Behavioral Euthanasia; I know, it's uncomfortable
This is such a sensitive topic.. and one that I am often asked to write about. When a family is dealing with aggression in a furry family member it is completely devastating. When people contact me in regards to aggression it is usually because they have reached a "point of no return" in their minds. They need help, not sure if the help required even exists, or they are going to have to give up their dog... sometimes that means rehoming, more often than not that means euthanasia. They call me completely shattered.
Behavioral euthanasia; such a dynamic topic and one that I could speak about all day. It's difficult to even decide where to begin on the topic of aggression, but behavioral euthanasia is a good place to start. There is so much shaming surrounding euthanasia on the basis of behavior. So, let me say a few words about it before we dive into aggression itself. In a perfect world the only dogs that would be put to sleep because of aggression would be those who suffer from a medical condition that cause their aggression issues. These cases DO exist, and make these dogs extremely dangerous as there is often no way to predict when they are going to become reactive. This means that they are next to impossible to rehabilitate in a safe way. It's simply irresponsible to try to rehab dogs that have these medical issues, and the only viable choice is often to euthanize.
Now, as I mentioned, in a perfect world these cases would be the only ones in which dogs would be put to sleep for behavioral issues. Unfortunately, this world isn't perfect... dog's without any behavioral issues are put to sleep because shelters and rescues don't have room for them. Too many people shop instead of adopting, and the burden of deciding who lives and dies falls into the hands of those who are affected by it the most; rescuers. The people who dedicate their free time to rescue because of their overwhelming love for dogs have to see dogs put to sleep for no fault of their own. These people deserve our outmost respect. The world of rescue isn't the same as the rest of the world. The same rules don't apply. We have to consider that rescues have limited resources. It is the job of rescue to decide how to best allocate those resources to save the most lives possible.
Aggression rehabilitation and behavior modification can be very costly and time consuming to access. Rescues that end up with dogs who have these issues are faced with a choice; spend the necessary time and money required to save the dog in question, or put them to sleep and save 10 dogs without any behavioral issues using the same amount of resources. I know, it's an ugly subject, but it's one that these dedicated individuals face every day. Usually, the choice is clear. This tough decision weighs heavily on our rescues; facing death head on is never easy and it requires a very special kind of person. Every dog that a rescue can't save takes a piece of the volunteers' hearts with them when they go. To shame these rescues for euthanizing based upon behavioral issues is completely inappropriate. If anything, we should instead be offering them our condolences and support. They are incredibly strong people, but they rarely get recognized for the work that they do and the tole that it takes on them. It is shameful to look down on them with distaste for making the decision to euthanize for behavioral issues. Unless you are offering to provide the resources needed to save the dog in question, you have no right. Support and respect our rescue families and try to imagine the emotional tole that their invaluable work has on them.
Now, on to the rest of us; normal families who run into behavioral issues with our furry family members. We LOVE our dogs. That's why it is so heartbreaking when they start to display aggression and we don't know what to do to help them. Most people try everything they possibly can (or are aware of) before making the impossibly tough decision to euthanize their dog. A lot of veterinarians recommend euthanasia before aggression rehabilitation training and the reason is simple; rehabilitating an aggressive dog is a HUGE commitment. If you are unwilling or unable to invest the money and time into rehabilitation there is really no way for you to help your dog in a safe and responsible way.
A reactive dog isn't a happy dog and as dog owners it is not only our responsibility to ensure the safety of our families and others who may be around our dogs, it is also our responsibility to protect our dogs themselves. If your dog has become reactive and you don't want to euthanize, but also aren't able or willing to invest the needed resources into rehabilitation you are putting your dog at risk. It's your job to ensure that your dog is never in a position to hurt someone. The mass majority of dogs are aggressive out of fear. If your dog is being reactive and hurting people they are literally "fighting for their lives" in their minds. It's not okay to allow your dog to be in this situation... they are incredibly unhappy and scared. If you can't help them euthanasia is really the only way you can responsibly keep them safe.
We can't shame people who have to make the decision to put their dog to sleep. It's HEARTBREAKING. Sometimes they have young children, and it's just not responsible to attempt aggression rehabilitation. Whatever the deciding factor, I can promise you that it wasn't an easy decision to make. It's time to stop the misconceptions surrounding behavioral euthanasia. Yes, it's often possible to make progress through aggression rehab with a professional on board, but it's not always possible for a rescue or family to make it work.. rehoming or surrounding an aggressive dog because of inability for rehab is also rarely a good solution. When rehoming an aggressive dog they usually regress further because their entire world is thrown out of whack.. the only people they trust have been ripped away from them. On top of that, its extremely unusual for a rescue or family willing to accept the surrendered dog to have the knowledge or resources to rehab the aggressive dog even without the further regression from rehoming..
Behavioral Euthanasia is heartbreaking.. especially for the people who have to make the decision. It's not that the dogs in question can't be rehabilitated, it's that it's not always possible to make it happen.. please consider that before approaching someone who has been forced to make the impossible decision to let a family member go for aggression issues.
Until next time,
Pawsitive Speak Dog Training