I may give away my problem dog to a shelter, how to manage the guilt?
November 7, 2016 5:07 AM   Subscribe

My 2 year rescue mutt (45lbs) attacked another dog today while on leash, this not the first time. He is just not a good dog. My wife and I fight about him, I'm stressed and I don't know what to do.

Have had him since 6 months. I've worked with 3 different dog trainers with methods ranging from constant positive reinforcement to choke chains/shock collar. Years of constant, focused work and no effect, i just have zero confidence that there won't be "an incident", examples of which I can give you hundreds.

I have another dog who is perfect, but who I can't take to parks, beaches....all the joys of dog ownership...because problem dog loses his shit. My other dog is virtually ignored due to the needs of problem dog. everything you could suggest has been tried: day care, separate walks/play time, thunder shirt, training, group training, muzzle, brain games...everything. The last trainer, who trains police/military dogs threw his hands up and said "i don't know what to do". This dog is just anxious, hyper and occasionally violent.

I love him, I made a commitment, but I'm done. The thought of another 10 years of this stress is too much. The thought of giving him up absolutely breaks my heart, really, but I have to think about my sanity, my other dogs happiness, my marriage and the safety of other dogs.

So, my question is....how do you make the difficult decision to give up a problem dog? How do I get over the guilt? How do I tell myself this is the right decision and not weep when I think I'm responsible for him (likely) being put down because I just couldn't cope with the stress and negative affects on my life? He's never hurt me, but it's been a year of incredible stress, frustration and incidents and I truly don't believe he is capable of changing.

the incident happened an hour ago, and I was ready to drop him off at the pound right then. Now that I've calmed down I'm getting choked up, I love him, I want him to live.....but it will happen again, and again and again.

Or...how do I keep this dog and still enjoy my life?

Any advice?
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (49 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Can you do two more things first? Get a behaviorist, not a dog trainer, to do an evaluation. Some dogs are just unfortunately not suited to being pets, and it's good to get an expert opinion. Two, if the behaviorist thinks the dog is workable, try to find a rescue that will take him, while being upfront about his problems. This is slightly easier if he's purebred or mostly one breed.

If there's no rescue and the behaviorist doesn't think his problems are workable, then the kindest thing for your dog is to put him down. It's much better to have him euthanized surrounded by people he knows than in a hectic shelter surrounded by strangers.

It's not an easy situation and there are no easy answers. My thoughts are with you.
posted by umwhat at 5:16 AM on November 7, 2016 [46 favorites]

Also, another thing. Is his only issue dog aggression? Some breeds are more prone to this than others. Training with negative reinforcement doesn't work and often makes the issue worse. If you're committed to helping, find a professional who works specifically with dog aggression. For a lot of dogs this is something that can be worked on.

And, gently, it sounds like you're setting your dog up to fail. Are you taking him to off-leash areas, or areas where you run into a lot of dogs? Some dogs aren't off leash dogs (actually, I would argue that many, many dogs aren't). For these dogs, parks and beaches, etc are stressful places. If you want to keep him or even in the meantime, leave him at home, or with a sitter, when you do these things, and take your more social dog. It's the better thing for everyone.
posted by umwhat at 5:23 AM on November 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

Don't give him up, have him put to sleep (with you there with him). It's a kindness compared to dropping him in a strange place full of strange people and dogs.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:31 AM on November 7, 2016 [38 favorites]

This used to kind of be me, there are Asks to prove it! Though I only have one dog.

Have you considered leaving Problem Dog at home while you take Good Dog outside? Also, do you have a yard for Collective Doggle to run/play stress off?

What time of day are you walking Problem Dog? I found a shift to early/late night walking vastly improved quality of life, as did forcing him to sit and wait until calm before going outside.

I would personally not have this dog euthanized. Some trainers are just shitty - a behaviorist is a great idea.
posted by corb at 5:33 AM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Blu is the biggest doofus in the world, a 60lb cat who sleeps all day and won't leave my side when I'm feeling down. He's also a rescue dog who struggles with any form of contact with other dogs, reacts with aggression and goes from lazydog to 60lbs of barking, snarling teeth and muscle who can almost pull me off my feet in the blink of an eye.

I've tried all sorts, but to be honest I'm beginning to come to the conclusion that he's never going to be a sociable dog - and that's OK.

For me and Blu, the solution has just been not to put him in those situations. If there are other dogs around, he just doesn't get to go off-lead, and we don't go to places where he's likely to have to be up close and personal with other dogs unless it's a training exercise. Sometimes on a walk we just have to turn around and walk the other way. But all this has worked wonders with his baseline stress levels, to the point where he finds smaller or familiar triggers a lot easier to deal with. He's even learning to accept his "cousin", my sister's adorable but boisterous staffy mix.

At the end of the day, that's just the way Blu is, and the love he brings to my life makes it totally worth it to make the few sacrifices he needs. It sounds like you love needydog, and needy dogs need love. Perhaps if you can learn to accept him the way he is, and work around his problems, that might be less stressful for you than trying to change him?
posted by A Robot Ninja at 5:45 AM on November 7, 2016 [15 favorites]

I think some of the other advice you're getting is apt - if there's anything you can possibly do to set him up to succeed, do that. Not every dog is a park dog or a social dog, and that's ok...there's this recent phenomenon where every dog is expected to basically be a therapy dog and that's not a particularly fair expectation.

Also, police/military dogs sounds like a questionable trainer (I don't know them, so I may be wrong). In my experience, the really cutting-edge positive people - the people who constantly go to conferences, not the type who just teach at petsmart - were the most creative and the most comforting to work with, because they'd seen such a diversity of dogs and were so quick to just try something different until we could find the right method for my dude, not some one-size-fits-all protocol. Veterinary Behaviorists - they're vets who specialize in training and behavior, so they can integrate training with medicine particularly effectively - are by all accounts the best in the field and our visit to one was one of the most confidence-inspiring things I did while working with my dog. She understood the emotional burden and was able to meet me where I was at (and where my dog was at) without judgement or surprise.

I've written a little about my challenging dog here, but something I've never mentioned is that there have been points where I was ready to give up. I was like you: I'd assembled a great team, done everything "right", really meant it when made the commitment, and I didn't want to be one of *those* people who just gives up a dog because of things that appear to be trainable. And yet, being scared of your dog or constantly stressed on their behalf is an indescribably horribly feeling when you're in the midst of it. I did conclude that if I - someone who put hours a day and thousands of dollars into training and management - couldn't handle him, putting him back in a shelter was setting him up to fail. So I'm kind of with Rock em Sock em - if you're ready to give up, and you can't rehome him in a home with someone you know to be experienced (vets, behaviorists, and trainers might be able to find such a person), euthanasia can be the kind option. I bookmarked this and found the perspectives helpful: Euthanizing Aggressive Dogs: Sometimes it's the Best Choice.

Luckily for me, my doggo and I have come to a much better place...we still have bad moments, but with training and management the good moments have started to outweigh them much more. It's still not always easy, though, and I would understand anyone who made a different choice than me in a similar situation.
posted by R a c h e l at 5:48 AM on November 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

We also have a dog who has over time gotten more territorial on the leash. I won't lie, you do have to completely re-configure your expectations and treatment during walks. But we have gotten to a MUCH better place than we were.

1 - if it's only been a year of training, during which you tried several completely different training methods, your dog is confused. He needs more time to expect and get comfortable with a set method.

2 - you have to do everything you can to avoid other dogs. This may mean crossing the street ten times during your walks. It may mean having to be aggressive in telling other people NOT to let their dogs approach. It may mean that you can't do anything else on walks that would distract you from being vigilant. We have had to do all these things. But I'm a bit confused as to how you keep having these problems constantly, because with vigilance, you should be able to minimize contact with other dogs.

3 - yes, it sucks to have a dog that doesn't enjoy the park or the beach or etc. There are no guarantees. I can only say that if this dog has a happy home life and brings you at least some happiness, it's worth it to work around their limitations.

4 - my personal recommendation is that positive reinforcement almost always works best for a dog. He is probably seeing walks as a time of scary incidents he needs to protect himself and you from right now. Distraction and re-association with positive things have worked WONDERS for us.

He's not a bad dog. He thinks that other dogs are a threat to you, and he's trying to protect you the only way he knows how.

And please, let this be a note to one and all, please ALWAYS LEASH YOUR DOGS in parks etc that aren't specific off-leash areas. Just because YOUR dog is friendly doesn't mean they aren't stressing out other dogs!
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:51 AM on November 7, 2016 [17 favorites]

He's so anxious in places where there are other dogs he's attacking them?

Stop taking him to those places and stop with the punishments and get him some prozac, stat.

If you absolutely cannot keep him, take him to a rescue. It's not unheard of for them to work with dogs.
posted by Amy93 at 5:51 AM on November 7, 2016 [13 favorites]

You need to talk with your wife about this, and you both need to agree. It's her feelings you need to address more than any other person's, and this is a big thing.

Does _she_ have any other ideas? Does she agree about the danger? Does she know how this is making you feel, and the great reluctance and stress you are experiencing? Because if not, it's her judgment (based on incomplete information + legitimate upset about not being consulted) that you'll have to live with.

I'm not saying that this is the case; you are obviously under a huge amount of stress and I know you can't possibly have put every relevant fact into your question. However, it's something to consider.

personal anecdote - I have a friend who I've known since 1990. I understand, intellectually, some decisions she made, several years ago, about her little cat. However, I wasn't privy to her emotional experience at the time, I didn't have a chance to share my knowledge of how to handle her cat's problems, and I have a hard time getting past some things she did -- with good intentions and incomplete knowledge -- because I have a more visceral sense of the cat's feelings than her feelings (she didn't tell me about them then), and because I feel strong personal regret that I couldn't have helped more.

So, please, if you haven't already:

- give your wife a chance to apply her full intelligence to this problem too, and

- make sure she knows how you are feeling about this, including the fear, anger, helplessness, etc. One discussion is not enough to get this complex stuff across, and the long time you've been experiencing this is important. Also, saying "I've been feeling stressed about this for a year" is not what I'm talking about. She needs to see that you are actually feeling these things.
posted by amtho at 5:53 AM on November 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah - and if dog reactivity is his only issue, consider a focused class. We tried to do one (had to drop out because of a concurrent medical problem that had him particularly stressed...it was tough) and it really seems like the best ones are fantastic because they can use really measured doses of "dog" (starting with interaction with a fake dog, then moving on to controlled interaction at controlled distances with other dogs) to gradually and effectively run programs like BAT that are otherwise challenging to do in the real world. (oh, and look into BAT in general...it's the best for reactivity, no comparison).

As with anything else, though, class quality varies considerably.
posted by R a c h e l at 5:54 AM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

You say: "My wife and I fight about him" and "I have to think about my sanity, my other dogs happiness, my marriage"

Is your wife more or less sympathetic to this dog than you are? I think her feelings on the matter are more important than those of a cross-section of mefites. If you feel at the end of your tether and your wife feels even more stressed about it, then I think you should let the dog go.
posted by Azara at 5:55 AM on November 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think you've tried very hard to do what you can, realistically. You sound like most people: you just wanted a pet who adds positively to your family. Most people don't have the boundless time or energy or skill to devote to a dog with aggression issues, and imho you're allowed to be a normal pet owner, not a dog expert. I would not say this if, say, it were a shy kitty that wasn't much fun, or a dog with separation anxiety that only affected objects it destroyed, but the kind of stress you have fearing your dog might attack without your constant vigilance is an enormous quality of life issue for you. And yes, you, the human, do matter. People will disagree with this, but for most of us there's a sad but inevitable turning point. You can give it back and explain what the dog needs so they don't adopt him out again to someone without the resources to deal with him. You could also try to find someone else via FB or other venues with the resources and desire to keep
this dog.
posted by flourpot at 5:57 AM on November 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

I meant to add, +1 to BAT (as per R a c h e l's suggestion) - it's the basis of what my sister and I are using to gradually introduce Blu to Rufus, and reading Grisha Stewart's book has really helped me understand not just what Blu reacts to but why he does.
posted by A Robot Ninja at 5:57 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you contacted rescue organizations to see if any will take him? If you got him from a rescue organization, most will take dogs back rather than see them go to a shelter. You could also offer a significant donation to any that take him.
posted by metasarah at 6:24 AM on November 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

Look, sometimes a dog isn't a good fit for a human family and that really sucks. I don't fault you for considering giving him up but (respectfully) I think you should try some other interventions first. Some ideas:

* You say you've worked with three trainers, at least one of which used aversive training (choke collar, etc.). These methods of training often make reactivity worse, not better. So you may be currently working against his innate dog-reactivity and -aggression AND his heightened anxieties from the aversive training stint.

* You need to work with a behaviorist, not just a trainer.

* Have you tried medication? I know people whose dogs have had great success with fluoxetine (Prozac).

* You describe this dog as "just not a good dog," and your other dog as "perfect." Guess what? Your problem dog is almost certainly aware that you dislike/resent him. This results in a weaker dog-human bond and makes training much, much more difficult. Try to remember that your problem dog isn't being difficult just for the sake of being a PiTA - he's doing it because he's scared and anxious and stressed.

* Finally, you've gotten some great advice upthread about managing and avoiding. Take it to heart.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:24 AM on November 7, 2016 [11 favorites]

So much good advice up above, so not much more for me to add. Our mutt (9 year old staff/lab cross rescue) has had the odd moment of total freakout too, so I do understand where you are coming from. For us it's been all about working with a qualified local animal behaviourist and slowly increasing her exposure to other dogs in non-threatening situations (and also limiting it where necessary, i.e. by putting her back on the leash if dogs approach which we know are less well socialized and will just bound up to her and be a PITA. Part of this was realizing that she doesn't have to be open and receptive to every canine interaction - quite often she just wants to do her own thing without being jumped all over/mounted/barked at. Seconding later walks/adjusting expectations/working with who your dog is and not comparing him to your other dog. Also realizing that she picks up on my state of mind/readiness/tension, so if I worry about another dog approaching she can and does pick up on that.

One question - when you say your dog attacked another dog on leash, did your dog actually do any physical damage/bite/lock on to the other dog? It's really important to remember that canine threat display actually looks/sounds like an attack (ask me how I know) but quite often no damage is done, and it's more about the dogs using the threat of violence as a means of deterring actual conflict. I also know that there is nothing like being the owner of a dog that is engaging in that behavioiur to set copious ammounts of adrenaline coursing through your body. That is a scary moment, but it does pass.

Remember too that you don't have a problem dog, you have a dog with a problem. Good luck, I hope things work out for all of you.
posted by Chairboy at 6:36 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a problem dog whom I adored up to the end of his 10 years; documented in one of corb's previous AskMe's (glad to hear it worked out!)

We really did, ourselves, end up having to work our lives around the dog. Maybe we never found the right approach but what we did was:

1) Mostly walked him on beaches and in green spaces either at very off times or remotely.
2) In our dog's case we had to board him when we had kids visiting and crate him for dinner parties, etc., none of which was fun.
3) When we had to walk him around other dogs we used a soft muzzle, which may or may not have been a good idea for him but it made our lives possible.

He was such a good dog within those constraints, which I admit we could reach because at the time we were a dual income no kids family, and he is absolutely the dog I hope is waiting for me at the gates of Valhalla. So it is possible to enter into your dog's world and experience the joys (with that dog) at like 5 am, watching the sun rise, and alert for other dogs. But I absolutely, totally get why you would want to rehome him and I support you in seeking alternatives.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:49 AM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

A family member fosters dogs and adopted a few of their fosters. One of their dogs (who had exhibited fearful aggression in the past) bit my child while visiting at a third relative's house. The child did nothing wrong and was not interacting with the dog at the time - they were walking through the woods, the child was walking ahead, and the (leashed) dog ran up behind the child and bit their leg.

The child was wounded (deep puncture, ER trip) but not seriously injured, but the family member was mortified. The dog was sent to a specialized intensive training program for dogs with fearful aggression, but after a few more incidents at their house with their other dogs, they decided that the dog needed to be an only dog and could not be trusted around children. After a lot of hand-wringing, they returned the dog to the rescue. The rescue was kind about it, and I believe they ended up essentially trading their dog with someone else from the rescue so that DogWithProblem could be an only dog in a child-free household.

They were sad that they had to make that decision, but it was the right decision for them and has markedly reduced the stress levels in their house. I hope that DogWithProblem is happier as well.
posted by telepanda at 6:50 AM on November 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

- You have to be in agreement with your wife.

- He's dangerous! It's not a good fit! You're right now is the time to decide!!

I'm sure at least one of your trainers sucked, but my goodness, the advice that you must keep trying is inappropriate.

Your marriage and wellbeing are paramount. I'm not sure where your wife is in all of this, so if she wants to keep trying then you got some new avenues to explore. But you know what? If he's dangerous than short of heavy medication you will never ever ever trust this dog not to bite other animals, or worse, a person or child. Fuck that level of stress in your life. Seriously.

I hereby give you permission to seek out whatever resolution is for the greatest good of all. I have no doubt that the solution is either a different household, or that the dog may need to be put down if he's that much of a danger. It's not fair to pass on a ticking time bomb to someone else so you should do your best to collect a few more expert opinions. And then you must take whatever action is indicated for the greater good of everyone involved. As long as your wife agrees.

Try talking calmly to your wife if you don't agree. See a counselor together if talking about this is too fraught. I know it will be OK if you stay calm and take responsible steps with an eye towards kindness. This is a difficult challenge and you can do the right thing with care and effort.
posted by jbenben at 7:00 AM on November 7, 2016 [14 favorites]

It sounds to me from what you said that your wife is done, and that you have been slower getting there but that you are done too? Is that right? So that being done puts you on the same page with your wife?

If I've read that correctly, then yes, I would euthanize. I don't think it's right to pass this problem onto other people. If it was a question of your household being unsuitable, like maybe the dog would do fine in a different environment, I wouldn't say that. But the way you're describing this dog makes him sound unsafe to any other dogs he encounters and I think it's more responsible to everyone to work on that assumption.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:07 AM on November 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

There are other dogs out there waiting to be rescued that aren't aggressive to the point of causing this much stress, expense, and injury. I think for a lot of people this is easier if the dog is aggressive with people, but dog aggression makes them think they just need to try harder. You have tried SO hard. The other dogs around deserve to be safe, too!

So what can you do to feel better? Do what you can to realize that it's OK to be sad, but you're doing the right thing for you, your wife, the good dog, the dogs of your neighborhood, and probably even anxious dog. So don't deny that it's hard - this last year and a half sound extremely hard, and this part could be one of the hardest. But also realize that in doing the right thing for all of you, your lives will be better.
posted by ldthomps at 7:08 AM on November 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

As a parent and someone who has been around more than one dog who has bitten a human (ER vists, plastic surgery) telepanda's story bothers me. The dog who was rehomed is still a danger, and multiple biting incidents requires euthanasia. The dogs I knew that sent folks to the hospital had known histories of attacks. Long term, there's always another incident.
posted by jbenben at 7:11 AM on November 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm not sure why walking the dog with a muzzle isn't an option.

But if it isn't, it isn't. If the dog is dog-aggressive and/or othersie unsafe, then I would suggest that in preference to abandoning a dog in an extremely stressful and bewildering pound environment where he is likely to be put down, you simply take responsibility for the ultimate outcome of the dog and put him down yourselves.

I am not making that suggestion lightly. We foster for an organisation that takes problem dogs and we've had one I will never forget. Despite being loving, and funny, and well-behaved on a lead, he was also terrifyingly food aggressive. He went through two trainers and a specialist 24/7 one-on-one residential program where he lived with the trainer as his foster for more than a year; and while he did OK in the very controlled program environment, as soon as he was out of it, he attacked someone again.

The dog could not be safely homed, and so the decision was made to put him down.

This was obviously the worst outcome for the dog, but it is infinitely less worse than being abandoned, afraid, bewildered, stressed out by other dogs, depressed, and then being put down without love, compassion and a sense of safety provided by people who have been your family.

That is the option I would chose for myself, and thus the option I would choose for any dog who depended on me to make decisions in my best interest.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:18 AM on November 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

I have gone through this but for 3 years and with a people-aggressive dog. We ultimately put the dog down. Passing the dog off to a shelter is not ethical, and at this point, neither is passing the dog off to a foster/rescue. You're just passing the buck to let someone else make the hard, sad decision. You have tried. If it's permission you need, I grant it. The kindest thing would be to be there with the dog when it's put to sleep.

And this is not a decision that I take lightly. We euthanized that dog in 2008 and 8 years later I was thinking about her driving to work this morning; it was the 11th of November and I still think of her and know what day it was. Even with all that, I know it was the right thing to do.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:24 AM on November 7, 2016 [13 favorites]

Your dog is a good dog. Whatever horrors he may have experienced prior to living with you may have left him confused, fearful, and unable to express his more dangerous impulses in a way that is compatible with living in your household, or possibly even with being happy in any human home. But he is a good dog. Please: whatever you do, act with that idea, and the love you have for him, in the front of your mind. Not out of (understandable!) impulses of frustration and anger and a sense of betrayal.

The agreement you signed with your rescue may require you to return the dog to them rather than rehome or euthanize, so you should consult that first. In any event, I would discuss with them whether they want you to return him, being very explicit and direct about the problems. They may feel that they can place him in a home where he is the only dog and the parents are willing to take on the explicit challenge of managing a dog who is very leash-aggressive. Or they may have connections with another rescue who can.

Or they may not. It sounds like your family is exhausted and at its wits end, and I don't think you are required to sacrifice your entire family life to even this good dog. But you can't just drop him off with animal control without warning, which means they may decide he is unadoptable on the spot. Or they may well pick up the issue when they temp-test him--ditto. He just doesn't sound adoptable through the "normal" means. In that case, it is far kinder to euthanize him with his family around him than to have his last days be filled with strangers, sadness, and terror. A rescue I support recently had an adopter who, after several years of managing an aggressive dog, had come to the realization that he was getting worse, likely due to a neurological problem, and finally had to euthanize him. It was extremely sad for all concerned (I didn't even know the dog, and I've got tears in my eyes writing about it), but she gave that dog several mostly happy years he would not otherwise have had, and she relieved his suffering in the gentlest way possible when he was no longer able to control the terror and aggression that were making him miserable.
posted by praemunire at 7:28 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

To clarify, the main reason the dog was rehomed rather than euthanized was that the dog didn't viciously attack the child - didn't have to be pulled off, no snarling or violence beyond the single bite to the back of the calf. It was a clean puncture with no tearing. I wasn't there - those who were described it more as overly intense herding behavior.

The trainers and the rescue felt the dog could be safely placed in another home with more structure and no other dependents to compete with.

At the end of the day it wasn't my decision to make. I do sincerely hope that it works out well, and I think that while it would be unethical to just take the dog to the pound with no explanation, placing it with someone from the rescue who's fully informed is maybe ok.

But for the poster, it would be wise to talk to a behaviorist about your specific dog's history and whether your dog could be safely rehomed or whether euthanasia is a more appropriate decision.
posted by telepanda at 7:47 AM on November 7, 2016

A friend of mine with a hyper anxious dog who was due to be returned to the shelter after many bad walking incidents as well as destroying their home ended up talking to their vet who prescribed doggie Prozac. He's a different dog now and was able to stay with the family. So, my suggestion is talk to your vet and be honest about the options you are considering at this point.

I feel for you. I adore dogs, but would be at a loss in your position as well.
posted by cecic at 8:01 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's OK to euthanize the dog or return to a rescue. I personally would not drop them off at a public shelter. I have friends with a dog like this, they gt her as a puppy and socialized her well she's just an aggressive breed cross and also has a screw loose. At this point that dog is not welcome anywhere. They are excluded from a lot of things like camping trips and other people will not let children go to their house. Their other nice dog absolutely suffers.

And as a dog owner who's dog tends to be the target of these kinds of attacks I think the people above urging you to keep the dog need to reflect on how scary and terrible it is for the other dogs in the world. MY dog is leash aggressive now because she was attacked by a dog belonging to a friend of a friend that sounds exactly like yours. They were also constantly retraining him, loved him etc but he was irredeemably vicious around other dogs and they weren't willing to do what it took to keep him 100% free of other dogs. I am still angry about the situation two years later and it has certainly cost them more than one friendship and a near divorce. Finally, I live in a middle class area which is prime "rescue dog" country and at this point I can barely walk my dog down the street due to all the poorly socialized and aggressive dogs being walked by others. I hate it, my dog hates it.

There are lots of nice dogs out there who need homes. It's OK not to keep one who is vicious. And I don't care if your dog just bites my dog a little bit, there are repercussions. My dog is so leash aggressive after being attacked on a leash that there are many places I can no longer take her that we enjoyed for years. She's become terrified of the vets office. All the people saying it's "only" dog aggressive are either not dog owners or have never seen the real aftermath of a fight.
posted by fshgrl at 8:30 AM on November 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

Talk to the rescue organization again and let them know what's up. (Also tell them what you've tried so far). There are definitely people out there who have a lot more experience with troubled dogs than it sounds like you do, and are equipped with the time, knowledge, and resources to try some of the things other people are suggesting; the rescue org will likely know of at least a few of them.

(E.g., my good friend and her hubs had two rescue dogs with major issues; they spent at least one day every weekend with a behaviourist for two years. And I think a few days during the week, for a while... They were also 100% on board with each other about how to manage things, and were able to both consistently apply the principles they learned. My understanding [from them] is that this is necessary... if one of you can't support the program, it's going to be confusing and difficult for everyone. Not least the dog. And if it's to the point where the dog's issues, and/or your difficulty managing them, are actually causing marital conflict, there's a catch-22 situation going on, isn't there.)

If you know that your family just isn't up for it, and it sounds like you're really just not, it's not fair to you guys - or the dog - to keep trying. There are likely other people out there (like my friends) who can do the job you can't.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:31 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

If the dog was adopted from a rescue, contact them to return him, or euthanize. Do not dump him at the pound - that's unethical and an abdication of your responsibility to the dog.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:50 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

1. Dog behaviorist. If you say where you are I can get you names.
2. Vet consult for medication. Prozac CAN work wonders.

If those fail and the behaviorist says the dog is untrainable, then have the dog put to sleep. Consider how stressful the dog's life is , always being on high alert and terrified. You would be doing it a kindness to relieve them of those feelings. But you've got to try the other things first and start muzzling the dog.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:53 AM on November 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you lack the resources to keep your Dog withProblems away from other dogs, then the dog should be rehomed with someone who does have those resources.

My dog LOSES HIS SHIT when he sees another dog, and has managed to escape the yard just so he could bite a dog walking past. So he isn't allowed in the yard except under close supervision, and we don't walk in the neighborhood except under extreme duress and with a muzzle. Instead, every morning, we drive to the nearby industrial park, where dog gets to sniff and run (on a long leash) and enjoy a long dogfree walk. (We also just started trying fluoxetine, and after a month and a half, it's been interesting to see the subtle changes in his behavior.)

I've had my rescue dog for a year, and it was really hard to realize that he will probably never be a dog park dog or go to the farmers market or run around loose on the beach with other dogs. But he's a smart pup, he's cute as hell, and he doesn't need those things to be happy, and I've decided I don't need those things to be a happy dog owner. At some point, I want to work with a trainer again to see if he can have at least one doggy friend, but for now we're okay. He hasn't flipped out in weeks, and we enjoy our walks.

Is your DogwithProblems a good dog at home with you? Is his only big issue strange dogs? Then enjoy ProblemlessDog at the dog park and let DogwithProblems be the best DogwithProblems he can be. For him, that sounds like letting him stay as far as possible from other dogs. He's made it clear that's an issue, and yet you keep putting him in that situation. If you don't have the time or resources to manage both dogs, I totally understand, and I totally won't judge.

(Personally, I can only DREAM of having a dog that can see another dog without freaking out.)
posted by redsparkler at 8:58 AM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

A couple more things - first, I enthusiastically support muzzles, which were key in removing fear in some locations. Cesar Milan has a line of muzzles that look friendly - we have the dragon one with the tiny horn. It's a way to have your dog lightly muzzled while people just think you are a zany person who enjoys dog costumes.

Second, on second thought - that framing of Problem Dog/Perfect Dog also strikes me as well. Does anyone in the house unconditionally love Problem Dog, despite his flaws? If so, that person should be working with him the majority of the time, and if not, you really should rehome - not euthanize, rehome to someone who can love him.

Dogs know when you love them, and when they are secure in your love they will try So! Hard! for you. (Even when failing, you will see some improvement) If they don't feel it, training will only have halfhearted responses.

My Problem Dog is my best beloved dog in the whole wide world. He is not in my husband or kids' top five dogs. When everyone was handling him, we had more problems. When I was the only one walking him and teaching him every day- consistency from someone who loved him - he improved by leaps and bounds. I can see him trying to be good, every time. It's hard, but he tries.

This dog needs someone he will try for. This dog needs someone who loves him. If this isn't you, please return him to the rescue, but be honest about why. Tell them you didn't connect with him and consequently he was hard to train. If you don't, they may euthanize a savable dog.
posted by corb at 9:15 AM on November 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm sorry but saying the dog is aggressive because he "isn't loved enough" is doing a disservice to everyone. In the horse world there is a name for this, it's called Black Stallion Syndrome, ie if I can just love this maniac animal enough he will do anything for me! It's bullshit and with horses it puts people in the hospital and in wheelchairs. With dogs it usually gets other dogs and children attacked and hurt. Some animals have a screw loose, some are aggressive dominant breeds or very high energy breeds, some have low bite inhibition which is inbred and not changeable, some have unrecoverable negative reactions to stimuli, some need a very structured program the average amateur owner cannot provide. It has nothing to do with "love".

Your first priority here is not contributing to the worlds problem with aggressive dogs.
posted by fshgrl at 9:22 AM on November 7, 2016 [21 favorites]

You say there have been hundreds of incidents and this is causing problems in your marriage, which is all I need to make a decision. A pet is not worth a divorce. Your commitment to this dog does not override your commitment to your marriage or your role as a good neighbor in your community. I really hope you take fshgrl's advice to heart and know that an aggressive dog can create lasting harm to other dogs even if they don't "seem" to be injured. If you euthanize or return him to a rescue or shelter, please keep in mind that you gave him six months in a home where he was fed and cared for, a home that ultimately didn't work out, but was better than an abusive or neglectful home. It's a hard decision, but it sounds like you've already made it. Talk to your wife and put the people in your life first.
I'd be glad to talk over memail if you need any support. I feel for you.
posted by areaperson at 9:56 AM on November 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

TLDNR- I had a rescue, very much like your situation. I made the guilt ridden decision and contacted his rescue. The rescue found him a home, but because of his continued aggression, he was put down. Now, I wish I had gone with my gut to have him put down...that way he could have been surrounded by those who loved him. I'd put him down. He looks to you to do what's best for him and an aggressive dog will not stop.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 9:58 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm disappointed that none of your trainers have discussed options with you or offered support.

One of the most valuable resources my trainer has supplied has been her knowledge and her support for my decisions; after the biting incident, she was able to sit down with me and we discussed options. If I needed to give my dog up, she supported that decision and was able to provide resources: helping me write a letter to the shelter, letting me know I could foster the dog while waiting for rehoming, and helping me interview future owners. I was thinking about moving to Seattle, and she had resources for dogs up there as well. SInce I decided to keep him, she's been very clear about the legal implications of having a dog that will bite other dogs if given a chance, and she's also been available with information and training tips whenever I reach out.

I follow her on Facebook and have learned a lot about the different types of dogs she works with, and with that I realized that there are so many dogs out there with issues, many of which affect the dogs' quality of life much more than my dog. My pup is safe and happy at home; it's the dogs of the outside world that freak him out. We can have people over without him stressing out, we can see bikes and cars and other people on walks and he's fine (although he was jumpy about them to begin with). If your dog's only issue is other dogs, I don't think it's a stretch to think that he can have a long and happy life with people who can be considerate enough to keep him away from the thing he doesn't like.
posted by redsparkler at 10:10 AM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I want to clarify for future readers: you can love dogs and it still won't fix them, I just think you don't have much of a hope of success if you don't love them. My dog is still a butt, just a more successful butt. But also if you don't love them it's okay to give them to someone who will!
posted by corb at 10:16 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you're up for trying One More Thing, the animal behaviorist idea could be worthwhile, but I don't think you need to do that if you're ready to have him put down. I also don't think you should go back to the rescue without a clear idea from a behaviorist of exactly what kind of environment the dog needs, and why you aren't able to provide it.

Please don't drop him off at the pound.

the incident happened an hour ago, and I was ready to drop him off at the pound right then. Now that I've calmed down I'm getting choked up, I love him, I want him to live.....but it will happen again, and again and again.

Because you love him, you should give him the best day of his life, and then make it so he doesn't have to live in fear anymore, which means having him put down while he's snuggling in your arms.

So, my question is....how do you make the difficult decision to give up a problem dog? How do I get over the guilt? How do I tell myself this is the right decision and not weep when I think I'm responsible for him (likely) being put down because I just couldn't cope with the stress and negative affects on my life?

You should weep when he goes, because this is an animal that you loved, and that loved you. But your tears don't make it the wrong decision. Remember that he is also stressed and fearful when out in the world. I recently had to make the decision to put down a cat who sickened suddenly and would have lived out the rest of her days in suffering. It was hard, but ending an animal's suffering is one of the most loving things you can do. And that's why you shouldn't feel guilty for seeing it through.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:28 AM on November 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

Would you rather weep because you gave this dog the best possible chance and he's just not able to coexist with other animals, and you can give him a loving sendoff while honoring your own family obligations; or would you rather weep because he injures or kills another animal and THEN needs to be put down, doing who knows what additional damage to your family relationships in the meantime? You know how hard you've tried and what the likely ultimate outcome here is.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:57 AM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do NOT give him to a shelter, most likely he will be dead in a week or so. Give him for adoption or foster. Work with no kill shelters if possible. A dog is a responsibility and please do not go and get another dog.
posted by metajim at 11:40 AM on November 7, 2016

I lived with a dog aggressive pup for 15 years. I wont lie, it was not as easy as having a regular old, goofy dog. We had to notify our vet when we were coming so they could let us in a side enterance, we could not do dog parks or beaches and we did walks at 2AM (when I got home from work). I think it was worth it, but it was a major lifestyle change and not something where you could ever let your guard down. I would support anyone who decided they couldn't do it. I also agree that it would be the kindest thing to have the dog put down, rather than surrender him to a shelter. Im sorry, this sucks. I know, it really, really sucks.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:41 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

You've gotten great advice already. I know from personal experience that sometimes dogs have severe anxiety issues that can't be remedied, sometimes they aren't a good fit within your home, and sometimes they need to be "only children." My parents have a beagle mix with serious issues. He just, well, SNAPS for random, unpredictable reasons, and is super-anxious when others are around, with other animals, and around food. Prozac made him sleep all day so they took him off that, but Xanax seems to be helping. He's been on a few weeks and is remarkably calmer. He's on another dog medicine for anxiety, but I don't know the name. It took that AND Xanax to calm him, though. Good luck!
posted by jhope71 at 11:54 AM on November 7, 2016

There could be another dog out there that is perfectly sweet and gentle, who is currently living under terrible and lonely conditions. You won't be emotionally able to handle having another dog, probably, for a while, but when you are, I think it would be OK to consider this.
posted by amtho at 11:58 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have an anxious dog. He snaps at people when he wants attention. He bit me once when he was near a corner and bumped into something, scaring himself. When I have children, he will need to have a muzzle when unsupervised.
He gets better all the time. He runs away from nervous situations rather than fight.

You deserve to have a dog that isn't a danger to you and the community.
posted by flimflam at 12:37 PM on November 7, 2016

No one here, no one, is in a better position than you to assess this dogs danger to others. And in my experience, dog owners are like the very last people to accept the clear and present danger their aggressive, unpredictable dogs pose.

You think this dog is dangerous, a time bomb, in fact. And it sounds like you've had dozens of close calls. Take care of this problem before this dog injures or kills someone or another animal. Whatever regrets you might have will pale into comparison with how it will feel when your dog disfigures a person.

Why does your wife feel so differently? Because she's not as close to the dog, ie more objective, more like what a person in the street would feel,seeing your dog .

Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 12:49 PM on November 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

(Above, what I meant to say was that sometimes, the most responsible thing to do is recognize your real limitations, and give the load to someone who can realistically take it. This logic is applied to people with responsibility for human children, sometimes, because it makes sense, and it's fine to apply it to those caring for animals.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:38 PM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I usually don't like to respond just to agree with other commenters, but I have some experience with a very similar situation, and I agree with the other commenters who recommend a behaviorist and who would recommend putting a dog to sleep myself rather than sending them to a kill shelter where they'd do the same thing.

I have a perfect dog and a dog with issues. The dog with issues, importantly, is aggressive only around other dogs (and cats and squirrels). At first, she was blustery with people and barked a lot, but she didn't show further signs of aggression. This is important. Dog aggression and human aggression are different phenomena and one doesn't mean the other. Through constant reinforcement from our visitors and the good example of the perfect dog, the problem dog now happily greets anyone who comes in. We would not have been able to keep her if she were aggressive toward people, but she isn't, except a little bit with strange men on walks (more on that later).

My husband strongly considered taking the problem dog back in the 3-6 month period after we'd brought her home, but I convinced him to try a behaviorist first. Not a trainer, but someone who specializes in reading dog behaviors and finding ways to bridge the dog/human communication gap. We found a really great one and hired her for a series of sessions with all of us, some at our house, and some at her location. She gave us homework and lots and lots of written material describing different ideas for different situations, which we worked on, and we are now pretty peaceful and happy together.

If that had not worked, we certainly would have looked into other, no kill options available to us, but if the choices came down to taking her back to the kill shelter she came from, likely to be put to sleep there, I told my husband I'd rather we had that done ourselves, surrounded by her family instead of strangers.

Fortunately, the work paid off. She is doing much better now, with some long term accommodations, and we no longer worry that she'll hurt anyone.

We do not go to dog parks. (Even the perfect dog doesn't like them because she sometimes gets bullied by the cliquish dogs, so that's no great loss.) We do walk them together now, but that's not always been the case. We used to walk them separately or not at all. Problem dog does bark at strange men if they approach us quickly, but dogs on leashes often take on a protective role, as they're physically tethered to their humans. And I don't like it when strange men do that either, so I am OK with her barking at them.

Just to set them up for success, we also don't leave them alone together when we're gone, because once and only once, several years ago, the problem dog got suddenly possessive of a toy and gave the perfect dog a bloody nose. So we have the problem dog trained to go to "jail," which is just our bedroom, before we go out. They both get cookies when we separate them, so they both like jailtime. We also separate them to eat, even though I'm 90% sure they'd be fine doing that together as well.

We also don't let them outside in the fenced yard by themselves, but we already did that because of coyotes, and because the perfect dog has jumped the six foot fence twice, just to go say hi to the neighbors.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you want me to help you find a behaviorist, or if you would like me to see if I can find any of the stuff our behaviorist gave us, or anything else like that. I really feel for you with this, so I'll be happy to help any way I can.
posted by ernielundquist at 6:06 PM on November 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I also try not to comment just to agree with other people, but if this was me and my dog... I would ask myself, do I have the energy and the resources and the support to try one more thing? If I didn't--if I was done, if my partner was done, if I couldn't deal with this any more and I felt like I was going to melt down if I contemplated trying any more, I'd skip down to the bit with the bold "I can't do this any more; I need permission to stop because I am out of energy to do this." And that is okay. Either way, ask yourself what you think, and then pick the bold statement that works best for you at this time in your life and describes your honest emotional state.

I want to try one more thing. I want any reason I can find to not give up. I'm just overwhelmed and I don't know what to do now, and I can't find a way forward.

If I felt like I did have that energy, I would take that dog to a veterinary behaviorist immediately. Veterinary behaviorists are not dog trainers. Dog trainers are basically teachers, just like human teachers. The bulk of their experience focuses on teaching skills to dogs, often (although not always) in classroom settings. They may have some experience handling a problem dog, just like an experienced teacher may have some suggestions for handling a child with ADHD or impulse control problems. But that's not what they are trained for and it's not what they spend most of their time doing.

(Especially, eesh, a police dog trainer, who is usually the equivalent of a boot camp sergeant or another professional teacher. There is zero reason that someone who specializes in police dog training should have any particularly useful skills for teaching an anxious, nervy dog, any more than a drill sergeant necessarily has useful skills for helping a teenager deal with an anxiety disorder. Police dog trainers wash anxious dogs out of the program if they are any good at all at their jobs--they don't spend any time more than necessary with those dogs because those dogs are a terrible fit for the job they're training for. Anyone who claimed to you that experience training dogs for K9 units automatically makes them better at training reactive or anxious dogs who are acting out is... well, frankly, they're selling you the same line of bullshit as human military school operators who say that discipline, exhaustion, and punishment can take a human teenager with emotional problems and forcibly pressure them into acting as you want. It isn't generally very effective.)

A veterinary behaviorist is more like a psychiatrist. The bulk of their experience and clientele are dogs (and sometimes cats) who have emotional and/or behavioral problems and need to learn basic coping skills. They don't focus on teaching their clients to do a task or learn about a topic; their focus is helping an emotionally damaged animal figure out how to cope in adaptive ways. They can and do frequently diagnose medication intended to help the dog reach a better mental space, either temporarily while you work on the underlying issues or permanently. (Incidentally, as with humans who have mental health problems, sometimes experience shapes your mental health and sometimes you're just fucking unlucky in the genetics and sometimes it's a tangled mess of both. "It's all in how you raise them" is no more accurate than "all pit bulls are born aggressive.")

Behaviorists (no 'veterinary') are also good; they're more like psychologists. Their focus is similar to a psychiatrist's, but they're not allowed to prescribe meds on their own because they haven't been trained to make final decisions about medications and physical health. Like a psychologist, they may have very good suggestions about medications to try, but they will need the final approval of a veterinarian who is otherwise familiar with the dog's health. That said, they are still specialists in helping a dog with mental health issues learn to cope in a way that is safe and liveable, and their training and experience is going to be focused on dogs with problems just like yours and helping you figure out how to manage your dog. Go to a veterinary behaviorist or just a behaviorist; at this point, stop trying dog trainers.

I am at the end of my rope. I am completely out of resources, and I just need to stop doing this so I can take care of my wife, my other dog, and my family. I desperately want permission to stop trying.

If you don't have that energy? You have my permission to say "I can't deal with this." It's a huge thing to deal with, it is hard, and it is not going to be easy. With all of my heart, I would not fault you for running out of the necessary support to keep trying with a problem dog, especially a dog you are concerned may hurt someone (or which already has hurt someone). You've tried for eighteen months. If you don't have any more energy, you don't have any more energy. It isn't reasonable to ask people to do a hard thing if they don't have the resources remaining to do it.

Now. You say that this dog is "occasionally violent" and "hasn't hurt me." That tells me that this is a dog with serious problems. Here is my thought on that:

It is incredibly irresponsible to surrender a dog with serious behavioral issues to an open intake shelter, especially one that has limited resources and serves many local dogs in need of homes.

That does not mean that it is irresponsible to rehome a dog. It does mean that you have to ask yourself what is going to happen to the shelter when they try to take your dog and find him a different place. Realistically, do good homes that would not contain contexts that might trigger your dogs 'occasional violence' exist? (Without context, it's hard to evaluate this.) If not, what is the shelter going to do with your dog?

If the answer is "euthanize the dog", and it's unlikely that a home that works for your dog exists... it is kinder to everyone to take responsibility as a dog owner and euthanize the dog yourself. It's kinder to the dog, for one, because you are not making them languish in an unfamiliar, scary, stressful kennel for days or weeks or months before they're euthanized for behavioral issues anyway. It's kinder to the shelter, because you are not asking them to spend resources on an unadoptable dog... or lie to prospective adopters about your dog's issues to just get the dog out the door. (Unethical shelters absolutely do this. It is incredibly unfair to those adopters.) It's harder for you... but it's also something that you can say to yourself when you ask yourself if you did the right thing. "I exhausted all the possibilities, and I handled this incredibly difficult problem like a responsible adult, in the kindest way that I could do with the resources available to me." That can be an important thing to your own emotional processing and healing. So it's kind to yourself, because you're not left sitting up at night wondering what happened--you can know that you took responsibility for your own hard situation.

(If the answer is not "euthanize the dog" but instead is "keep the dog indefinitely in a kennel until the magical non-existent safe home comes along, possibly for years", consider whether your dog would be happy with that quality of life. Especially consider the effect of permanent kennel life on your dog and its "hyper" and "anxious" behaviors--is constant barking on all sides while living in a small run with relatively little stimulation going to bring out your dog's good traits or will it make the whole situation that much worse? For most dogs, in my experience, that isn't a life I would class as high-quality enough to be worth aiming for. Consider how your dog will be housed while it waits for a perfect home as well as the length of the wait.)

If you think that a home that could take this dog and manage it in an environment that won't trigger the dog's occasional violence exists... then the responsible thing to do is to find that home yourself and make absolutely sure that the new owner knows what they are getting into. The reason I feel strongly about that is that like I said, rescues that lie to new adopters about what they're getting into absolutely do exist, and for a dog with the potential to be dangerous, I do not trust a rescue to make that clear. I would use breed specific rescues and local rescues to do a courtesy listing, to let their potential adopters know that this dog needs a home but isn't officially in the care of the rescue. And I would ask to write up a listing that makes the good qualities of this dog--the dog has them, right?--clear and front and center. But I would also be honest, clear, and entirely unmistakeable about what the dog's issues are, so that everyone knows going in what the deal is and how to be safe.
posted by sciatrix at 7:13 AM on November 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

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