As a professional I am asked difficult questions weekly if not daily.  One of the hardest questions I have been asked over the years is, “Can you fix my dog”?   Unfortunately, the answer is more complicated than just “yes” or “no”.  Over the years I have helped many people save their dogs with behavioral issues through training, management, and even medication protocols when teaming up with their veterinarian.  The hardest cases I have had in my career have even prompted me to consult a behaviorist for more information. You can never get enough information as a positive dog trainer. Science and psychology are ever changing.  If you don’t learn and change with the times you can not continue to help canines as they evolve in our world.  It has been disheartening when a behaviorist tells me I am doing everything that could be done; minus more costly and intensive medication and behavior modification that still will never take the dog out of the “management case for the rest of his life” category. Dogs are just like people….Not all of them CAN be “fixed”.  This is a harsh reality, but we can try every avenue to make the dog’s quality of life better until the Rainbow Bridge becomes everyone’s most humane choice.

Below are some of the steps I go through when counseling a family with two and four-legged members.  I will focus on aggression as the behavioral issue in these steps, but there are many other psychological and neurological issues dog owners may be faced with.  If you are torn in your family, please ask yourself some of these hard questions and then consult a professional to help you assess what is best for you and your dog.

The first thing I need to do is figure out what the issues are by getting all of the facts…
How big is the dog?
Are you this dog’s owner or does he belong to a rescue?
What situations did the dog show aggression in?
How old was he the first time you saw the aggression?
How often do the aggressive situations happen?
Who is living with or could come in contact with the dog?
Are their kids around this animal?
Has anyone or another animal ever been bit. and if so, how bad?
etc….etc…

After you discuss the needed information with your professional they should help you assess your situation and discuss your options with you. These are most typically re-homing the dog, training and managing the dog, and euthanasia.  Each situation is different for each household and each person in the household. There is no blanket right answer for everyone.  Here are a few more of the topics your professional should touch on, if necessary, when guiding you through the process…

Re-homing as an option: What kind of home would be perfect for your dog?
                                         Is it safe to give your dog to another family?
                                         What would your dog’s quality of life be if he went to stay
                                               with another family?
                                         How are you going to network your dog?
Training and management as an option:
                                        Do you have the time, money, and space it would take to
                                               implement the training plan laid out by your 
                                               professional trainer/ behaviorist?
                                         Are you prepared to handle situations when your
                                               management breaks down?  (as it usually does).
                                         What is your dog’s quality of life now and what will it be 
                                               after implementing the new rules?
                                         What is the quality of life for the human(s) involved?
                                         How hard is it to interrupt your dog once his aggression is 
                                               triggered?
 (All of these questions will be would also be reevaluated as the training progresses).
 Euthanasia as an option: Have you had a conversation with your 
                                                 veterinarian about your decision?
                                            Could my dog be a seriously potential danger to himself, 
                                                    or other dogs/ people that  could come in contact 
                                                    with him?
                                             What is the process when euthanizing an animal?

                                         

                                       
There is so much that goes into situations as tough as these.  The key thing to remember throughout this process is that this is the family’s decision to make. Your professional is just there to answer questions and coach you through the decision you choose.  They are not there to tell you what you should do.  What is good for one family may not be the best thing for another.

The rare times that I have given a professional opinion have not been to sway a decision, but to give a realistic picture of the prognosis and/ or liability involved when you own a dangerous or special needs dog.  The injuries they can potentially pose to themselves or others are not always common sense because of the emotions involved. These are not easy conversations, but as much as we love our furry pets we have to keep human safety and the quality of life for all involved on the forefront of our minds.

There are a lot of cases that can thankfully be managed by training and responsible pet ownership. The best way to avoid these tough issues is to start early with training and socialization.  Undesirable behaviors may be genetic, from learned experiences, or from a traumatic event, but the bottom line is the same as with human beings…The earlier we notice and diagnose, the better our prognosis can become.

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