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What Is a Bad Dog?

It's not the dog, it's the owner - popular saying

Sometimes, it is the dog - Louise Louis


color image of Beware of Dog sign
BEWARE OF DOG -Warning Sign

Get a group of experienced pet professionals together and you'll hear stories about psychotic dogs they've encountered.

There are bad dogs

One pet sitter I know had been walking a dog since he was 8-weeks old. Not sweet but not aggressive, the dog had never given her any problems - until he turned 2-years-old. After the second time he cornered her and wouldn't let her leave, she quit. A few weeks later, the owner had the dog euthanized. He had attacked the owner and caused permanent nerve damage in her arm.

Rare? Not as much as you might think. The U.S. Center for Disease Control tallies more than 4.7 million dog bites a year and of those, almost 40,000 require some type of reconstructive surgery. Certainly, some of those result from a provoked dog responding in a reasonable (to a dog) way.

Sometimes, however, generations of poor breeding or neurological abnormality result in a dog psychopath. These are not dogs that chew your expensive shoes or have an accident in the house or refuse to 'Sit' on command. Those are training issues.

We're talking real problems: when you're afraid of your own dog, when an unprovoked dog attacks someone or when a dog stalks or continually exhibits dominance over small children.

A neighbor once adopted a fully grown dog from a local shelter. The dog was a terrier mix and very active but otherwise seemed fine. Within the first three days, the dog had broken through a 6-foot wood privacy fence to kill a gentle little Shih Tzu out on a potty break next door.

My neighbor took the dog back to the shelter, but it refused to take him back with the comment, 'he'd been a handful.' The dog was euthanized by a local vet.

Biting is never acceptable

Sometimes biting is understandable. Any dog may bite a human who hurts him, and the human may deserve it. Unprovoked biting or biting when you try to corral your dog is not acceptable. Good dogs do not bite unprovoked.

If you've ever watched either the U. K. or U. S. version of It's Me or the Dog television show, you've seen people try to rationalize why their dog bit someone and (more crazily) people who put up with a dog who bites them. {Here's a mental health tip: leave any home where the owner lets a dog bite you and leave plus call Child Protective Services if the owner lets the dog, or rationalizes why the dog, bit a child.}

Rehabilitation is a specific cure

Conventional wisdom in our politically-correct society maintains that training can correct any problem and if a dog is misbehaving, it's because the owner has done something wrong. That's fine for normal canine issues like difficult housebreaking, jumping up on people or excessive barking.

If there's a specific reason why a dog is behaving as he does, it may be corrected with exercise, training or sometimes with medication. Dogs who suffer extreme anxiety at being left alone, for instance, may be given antidepressants such as clomipramine (Clomicalm), fluoxetine (Prozac) or sertraline (Zoloft) with good results.

Assuming an innately vicious dog can be reliably rehabilitated is naive. Recognizing the source of a dog's aggression is not easy and requires considerable experience and training. Training and controlling an aggressive dog even one that's not vicious is a
full-time job and the majority of do-gooders who take in a dog like this are woefully unprepared and unable to meet the demands of this job. Even experts like Victoria Stilwell sometimes recommend that a dog be euthanized.

I repeat - if you are afraid of your dog, something is seriously wrong.

Dangerous Dog Laws aren't solving the problem

In one publicized case in Seattle, a pit bull escaped it's yard and bit three people in the space of one hour. The pit bull's owner hired a lawyer and was able to get the pit bull back. A court ruled the dog bites were not severe enough (although one was to a man's face) to categorize the pit bull as a dangerous dog and be euthanized.

How the judge would have felt if he'd been one of the dog bite victims is open to question. Unfortunately, these laws are subjective enough that every judge is making his own determination.

One Pennsylvania shelter was the subject of a 2011 lawsuit because it wanted to euthanize a pit bull that had been returned after he bit his new owner. In response to the lawsuit, the shelter sent the dog to a trainer and will try to get it re-adopted. Hopefully, the shelter will be responsible enough to warn an potential adopter. The truth is you can never trust a dog that's attacked someone without provocation even if you're Cesar Milan.

Some people have romanticized views of dogs and the lawsuit above is a perfect example. There are many adoptable dogs in shelters now, but this Pennsylvania shelter will have to spend money trying to rehabilitate a vicious dog instead of caring for and publicizing dogs that could more easily (and safely) be adopted. If the dog is rehomed and attacks again, who do you think will be sued - the shelter or the twit?

If you think 'rehabilitation' is a scientific process, please send me the reference of a study from any reputable veterinary or scientific journal that documents that process and results. Start looking now and let me know how it goes.

Euthanasia is sometimes the correct response

I don't know how many infants will have to die or how many innocent people will be disfigured before Americans will grow up and acknowledge that innately aggressive vicious dogs should not be allowed to live in our communities.

(also see What is a Good Dog?)

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