What can I do with this dog?
March 28, 2006 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Aggressive dog problem...

I adopted a dog (5-year-old male siberian husky, recently neutered) from a local SPCA shelter in December, and kept him for about two months.

Over the course of the two months, he would occasionally display dominant and aggressive behavior toward me. For example, he's on the bed and he knows he shouldn't be. I tell him to get down and he refuses (90% of the time he would get down immediately), instead staying planted and staring at me, challenging me to do something. If I reach for his collar or anything like that, he would growl and snap at me. The latest episode involved lots of growling and baring of teeth. I had to resort to having him wear a leash all the time, so I'd have something to grab him by and lead him to where I want him when he's behaving this way.

These incidents got more frequent over time. The behavior had basically scared me to the point where I don't want to keep him. I took him back to the shelter (I signed an agreement that said I would take him back there if I decided not to keep him). The shelter said they would euthanize him if no one will take him, and I told them to call me if it came to that. Three weeks have gone by, and she's called every husky rescue and shelter in a pretty large radius around here, no one will have him because of the aggression. They seemed to know that this is a trait in huskies that shows up occasionally, and when it does, there's nothing that can be done. My understanding is most shelters/rescues won't take such a dog in, because if they place him, they can get sued if he ends up biting someone.

I have seemingly two options. Take the dog back and deal with him as best I can, or allow them to euthanize. I would appreciate any advice you guys can offer. I don't want this dog, but I don't want to be the one responsible for his death.
posted by knave to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't take the dog back. When a dog frightens you, they can smell it, and know it as surely as you can tell by looking that, yup, that's a dog. The least bit of cringing back will embolden him to get even more aggressive; it's a bad cycle that at the very best leads to an unhappy owner and improperly socialized animal, and at the worst to bodily injury--to the owner or, worse, to someone else who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time--finally confirming a decision that should have been made in the first place.

It's cold comfort, but you're not the one responsible for the dog's death--the responsible party is whoever didn't want the animal in the first place and got rid of it before proper socialization could actually be relatively easily instilled.
posted by Drastic at 12:32 PM on March 28, 2006

Get a muzzle. That may make him less dangerous and may make him understand that his threat of biting will not work. Only take off the muzzle to allow him to eat. Hopefully after a week, it might make a difference. Also I would think you would have an easier time handling him with a muzzle.
posted by JJ86 at 12:35 PM on March 28, 2006

You're not responsible for his death, in any case. If the dog is really beyond rehabilitating, and you don't feel that you can deal with it, it's not your fault, though you'll probably feel bad about it for a while. That's okay, but don't tell yourself you're a bad person for not being able to deal with an aggressive animal.

Still, maybe you could call around and see if there are any no-kill shelters that would be willing to take him in. Call all of them, don't just assume that no one will be willing to try. Maybe go the extra mile and check out neighboring towns or other parts of your state -- I say this because you're obviously going to feel really bad if the dog has to be put down, so you might want to look into options that are a little above and beyond, that's all.
posted by Gator at 12:38 PM on March 28, 2006

Gator, I believe that's exactly what she did, but I can try myself, you are right.
posted by knave at 12:41 PM on March 28, 2006

Hey. I'd be angry too if I was recently Neutered...

Seriously, There are several drugs that can be used to mitigate the aggressiveness. If you don't mind a drugged dog. Talk to your Vet about Puppy Prozak or something similar.
posted by Gungho at 12:56 PM on March 28, 2006

Before you give up on him, watch The Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel. Cesar Millan is a genius and his method is miraculous.

He contends that you must show calm, assertive energy to be your dog's pack leader. No fear, no anger, just an unwavering belief that you are going to get your own way. Your instinct to put a leash on the dog is a good one; you do want to be able to move him, if necessary.

He also says that the best way to get control of your dog is over the course of a long walk (45 min/day). "Exercise, discipline, then affection."

I don't know if it will work in your case, but I have found Cesar's methods absolutely inspiring and spot-on in the way I interact with our dog.
posted by SashaPT at 12:59 PM on March 28, 2006

The dog's aggressive behavior is not your fault. Let this one go. If you still feel guilty inside, save another dog destined for the gas chamber that isn't aggressive.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:04 PM on March 28, 2006

Have you discussed this with your vet? She might be able to evaluate the situation. And has the shelter seen any further incidents of aggression since he's been back?
posted by dilettante at 1:37 PM on March 28, 2006

No, I haven't discussed it with the vet, I've only discussed it with the shelter specialist. She said they don't see the behavior in the shelter because the dog is not part of a pack there, and sees no need to assert his position in the pack. It's only when they place him that it comes to light. She *did* see food aggression with him, which I didn't think was a big deal (I just don't mess with him when he eats), but I didn't think it would be an indicator of a bigger problem.
posted by knave at 1:41 PM on March 28, 2006

You have to do whatever you're comfortable with. The dog is acting like a dog, though - all dogs need to know where they stand in the hierarchy, and some dogs will make a bid for the top rung if you don't really fill it yourself. There's nothing wrong with that behavior, but now that he's been tagged in the system as aggressive, the game is pretty much over for him. This is not a husky trait, this is a canine trait. Some dogs are more ambitious than others.

Snapping and growling in a challenge situation is not aggression, it's dominance. It's a situation that can be settled, and I agree that you could probably apply Cesar Millan's techniques and see a remarkable improvement, but it's going to take a lot of mental shifting for you to feel comfortable after everything that's happened, and if you're not comfortable the dog's going to know. Also, with a dog like a husky, it's going to take a lot of long walks to actually fulfill the "exercise" part of the equation. (This is why I like 'em stupid and lazy, because controlling them is so much easier even if they're 200 pounds.)

There's almost never "nothing that can be done." That doesn't necessarily mean you're the one who has to do it, but I do think you're the only one who will for this particular dog.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:01 PM on March 28, 2006

Depending on your financial situation, you might consider taking him back and hiring someone to teach you the basics of obedience. Working one on one with a trainer might help both of you.

Nothing against reading books or watching The Dog Whisperer, but sometimes you need someone right there who can advise you based on your unique situation. You'd be surprised at how seemingly meaningless things like eye contact appear like a threat to a dog.

Another potential solution is to get him a friend, preferably a cat. Another dog might result in them forming a pack with you being the odd one out. But an adult cat who can escape easily from aggression and/or fight back might give him something to do, other than testing you. (IANAV - check with your vet about this idea first.)

Also, petfinder.com is a good place to look for rescue groups. And don't discount out-of-town groups, as they can usually arrange transportation. (I do pet transports myself.)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:23 PM on March 28, 2006

It sounds more like dominance issues than aggression. The behavior got more frequent over time because he was getting the desired response out of you. He calls your bluff one day, and it worked, and he tried it again the next, and soon you taught him that growling and snapping gets him what he wants and he doesn't have to listen anymore. There's no incentive for him to behave when being a brat works. My guess is that if you call up any rescue and say "I have an aggressive dog" they'll politely refuse but if you told them that you had a dog that was challenging authority and needed some training and an owner with a firm hand they would be more helpful.
posted by hindmost at 2:39 PM on March 28, 2006

Do not leave a muzzle on him, this is inhumane and is extremely unlikely to accomplish anything useful (and many dogs become MORE likely to bite as soon as the muzzle is removed).

Do not try to get a rescue to take him. Responsible, ethical rescues do not want this kind of dog, there are far too many dogs without this kind of issue in need of homes, and no rescue will place a dog with a history of aggression (and DO NOT lie to a rescue, growling and snapping is a serious problem, especially in a dog who is basically still a puppy), there is an enormous liability involved in placing a dog with a known aggression history.

Do not take the dog back. Some dogs just have a screw loose, in a dog of this age, a willingness to show aggression toward humans is unusual and very worrisome. Some dogs just can't live well with people, and the only responsible thing to do is remove the possibility that they might harm someone (any dog can bite, of course, but a dog like this has the deck stacked against him). It is not the worst thing in the world for an animal to be humanely euthanized.

You sound like you'd offer a great home to a dog who ISN'T going to be a non-stop project and worry like this one is, why not look for a dog with a sound temperament? Incidentally, Huskies are one of those breeds of dog which are very far from suitable for everyone, they are not bred to be pets by any stretch of the imagination, I would not suggest you look for another Husky.
posted by biscotti at 2:59 PM on March 28, 2006

It sounds more like dominance issues than aggression. The behavior got more frequent over time because he was getting the desired response out of you. He calls your bluff one day, and it worked, and he tried it again the next, and soon you taught him that growling and snapping gets him what he wants and he doesn't have to listen anymore.

I disagree with this. Any time I saw the behavior, the end result was him locked out on the porch for timeout. Sometimes I was able to grab his collar anyway and throw him out there, and other times I was able to get the leash on him and lead him out there. He never "got away" with it.
posted by knave at 3:22 PM on March 28, 2006

Also, thanks for the responses so far.
posted by knave at 3:27 PM on March 28, 2006

He may not have seen that as you winning, though. You really only have about a 5- to 10-second window to be more dominant than him, and if he's extremely dominant all it would take is you breaking eye contact with him for him to think he's won.

A timeout to a dog is you retreating from his presence, which is not a win for you.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:39 PM on March 28, 2006

Thanks for the clarification knave. And I wanted to add that I was absolutely not advocating lying to a rescue, but if you call and explain in detail what the situation is they can sometimes help, even if they don't end up taking the dog.
posted by hindmost at 3:42 PM on March 28, 2006

Lyn, you quite possibly know more than me about this, but to me, he knew he'd been beaten. As soon as the leash went on, he followed me obediently. Once out on the porch he would wimper and whine like a baby. A little while later, I'd go out there and he'd run circles around me, desperate to go inside. I would just stand there and wait patiently, and eventually he would actually lay down, and roll over on his belly in submission. As soon as he did this, I'd open the door and let him back inside.

Does that make any sense to you?
posted by knave at 3:46 PM on March 28, 2006

Sorry, roll over and show me his belly, not roll on his belly.
posted by knave at 3:47 PM on March 28, 2006

Do you know how he ended up at the shelter?

Also, there are some medical problems that can cause aggresssion. Just more information for you.
posted by dilettante at 4:17 PM on March 28, 2006

What biscotti said, and my condolences. I had to have an aggressive rescue dog - a blind Walker hound, fwiw - put down last November after almost seven months of trying everything under the sun to make him better. In retrospect my main regret is that I didn't just bite the bullet and do it sooner. A lot of what you're saying sounds familiar. It's a very, very difficult decision to make, but there are dogs who cannot be saved by anything short of a miracle, and miracles don't always happen. I didn't want to believe it either, but now I know that there really are dogs who have something wrong with them and will never make good pets, no matter how hard you try. There are also great, wonderful, sweet dogs, lots and lots of them, at shelters who need homes.

Sometimes, as the human, you have to make the hard and terrible decision to let a dog go. Email's in my profile. I'm so sorry. It was of the hardest decisions of my life, but I know it was the right one.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:22 PM on March 28, 2006

The instant he snaps at you, beat the shit out of him with a rolled up newspaper while screaming like a chimp on meth.

If you're actually scared to do this, get a different dog because you won't dominate this one.
posted by flabdablet at 5:56 PM on March 28, 2006

Oh for god's sake people. Please stop talking about "dominance" as if it means anything useful (here's a clue: the number of dogs who are ACTUALLY dominant is TINY - is there often a problem with human-dog interaction? Yes. Do people inadvertently not protray themselves as leaders thus forcing the dog to assume that role? Yes. But it's not about "dominance" for fuck's sake, that kind of thinking is more than thirty years out of date, it was based on faulty information in the first place and PEOPLE ARE NOT DOGS, you don't need to dominate a dog, you need to act like a leader (alpha dogs almost NEVER get physical with other dogs, they don't have to, it's the subordinate dogs that do what the misinformed like to call "dominating"). The problem is not dominance, and beating the shit out of dogs with newspapers is for abusive assholes who haven't got a clue about how to actually train a dog and don't seem to be able to use their big primate brain to do anything useful like actually LEARN how to train a damned dog.
posted by biscotti at 7:12 PM on March 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

I was thinking that his attitude was pushier than it sounds now. There's definitely something going on there, and pinning that down is difficult with an adult dog with an unknown past can be a long, drawn-out process. Two months is not a terribly long time, and you might have been just starting to see his true colors, or you might have been seeing a kind of new home adolescence, and there's lots of variables that you can never know unless you've got intimate details about his past. Taking the dog back, if you went that route, should really involve getting a behaviorist to come into your home and see what's up.

But everyone has their limits. You've reached yours with this dog, and I know you don't want his death to be your responsibility, but there's lots of easy dogs out there that you can't give a home to either. The dog isn't going to know there's no tomorrow, if that's what it comes to. If you want to take a shot at calling around yourself in case you can find someone to take him (and you may have more internet-fu than the shelter), that would certainly count as due dilligence. It sucks to be in this position, and I'm sure it's a sad time for you, but you can only do what you can do.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:48 PM on March 28, 2006

I can't add any advice beyond what biscotti and Lyn have said (which are great and I second/third, etc.). You're obviously in a very difficult situation, and one that I hope to never find myself in.

That said, regardless of the outcome, plese don't let this particular instance burn you out on either adopting from shelters/adopting older dogs/ or (necessarily) adopting Huskies.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:18 PM on March 28, 2006

THANK YOU, biscotti! The dominance thing is total crap. It was based on crap studies of captive wolves who were unrelated to each other--in particular, one done in 1947 by Rudolph Schenkel who came up with the term "alpha". 1947. On the other hand, Dr. L. David Mech who has studied wild wolves for 13 summers has never seen a single incident of a "dominance contest". He doesn't even use the term "alpha". (Check out the August 2005 issue of Your Dog from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts for more info.) There are lots of good books out there that talk about modern ideas of dog training. Dogwise.com is a good place to start.

I also don't think you should take the dog back. You could provide a home for some other great dog though. If you can find a rescue organization that uses foster homes, it's a great way to learn more about a dog. The foster parents can provide a lot more information about how the dog reacts to everyday things like children, other dogs, whether there's any food aggression, etc. in a low-stress home setting. It's pretty common--many municipal animal shelters use foster homes.
posted by lobakgo at 11:23 PM on March 28, 2006

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