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What to do with an old dog that sometimes bites?
May 28, 2004 10:30 AM   Subscribe

What to do with an old dog that sometimes bites? We have an old (perhaps 10-12 year old?) terrier mutt that we got from a rescue organziation 3 years ago. We have a new baby (now 5 months old) and I am worried that she will grab his hair and he will bite her.

He's bitten my dad who didn't lift him up the right way. He's bitten my husband when he was trying to wash the dog's ear. He "nips" at you life you accidentally step on him but doesn't bite. He's very calm and mellow usually, and really good around our parrot who preens his tail, jumps on his head, and does other things like that that many dogs would bite over.
Should we get rid of him-is he a threat to the baby? Do you think there's a shelter or group that would take him since he's old, mostly deaf, going blind, arthritic, and sometimes bites? Should we just put him down and be glad he's had a wonderful last 3 years of his life? Some help please. It breaks my heart...
posted by aacheson to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Yes, he is definitely a threat to the baby. Infants and toddlers just do not have any sense at all when they come to animals, and though there are those wildly tolerant pets who decide the baby owns them and will let them manhandle them in any way they like, a dog that has already bitten and who nips (a nip is all it takes for a little kid, their skin is delicate,) just is not an animal you want to have around your child.

You may have quite a hard time finding a shelter who will take him, but you might be able to take out an ad in the paper - an honest ad, and some fan of the breed, or perhaps an older couple who would like a dog that isn't wildly energetic that they can still take care of and love, would take him. You really do want to get on this- dog bites aren't just a matter of a child being in pain and maybe needing stitches-even if they're not mauling wounds, they tend to get infected very quickly. My now ten-year-old son spent almost 3 weeks in the hospital when he was a toddler, for a dog bite that looked initially superficial. It's overwhelming just how quickly an infection can take hold and become serious when it comes to children.
posted by headspace at 10:41 AM on May 28, 2004


Ask yourself this question: Which is more important, the dog or the baby? There's clearly a non-zero chance that the child will be bit. If you don't care -- the biting is playful or relatively gentle -- you could probably keep the dog. If the dog really bites, why are you even asking the question?

I don't much like dogs to begin with, so my opinion should be taken only with salt, but a dog that behaves in the way you describe does not at all sound like a good companion for an infant.
posted by majick at 10:43 AM on May 28, 2004


Set aside for a moment his nipping and biting behavior. Has he actually hurt anyone? That would be the measure I'd use to make the decision. If it is a decision. If you brought the issue here, then the dog must be worth something to you, but it's hard to set that up beside a human baby and really settle a compromise between the two. Your baby will face risks and dangers, is this one significant?

I mean, your furnace probably puts out a level of carbon monoxide that is not zero-point-zero, but will it hurt anyone? I can't really tell from your comments how serious this biting is. A dog who nipped once when picked up doesn't sound like an imminent threat to me. But regardless, I would limit any animal's access to the baby. As has been said, they cac't be trusted not to grab on rover's eyelids and pull.
posted by scarabic at 10:51 AM on May 28, 2004


When he bit my dad it broke skin. The bite on my husband didn't. The baby pulled his hair the other day and he yelped and jumped away...

You guys are right that it's not worth the risk...and deep down I guess I know it. But do you think anyone would acually adopt this animal? Or should we just put it down?
posted by aacheson at 10:55 AM on May 28, 2004


He doesn't sound like a high-probability adoption candidate although I've seen some mighty unlikely dogs get adopted. I agree with previous posters - this is a serious issue and you need to address it. Killing the dog is certainly fast and easy but with effort it should be possible to let the dog die of natural causes. Were it me I'd adjust the environment so the child has no access to the dog, and vice versa. In my view it's insane to leave any child unsupervised with any dog, regardless of its past behavior (I'm not suggesting you do). So it's not that much harder to use baby gates, crates, leads etc to manage the environment. We occasionally have dogs that don't get along with each other and it is fairly easy to structure both routines and the house to ensure they don't meet each other in the dark alley of the bathroom hallway, etc. If the dog is still around by the time your child is wandering around the house unsupervised and out of your direct control, getting into things like the dog's room/crate, well, it looks bad for the dog.
posted by cairnish at 10:55 AM on May 28, 2004


Can't you just keep the baby from pulling the dog's hair? By the time the she's old enough to get at the dog under her own power, the dog could be dead from natural causes anyway.

It might be worthwhile getting the dog checked out by a vet to see if it's in pain. I was once nipped by a dog trainer's dog when I accidently trod on his paw. Turns out he had a sliver of glass imbedded in it.
posted by timeistight at 10:57 AM on May 28, 2004


When my daughter was born, I was convinced that we would run into a problem of her getting bitten or scratched by one of our cats at some point during her babyhood, when they are most likely to grab out impulsively, and watched my cats like a hawk for a long time to make sure they didn't do it on their own accord. But she is now three and past the age where she would randomly grab at them, and we've all managed these last three years with no scratches or bites.

The cats do bite and scratch me when we are rough-housing and have been known to play rough with unsuspecting guests, so I was not unjustified in my concern, it just happened to turn out for the best.

Though nothing is a guarantee with the behavior of housepets, I'm just saying it's not a 100% lock that your dog will bite your baby.
posted by briank at 10:58 AM on May 28, 2004


On the subject of children, no one can ever really say "I think it's worth the risk." It just flies in the face of that parent-protectiveness thing. But I do think it's unlikely the baby will pick the dog up or clean his ears.

aacheson - if you do decide to get rid of him because of this risk, I hope you do right by him and find him a good home.
posted by scarabic at 11:07 AM on May 28, 2004


Scarabic, I hope so too..but I don't know who would take him. He hates being washed...it requires a muzzle and is like WW3 in the bathroom while it's happening. The local groomer won't groom him unless my husband is there to hold him. He won't or can't run. He's a little incontinent. He's almost completely deaf, going blind, arthritic, sleeps all day. He's no good as a watch dog. He can't be a lap dog very well because his arthritus hurts him too much. He has a specific way he has to be picked up.

On the other hand, he does like walks, is perfectly house trained, is well trained to sit, stay, leave it, lay down, both with voice and silent hand commands. He rarely barks. Is totally non-confrontational with other dogs. He's got a wonderfully soft beautiful coat and is a good licker. He's very loving as long as you do it "his" way.

I love him, but that's because he's mine now-but he's pretty much a "dud" as a dog now that's he's so old. I sure wouldn't adopt him if I saw him now!

I just don't know who we could find to take him....even with all his good qualities. And we worry that it would break his little heart to go to a different home. I don't think he's had an easy life and he loves us so much, that he would be so sad if we gave him away to someone else. It's not like you can explain "why" to a dog.
Jesus, I don't know.
posted by aacheson at 11:54 AM on May 28, 2004


Don't kill the dog.

Kids are pretty resilient, it will all work out fine.
posted by corpse at 11:59 AM on May 28, 2004


I had the same questions about my dog before my daughter was born.

Buster was very well trained, and had a clear understanding of dominance. But he'd lunge at any kids who came close, even if we were trying to gently introduce them. Before my daughter was born, we made arrangements to send him to my (now-ex) wife's parents.

Then...nothing. We carefully introduced the baby to the dog, holding both, ready to snatch them apart. The dog sniffed her, then that was that. Best friends. He never even growls at kids anymore.

I think he didn't know kids were people. After sniffing our daughter, he realized that she was from us, and therefore boss.

I don't know how much, if any, of this will apply to your situation. Buster didn't nip or bite any adults.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:13 PM on May 28, 2004


Dogs are pack animals and I'm thinking your dog may see the baby as a sibling, which may be why he yelped rather than nipping her.

This is a hard choice. Is there a way to isolate them? To make sure that they only have "supervised" visits? We give our dog and toddler frequent breaks from each other by putting the dog in "his room" (which is really just the laundry room / pantry with a dog door to outside). Our dog is not a biter, but I think he appreciates time away from the toddler.

If this isn't possible, I'd talk to your vet about other options. He sounds like he'd make a great companion animal in a childless home (living with an elderly couple, perhaps?). Plus there are a number of rescue organizations for just about every breed of dog. Just google for your city or county, your breed of dog, and "rescue"
posted by whatnot at 12:14 PM on May 28, 2004


Suggestions:

1) Keep the dog and baby separate. Baby gates are dual purpose in this respect.

2) I guess you could muzzle the dog, but I'm not sure how this works or where one gets the equipment.

3) If you can't find someone to take the dog, you could always sell the baby. Lots of childless couple can't adopt, and would be grateful for the opportunity. Also this way both the dog and baby get to live out their natural lifespans (assuming you sell to the right people).



(Yes, I'm kidding on the last one, but I will say this: we just had to put our cat to sleep due to terminal cancer and my hackles rise at euthanasia as a solution to something that isn't a health problem.)
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:15 PM on May 28, 2004


He's just old.

You're not talking about a dog that bites at random, you're talking about an old dog that doesn't always feel great and reacts to being manhandled. You would too.

Now, if the dog is roaming the neighborhood, hunting children down and biting them at random, that's another story.

But it disturbs the hell out of me that the first thought of so many is to just kill it. Giving him to a shelter is pretty much the same sentence, in case you're that out of touch with what goes on.

Of course you should protect your infant. But there are endless solutions here that do not involve killing the dog. It is your responsibility to take care of this dog. You agreed to that when you adopted him.

Step one: GO TO YOUR VET. Get the dog a complete workup. You can't make any rational decision without knowing the *current* state of its health. There might be a small, treatable problem, or better medications. If it is in un-relievable pain and your vet suggests euthanasia, that's different than just snuffing the dog over something it might -- or might not -- do.

If all is reasonably well and the poor old thing is just grumpy over being picked up, don't pick him up. Don't poke in his ears without a muzzle on him. Keep him out of the same room that the kid is in and the crisis is solved, as near as I can tell. (I am not giving you license to lock him in a bathroom or ignore him for days on end in the yard, if that's how you read that.) Most old dogs just sleep anyway.

Give him undivided attention once in a while. Pet him gently. Reward him for being calm.

Sorry he's not so much fun anymore. Hope no one gives you away when you have arthritis.
posted by sageleaf at 12:24 PM on May 28, 2004


Doesn't sound to me like the dog can do much in the way of jumping, so I second the baby gate idea. Oh, and get the dog a big, comfortable doggie bed if you don't already have one. He probably won't stir from it except for life necessaries.
posted by mischief at 12:29 PM on May 28, 2004


sageleaf beat me to it.

You have an obligation to both baby and dog here. You can't just kill a dog or give it away because it is no longer convenient for you to have him. He is your responsibility, and he depends on you for food, shelter, safety, and love, just as much as a baby or toddler does.

I'm not saying that your obligation to a pet supercedes your obligation to your child, just saying that you can't undo a pet anymore than you can undo a child. It simply isn't fair to the pet, who has come to feel that you are his family.
posted by vignettist at 12:37 PM on May 28, 2004


Good luck! These decisions break my heart too.

But do you think anyone would acually adopt this animal?

There are plenty of SENIOR DOG ADOPTION SERVICES popping up lately. There's even one in Cleveland, where I live, so there might just be one close to you too.

But I hope you can separate or watch closely the pooch and the kid until the kid can handle himself. I'm sad for you and the pooch.

If he'd deal well with my cats, I'd adopt him, as I've been thinking of going the senior dog route too. Right now my cats seem terrified of all dogs, though, after a brief experience with a hunting-type dog (and after the loss of their beloved former canine budddy.) I'm just having a heckuva time.
posted by Shane at 12:40 PM on May 28, 2004


(Actually before we all get our knives out, both achesons have shown themselves to be pretty darn compassionate in the past, so I doubt they're champing at the bit to put the pup down.)
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:41 PM on May 28, 2004


I'm sorry for the decision you face. It's a tough one. There is lots of good advice on either side of the argument above.

However, a few things to keep in mind.
1. The dog is loosing his sight, hearing, and tolerance for handling.
2. Your 5 month old will shortly be tearing around the house. I'm sure she will be doing so long before the dog may pass away. Afterall, he may live a few more years like this.
3. You state the dog has arthritus. How is his comfort level? How will his comfort level be in a few months. Will he be able to tolerate your daughter putting her weight on him if she leans against him? Maybe; maybe not.
4. Even the most tolerant dogs should not be left unsupervised with babies and toddlers. The children move quickly and in unexpected directions which can make a dog nervous. Babies don't know how strong their little hands are and don't know how to moderate thier touch much.

Your options:
1. Baby gate them apart.
2. Try to find him a new home.
3. Humanely put him to sleep.

You might also want to consider asking your vet for advice. Vets are there to try saving an animal. Generally speaking, they won't tell you to put the dog down unless they really think it's necessary. Prior to having my son, I spent an hour with our vet, picking her brain on the whole family pet/baby interaction topic. It was well worth my time.

Know that whatever you decide, it's YOUR decision. You've got NOTHING to feel guilty over when your decision is made. No matter what you decide, you're looking at the best interests for your family as a whole.

Best luck
posted by onhazier at 1:01 PM on May 28, 2004


Oh, one more thought. Your vet may even have a way of helping place him in another home.
posted by onhazier at 1:02 PM on May 28, 2004


Thank you PinkStainlessTail-I appreciate that.

Sageleaf, I don't think you read my posts above...if I was as heartless as you seem to think I am, the dog would have been GONE the minute he bit my Dad. Hell, I wouldn't have even POSTED this and just taken him out back and shot him. Please. Give me a little credit, here. He does have a big fluffy bed, we pet him all the time, we take him on walks all the time. We feed him, give him bones, he has a big back yard.....back off Sageleaf.

I think there is some good advice above. I think our first thing to do is take him to visit the vet. Talk about how he feels, why and when he bites, and get the vet's take on this and his suggestions.

Then, from there, I will look at options.

I appreciate everyone's suggestions and thoughts-at least those who didn't assume we are heartless and looking to get rid of Griffey as easily as possible.
posted by aacheson at 2:31 PM on May 28, 2004


I was in a similar bind recently with a cat who needed a surgery that would leave him incontinent. I realized that he couldn't be a lap cat anymore, perhaps couldn't even be indoors anymore, and that perhaps the best thing to do would be to put him down.

The vet said, "well, if he has to live in the garage, he may prefer that to being dead." Consider what you can do to limit the dog's access to the baby until the kid is older. Even if that means being locked in the bathroom, he may prefer it to the alternative.

I'm sorry you're stuck having to make compromises for this somewhat disagreeable animal. I hope you can find a way to work it out.
posted by scarabic at 3:14 PM on May 28, 2004


You say you adopted this dog through a rescue organization? Well then, if you decide that Griffey is miserable with, or dangerous to, your baby, that very same rescue organization should be the second number you're calling. (The first being your vet to see if there is any way to ease Griffey's arthritis pain and (probably directly-related) grouchiness.) In fact, if you go find your adoption paperwork, I'll bet you dollars to donuts there's a clause in there about how if for any reason you are unable to keep the dog, you have to talk to them before you do anything. Besides, they have a far better network for finding alternative homes for a geriatric dog than you do. No, they won't necessarily put him down. They are very likely to have appropriate, child-free foster homes who will be happy to keep him until someone adopts him permanently, or until he reaches the end of his natural days.

You're in a very tough emotional bind here, and I feel for you.
posted by Alylex at 4:18 PM on May 28, 2004


I cannot believe people are advocating keeping the dog -- this is a no brainer. The dog has to go.

I don't care how much you love the dog, the dog has a history of biting and what may be a 'nip' to an adult may be a visit to the plastic surgeon for a child. Baby gates are anything but foolproof and keeping them separate is absurd, eventually you have to look away and, anyway, who wants to spend their life worrying.

If you feel the need to protect your child from your pet that pet has no business in your home. By all means explore your options in terms of finding a new home for him, but do it with the dog safely ensconced at a friends or in a kennel. Get the dog out of the house. Now. Sometimes you don't get a second chance.
posted by cedar at 4:19 PM on May 28, 2004


If you decide you need it, here is
_The Senior Dogs Project_
"Looking Out for Older Dogs"

...in your area, and
Notes for Individuals Trying to Re-home a Senior Dog
Again, I feel sorry for your predicament, and I wish the best to you and your dear pooch. You're in my thoughts.
posted by Shane at 5:29 PM on May 28, 2004


Talk to the vet about pain or anti-anxiety meds for the dog. He can't tell you if he's in pain, and pain makes people and dogs way more cranky. If it has an added effect of mellowing him out, all the better.

If you decide to relinquish him, then the animal shelter or rescue organization may be able to help find him a home. If you are financially able, consider offering to pay vet bills for him in a new home.

Take your time, and make the right decision for all of you. It's not urgent until the baby is really mobile.
posted by theora55 at 12:42 PM on May 29, 2004


When he bit my dad it broke skin. The bite on my husband didn't. The baby pulled his hair the other day and he yelped and jumped away...

Your dog is the end result of centuries of breeding--I suspect that throughout history dogs which bit babies tended more to meet immediate sudden death than to be bred. I can't say that dog won't ever bite the baby. I do think he would be instinctually inclined to try to avoid snapping at the baby as much as caninely possible and to do so as lightly as could be when and if provoked.

I think the same of cats--I had a friend who had a thirteen year old black cat that used to like to jump up on a high stool when he was cooking in the kitchen. He had a three year old son who was mesmerized by that pink little bobbing butthole right under her tail as she danced around on that stool and decided to poke it one day. As you might suspect, that was a never to be repeated action on the part of the son. The cat never raised a paw against his sons thereafter.
posted by y2karl at 5:38 PM on May 29, 2004


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