very sociable dog. But the trainer knew more. This was a very aggressive dog. A breeder said he was wanting to breed protection dogs, so he wanted it as part of his breeding program. The trainer then sold the dog to that breeder, and warned him not to be fooled. That friendliness was only a sign of the dog’s confidence. This was a protection dog. Many people assume that a good protection dog is snarling and baring it’s teeth all the time. No way. That’s not the reality. The breeder didn’t believe the trainer, so he let the dog run loose on his property like any pet dog would. Until one day someone entered into the breeder’s property unannounced, and the dog attacked the man. The breeder frantically called the trainer afterwards, and was reminded of the serious warning he was given when he purchased the dog. The dog eventually was sold to a police department and apprehended many criminals. There was nothing wrong with this dog, and it didn’t deserve euthanasia.
Moral of the story: euthanasia recommendations must involve evaluating the dog and the owner. Even if I turn a dog around, it doesn’t mean that the dog will remain better, or that the owners will manage the dog properly once the lessons are complete. So, when I size up a dog, if I determine the dog is unstable, and after sizing up the owners and their lifestyle, if it all doesn’t fit, then I’m going to be more likely to recommend euthanasia. If the dog is normal, but the owners incapable of managing the dog, then I recommend finding the dog a new home.
I was told by a competitor once that they had taken a dog that I had recommended for euthanasia and “cured” the dog. Fine. I probably could have “cured” the dog, too. That doesn’t mean the future situation was going to be all right. Maybe my judgment was wrong. I don’t know, no one can know. And I didn’t see the dog afterwards, so who knows if the story was even true, or if the dog still had triggers for biting. People will say nasty things in business, go for the “mental kill”, to bully others, and that is the way I perceived this communication. No other competitor has ever said something like this, so I leave it up to you to decide what was going on. As a general rule, if I recommend euthanasia for an unstable dog, after meeting the owners and dog, then I’m relying on my gut, and past experience, to say that even with the training, I still think someone is going to be injured by the dog. I’ve seen enough of these types of situations to know that it isn’t as simple as “curing” a dog. That pit bull I mentioned still had a trigger from past abuse. Once such a trigger is in place, it is still possible for the dog to bite in the future. Unstable, fear biters, are generally still going to be unstable in the future. For decades, trainers and breeders have warned about fear biting dogs, and for good reason. It used to be that fear biters were always put to death, but with modern techniques, and diligent management, many of these dogs can be saved. On the other hand, protection dogs have a role in society, but not everyone can handle such a dog. I know of people who were hospitalized by not properly managing normal protection dogs. I know of a protection bred Giant Schanauzer that put the owner in the hospital for 3 weeks after the owner tried to correct the dog’s behavior. This was a well bred, normal protection dog in the hands of a novice. Dogs like that aren’t pets, and novices should not be buying those types of dogs.
So, now you know my philosophy. You need to make a decision, and then live with what happens from there.
IF YOU FEEL YOUR DOG NEEDS BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION, THEN PLEASE CONTACT ME
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.
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