Help please.
June 4, 2008 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Help me try to save my dog.

My mother has had a black lab for the past 5 years (He's about 7 now). He was abused in his first home which has resulted in some problems with confidence and as a symptom aggression. He's a complete sweetheart 99% of the time. Just the most affectionate and cuddly dog I have ever met. Until a stranger comes into my parents' home. He has no tolerance for this. Usually they will leash him and keep him at their side or crate him in the back room, or put him outside. Today my stepfather had someone over briefly. The dog was outside until the visitor was just leaving. My stepdad had him on a leash and he was fine. Until apparently a dog being walked in front of the house started barking, scaring my mom's dog and resulting in him nipping/biting/whatever the visitor in the ass. She wants "something" done about this. She apparently did not elaborate on what "something" is, but I can guess. My parents have resigned themselves to putting him down. He has bit someone once before, same approximate situation. New person in our home.

I feel this situation isn't so much the fault of our dog, but an issue of negligence on the part of my parents. My feeling has always been NOT to put him in this situation since we KNOW it's a possibility he will try to or will bite. We are aware of his issues and I feel it's our responsibility to make sure that we keep them in mind.

Sorry. Basically, the visitor hasn't forced us to euthanize him, to our knowledge hasn't reported the incident to anyone (the bite didn't break skin btw, so no tetanus). There has to be more options. I know that finding another more suitable home is an extreme longshot. How effective would puppy prozac be in this situation? Experiences? Other ideas?
posted by heavenstobetsy to Pets & Animals (23 answers total)
Can they do that, though? I mean, they were in your parents home. It's not as if this happened on the street, and the dog was unleashed and running wild. I say give this visitor a Target gift card for some new pants and move on.
posted by littlerobothead at 8:01 PM on June 4, 2008

I don't think the visitor can force you to have the dog euthanized unless he takes you to court and the court orders it (an order which is usually only reserved for vicious animals "at large"). He might try to sue your parents' home-owners' insurance for medical bills (was he injured?) or other damages.
posted by amyms at 8:08 PM on June 4, 2008

I am so sorry to hear you are being made to face something so sad like this with your dog! Can you tell your parents you would appreciate being the one to take the dog to get killed at the veterinarian's and instead just take him somewhere else? A foster home you have prearranged or something. You could mail them some fake doggy ashes (placed in a nice little tin) in a couple weeks and make it look like it's from the cremation service the vet uses.

Then again there is a more honest approach. It sounds like your parents are considering having the dog die for the bite on the stranger's ass because they didn't want the dog anyway and are being passive-aggressive about it. In other words, they don't want to take responsibility for making a decision so they are going to let some stranger's whining make the decision for them. The sad thing really is the fact that your parents are going to be putting this dog to death simply because they were not responsible enough to care for him.
posted by mamaraks at 8:11 PM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: My understanding was that if there was a complaint made that either the humane society or the police could order the animal euthanized. I'm in Canada, btw. I could be wrong. In any case, even if it isn't ordered my parents seem to think euthanizing him is the only option. My mother does not want him muzzled for the rest of his life, but this has happened only twice in the past 5 years, it seems like something we should be able to avoid.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 8:13 PM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: mamaraks, if I could find a foster home I would be more than happy to do that. I'm not really sure where to look but I've emailed a couple places in Ontario so far. Also, they absolutely do want/love the dog. I know that's not obvious, but they do. I think they are more tired than anything else.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 8:15 PM on June 4, 2008

The impression I get (don't own a dog, talk to a lot of dog owners) is that a carefully chosen trainer (um, an actual dog owner should help you with that part) can do wonders with this kind of thing - if the dog's owner makes the commitment to follow through with training. So the problem here is, as others have already suggested, that your parents love their dog but are kind of consigning themselves to the tragedy rather than looking for other options.

To get your dog out of this situation, you need to either convince your parents to commit to him properly, or get him owners who will. Is there any chance you can take him in? (I'm kind of doubting it, or I suspect you would have suggested it already, but I thought I'd ask.) Otherwise ... yeah, he's probably better off in another home, even if you don't see him again. Because even if charges aren't pressed now, well - without commitment to some sort of behavior-changing solution, it's going to happen again, and then charges will be pressed, and blah blah blah the Big Sleep. Poor doggy. I'm really sorry about this - I'm sure it sucks major.

Is his vet aware of this aggression problem? Do you have local dog-owning friends who can recommend trainers?
posted by bettafish at 8:32 PM on June 4, 2008

The dog has bitten two people? I know you love the dog; I love dogs, too. But a dog that has bitten two people is dangerous. Were he a puppy you would certainly have a lot of options with regard to training, changing environments, etc. But a 7 year old dog? Moving the dog to a foster home is probably not going to improve matters. In fact, changing homes may well exacerbate the problem as the dog has to adjust. That's really just shifting the burden of tough decisions on to a different person.

If the dog has bitten two people and regularly becomes aggressive in certain situations I'm not sure that constant muzzling isn't the best solution if you want to avoid euthanizing the dog. You know he bites people. If he really injures the next person, you could be responsible legally and you're definitely responsible morally.
posted by Justinian at 8:36 PM on June 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've told this story here before and the dog people may hate me and one anecdote does not make a trend but...

If your dog has nipped before, he can bite again. When Mr. Darling and I were first married, we had a dog who did not like visitors. He nipped at several people but we were reluctant to acknowledge that the dog was the problem. (Or, our inability to manage him was the problem, but food chain wins here.)

Several months later, we took the dog to my in-laws and he bit the daughter of a friend of ours on the face, while he was being restrained and acting, to that point, fairly docile while she petted him.

The child was immediately transported to the hospital for stitches and the dog was immediately transported to animal control to be quarantined and then put down. We just couldn't risk it any more.

And, in spite of offering to cover any expenses, present and future, out of pocket, we were sued by these friends. We knew a lawsuit was probable, but they waited until two days before the statute of limitations was up [2 years] before we were served with papers. The waiting was excruciating.

They received a settlement of close to $250k from our insurance company. Our in-laws' insurance had to pay another $50k because it happened on their property.

So after the lawsuits and the insurance and the stress and the tears and the guilt, I wish I had done something with that dog immediately after the first bite. Perhaps not euthanasia, but out of my life for sure.

It is not worth the risk.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:38 PM on June 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

(Constant muzzling around strangers, that is. Obviously not muzzling 24/7)
posted by Justinian at 8:38 PM on June 4, 2008

I would try to find a trainer who specializes in dealing with aggressive dogs. A good trainer should be able to evaluate the dog and give your parents how realistic it would be it reduce the problem. As mentioned before, your parents would need to make a commitment to follow through on the training - which they might be willing to do after this second close call. It is almost certain that sooner or later the dog will be put in a similar situation and cause real harm to someone as well as forcing them euthanize him. Just waiting for that to happen, doesn't seem fair to either the dog or victim. Also, given the dog's past history, your parents are likely to legally liable if the dog does serious harm to someone.
posted by metahawk at 8:46 PM on June 4, 2008

There are rescues here in the US that will take in dogs with behaviour problems and either give them a decent (and protected) life somewhere where they won't be exposed to the issues that will cause them to exhibit the behaviour, or will use training to find workarounds for the issue. However, it does sound like your parents may be contributing to the problem if it's gone on this long.

As it is, my dog has had aggressive tendencies towards other dogs and people. Has not broken the skin of another dog and has growled at strangers when she wasn't introduced properly, but she is most definitely under my control during these incidents, and using Reconcile (the brand name for puppy prozac) and a prong collar I have managed to train her out of her aggression towards other cars, joggers, and bicyclists we meet on the street. (Still working on the other dogs, it's a stickier issue.)
posted by SpecialK at 8:46 PM on June 4, 2008

This sounds like a fearful dog. Fearful dogs cannot be made into confident dogs, but they can be given coping skills and be safe with proper management of their environment. This dog was basically set up to fail in this situation by allowing the environmental stress to overtop the dog's bite threshold. If your parents intend to keep this dog, then they should contact a proper behaviourist who can work with them on learning about bite thresholds, how to read this dog's stress level properly, what the dog's stressors are and how to properly manage this dog. That said, humane euthanasia is far from the worst fate for a dog, and I would rather see that happen than see this dog placed in a position where she can bite someone seriously (however, it is a testament to this dog's bite inhibition that even under that much stress, she did not cause serious injury). This is not an aggression problem as described, it is an anxiety/reactivity problem.
posted by biscotti at 8:55 PM on June 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think the dog needs to see a behaviorist rather than a trainer. A trainer will try to teach a dog not to bite, whereas a behaviorist will seek to understand what exactly is going on in the dog's head that is causing him to act aggressively, and will use these findings to create an appropriate strategy for managing the behavior.

Here is a bit more information about the differences between trainers and behaviorists. Note that a behaviorist should have an advanced degree in animal behavior or a related field.
posted by kitty teeth at 9:08 PM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Find a trainer and get a muzzle.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:26 PM on June 4, 2008

Wow there's a lot of horrible advice in here like "if he's nipped once he can bite again". Any dog on any given day can bite. It's self defense and self preservation, it's not a magic bean that once it sprouts it won't go away.

Biscotti's right as usual---it's an anxiety issue and not an aggression issue. Let's have an example:
You're chilling at your home with your family whom you love so much you would absolutely lay down your life for them at any given second. Suddenly, BIG SCARY STRANGER shows up. She smells funny, not like *your* people. What's worse, all the sudden your dad stands on a rope tied to your neck. You can't even MOVE .What if she tries to hurt you? What if, for the love of god, she tries to hurt DAD or MOM? You're defenseless, tied to the floor by the person you love, and there's a strange smelling person in your house you've never even seen before. Oh good, she's leaving bye strang...OH WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT AHHHHHH! *Nip*

There are a host of issues here. Most often we make drastically bad decisions regarding the training of our dogs out of convenience and ease. Standing on the leash is easier than training, rght? Anyway, it sounds like she's not adequately socialized with other people and dogs. She's a little old to have skipped this part of her life---but she can learn. Find a trainer or a foster home where there are knowledgeable people and she can be saved.

Or, your parents can wash their hands of her like most people would. Most people need punched in the face.

The local Kennel Club would be a great jumping off point to find a trainer.
posted by TomMelee at 4:55 AM on June 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

We have a dog who bites when she gets excited, usually the other dogs, and it is clear that restraining her escalates her agitation dramatically. The last time we tried a leash when strangers came in the house, it looked like my husband had the cartoon Tasmanian Devil wrapped around his legs, and I can't believe she didn't pull him over and eat his face. We don't do that anymore. A leash is a status demotion, and that's a bad thing in insecure dogs. A leashed insecure dog around a child (aka two-legged puppy subordinate) is even worse than an unleashed insecure dog around a child.

For right this minute, I would suggest the Gentle Leader Easy Walk harness rather than a collar or other harness. It puts no stress on their throats and so doesn't escalate the panic as much. Then get a trainer, and make sure that your parents understand that dog trainers train people more than dogs, so if they aren't willing to really buy in and participate it's not going to help. The hardest thing they are going to have to learn is to not tense up, because that alone can ignite a situation. They are also going to have to recruit volunteers to come help practice (if you have a dog training program in the area, that might be an awesome place to recruit strangers to come in and out of the house repeatedly).

Cesar Millan would say that the dog isn't getting enough exercise, and I tend to agree. It's HARD to exercise a dog enough to keep them at a normal level of canine brain chemicals. (Unless you have a pool, and a really good filter. That'll do the job.) A consistent routine of extra walks or hard play - it's a lab, is it tennis-ball-obsessed? - plus some brain exercise like a treat puzzle or series of tricks every day will help. A trainer can help them figure out a good routine for that, as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:02 AM on June 5, 2008

I think putting down the dog for this is completely ridiculous. The bite did not even break the skin. If the dog were really aggressive, he certainly could have/would have. Have your parents consult a trainer and muzzle or crate the dog when there are visitors and tell the visitor that "something" has been done. I would also apologize to the visitor, get them some kind of gift, emphasize that he is a good dog and you love him very much, and tell them that you'll make sure this won't happen again.

I can't really believe that your parents want to put down your dog for something like this. Two nips that didn't break skin do not make a dangerous dog. If your parents can't take the simple step of keeping visitors away from him, can you take him?

One other thing - there are lots of inexpensive medications that can help for anxiety and fear. An example is Clomicalm, which is generically available as anafranil. Between that, the trainer, and the muzzle/crate, your visitor should be pacified.
posted by walla at 8:44 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

And yes, leashed dogs are definitely more anxious and prone to freaking out than unleashed dogs. Crate the dog or put him in a different room when people are over. It really shouldn't be that difficult.
posted by walla at 8:58 AM on June 5, 2008

Animal Welfare Organizations in Ontario

Listen to biscotti. Start calling and get a recommendation for a trainer/behaviorist. Shelter and rescue groups have definite opinions on good trainers.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:02 AM on June 5, 2008

Labrador Retriever rescue organizations in Canada.

Nthing listen to biscotti. You need a good behaviorist, and if your parents aren't willing to follow through (it takes a lot of dedication, which frankly most people don't have), you should consider relinquishing the dog to a rescue organization, where hopefully the dog will receive the help he needs.
posted by HotToddy at 11:16 AM on June 5, 2008

No, no, and no. You don't muzzle an anxious OR aggressive dog unless you want to make it worse AND scare people. You'd be way better off to crate the dog, however what you really need to do is acclimate the dog to strangers.
posted by TomMelee at 7:49 PM on June 5, 2008

My parents had a dog with a similar issue- a rescue dog, about 4 when we got her, but she wasn't aggressive so much as terrified and defensive. You've gotten lots of good advice above re training and remembering that no trainer can train a dog whose family doesn't stick to the training - I just wanted to add that this sort of issue CAN be addressed! It just won't go away by itself.
posted by oblique red at 9:21 PM on June 6, 2008

Maybe get your poor old hound assessed? ie - He's got an excellent chance of complete success at rehab. (Or nope he's fucked.) And then send that to the lady (along with apologies and pants. Dogs eating your clothes is never fun!) and ask her to decide its fate... Agreeing to reassess the situation if rehab fails would seem a logical and fair condition.

It's one thing to be angry and self-righteous. It's quite another to personally condemn a wretched creature when it's come a long way on its own and shows all the signs of being highly likely to come the rest of the way given half a chance. Being bit by a dog fucking hurts and I understand where she's coming from. I've got no time for bitey dogs either but this is a little different.

Though if the exact same thing happened for a third time I'd have no sympathy for you and possibly would put the tortured thing to sleep out of sympathy for it.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 3:37 AM on June 7, 2008

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