A client contacted me recently because his dog that I had trained two or three years ago has had a couple of incidents of aggression in the last couple of weeks. I read the email once and absorbed the emotion and urgency of the situation as concerns of litigation and euthanasia (forced or voluntary) were mentioned. When I read the email a second time I looked for the details and what I learned was that in both instances the owner of the dog was not present. In one instance the dog had gotten out of the yard and bit someone that was out for a walk. In the second instance the dog was walking with the dog walker when a neighbor approached to get a business card from the dog walker. The dog bit the approaching neighbor. In the email the owner asked me if there was anything I could do to change this dog in a way that would prevent future incidents. It is my belief some dogs cannot be changed so profoundly through training, exercise or even medication to make them safe to themselves and others under any scenario in which they may be placed. I struggle to help owners see this as a truth.
I feel there is only one thing a person can completely control when it comes to their dog and that is the dog’s obedience and subsequent behavior when it is in the presence of its owner. The dog’s limitations must be accepted in order to keep the dog and the public safe. For that particular dog it may mean a change in dog walkers to find someone that will not give the dog the benefit of the doubt and keep it at a distance from strangers that would approach. (In this particular case this dog had behaved aggressively in the presence of the dog walker previously.) It may mean no more trips to the dog park. It could mean no alone time in the backyard if escape is a possibility. In the end any blame will lie at the feet of the owner. It is ultimately up to the owner to admit to his or herself the limitations of the animal and take the necessary steps to keep the dog and the public safe no matter how inconvenient.
Dog’s can be a risky commitment. If you have chosen to honor your commitment to your aggressive dog and you feel you have exhausted every avenue in changing the dog’s temperament I encourage you to set pity, embarrassment or pride aside and accept the dog’s aggression as part of your reality and take the necessary steps to ensure the dog is never put in a situation that will hurt someone or another animal. Not adhering to this principal will surely require the dog to be euthanized. Sometimes no amount of obedience classes, runs in the park or Prozac will change the very primal and ingrained behavior of pet canines.