Behavioral problems or unstable temperament can be the result of poor breeding or experiences in the dog’s life such as lack of socialization, neglect or abuse. Dogs can also exhibit inappropriate behavior due to pain or fear. Now a note: some things people call “issues” are actually normal for dogs in general or specific breeds – such as a prey drive towards cats or aggression towards other dogs. These are still things that must be managed.
In my previous post, I mentioned an adopter who had a Golden Retriever who was temperamentally unsound. He growled at people, gnashed his teeth a few times at her and her daughter and was overall just a big pain in the butt. Being a responsible pet owner, she took steps to ensure the safety of her daughter, herself, visitors to her home and the public. She made sure that he was properly contained at all times, she didn’t allow him in her daughters room and she used a sliplead on him when she needed to take him out of the house.
A responsible pet owner will recognize the limits of their dog and manage the dog’s behavior to prevent incidents with cats, other dogs or heaven forbid, humans.
I always recommend a thorough vet exam to rule out medical reasons for the inappropriate or uncharacteristic behavior. Dogs often show pain by growling or snapping. For example, my pit bull snapped at the cat and his other packmates when he was suffering due to arthritis and mild hip dysplaysia. For us, reducing the pain eliminiated the inappropriate behavior. Everyone wins!
Once pain has been ruled out, a skilled behaviorist should be consulted to assess whether the dog can be managed with behavior modification and to provide a training plan.
A reponsible pet owner will ensure that their dog aggressive dog is not allowed to interact with unfamiliar dogs. This may mean discontinuing taking the dog in public, muzzling it, or training the dog to ignore and avoid other dogs. I have seen training a “leave it” command work well for dog-aggression issues, but the owner must still be vigilant to ensure that well-meaning but clueless strangers don’t bring their dog over for an introduction!
A responsible dog owner with a human aggressive dog would ensure that their dog is safely contained at all times and is never given the opportunity to bite someone. Children and the elderly are especially susceptible to being bitten. This means that the dog is never EVER loose. A tie-out in conjunction with a privacy fence would be required to ensure the safety of strangers. Inside, the dog is put away in a kennel or behind a closed door before allowing someone into the home.
Some people may not be able, or willing, to manage a dog with issues. Rehoming the dog can be an option – but the new owner must understand and agree the management required to prevent the dog from hurting someone. Anything less is irresponsible and dangerous. (I personally think, in most circumstances, it’s uncool to push your “problems” off on someone else and that you should honor the committment you made to that animal. But that’s just me. Shrug.)
Sometimes the decision must be made to humanely euthanize the dog. It’s unfortunate that poor breeding has created animals with improper temperament, but sometimes a dog is so unstable we must let it go to ensure the safety of others. Here is a blog post by a responsible owner who made that difficult decision to euthanize after exhausting all other options.
My hope is that someday (ha!) we’ll eliminate crappy backyard breeding by eliminating demand for dogs based on looks and instead, focus more on proper temperament. Until then, people have to step up and be responsible for and managing their animal’s behavior.