The Aggressive Dog and Rescue

We see the same e-mail, and hear the same message on the answering machine, many times each month:

"My dog has bitten my son's friend (or daughter, or neighbor) and I can't keep him any more.  He just needs a home with out kids or out on a farm where I know he'll be happy."

In addition to owners asking us to accept their aggressive dogs into our program, we sometimes have shelters or other well-meaning rescuers hoping that a miracle will happen for the dog that can no longer live with the family who has loved and cared for him. Many feel that the dog can be trained or rehabilitated to a point where he will be safe. Others feel that the perfect solution for the dog is an adult-only home where there wont be any risk of aggression. Some argue that they have been successful in working with their own dogs who have growled, snarled and snapped, and they feel that rescues should do the same.

The saddest part about receiving calls from families with aggressive dogs is that some of those dogs can be helped provided he or she is in a home with an experienced owner committed to working with a knowledgeable trainer. The reality, however, is that most owners do not have the desire to work through such issues. Most dogs are fortunate just to get walked for twenty minutes a day. Very few are offered the luxury of extra attention and training when behavioral issues arise. While most owners are not willing to consult a trainer, we always do encourage families to contact a behaviorist when we feel the dog can be safely managed in the current home environment.

So what options are available to families with dogs that snarl, growl and try to bite? Unfortunately, not many. The reason? Families that come to rescue to adopt a dog want a family companion they can trust. They want a dog that they can take to the park, be around company when the kids friends are over, and have around their own children safely without any fear of aggression. The average person looking to adopt has neither the knowledge nor the skills (nor desire to learn) how to work with a dog that threatens to bite. And what about those adult-only homes? In real life its hard to find people who don't have children, don't have grandchildren, and who never invite nieces, nephews or friends with kids to visit.

The average time for adoption of a young, healthy purebred dog is approximately two weeks. Dogs that require additional training and that are not yet housebroken can take extra time to adopt out. In the same time a rescue houses one aggressive dog, the organization could have cared for dozens and dozens of adoptable dogs, placing them into permanent homes. Accepting an aggressive dog into rescue means turning away other nice tempered dogs that need assistance.

The final reason we do not accept aggressive dogs into our adoption program is we recognize our responsibility to ensure the safety of the community. In recent months many clubs and rescue organizations have had their general liability insurance policies canceled due to the inordinate number of claims received by the insurance industry from those bitten by dogs. Not only does our liability carrier prohibit our acceptance of aggressive dogs into our program, we also feel an obligation to our adoptive families to ensure they are taking home a dog that will be safe around them and their children.

While we wish we could say it is rare that we receive calls for help from families with aggressive dogs, it has become far too common. We wish more families were able and willing to work with trainers before the dog begins to bite. Unfortunately, few are. In those instances, humane euthanasia is the only safe alternative for dogs that are aggressive.

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