Euthanizing Aggressive Dogs: Sometimes It’s the Best Choice

When my dog lunged at my face, I fell down the stairs.I saw him watch me come up the stairs at 12:30 a.m. He seemed fine, but a moment later he went for my face. I pulled back and fell down half a flight of steep stairs. My head ended up in the bottom level of an open-sided end table. Had I hit my head on the top I could have broken my neck and become a quadriplegic like my mother had been.

Or died.

The vet who euthanized him said I looked like I’d been in a bar fight. I cried on her shoulder.

“If he were healthy, you wouldn’t be here this morning,” she said, and I knew she was right. I have no doubt that ending his life was the right thing to do. This choice – and it didn’t feel like a choice, but something I had to do – is not one everyone would make, I know. However, we would all be safer if more people euthanized dogs whose behavior cannot be improved after professional assistance.

I had been working with Dodger for months on his aggression. Three months before that fateful night, my 42-pound, 9-year-old English setter had bitten me three times in two seconds; he left six wounds on my forearm under a sweatshirt after I petted him on his back. I was stunned, but I knew what to do.

He had a thorough medical work up, and went on the anti-anxiety medication clomipramine after no physical cause for his behavior change was found. I called in a certified trainer, a woman highly experienced in dog aggression. When she arrived, she said, “I cannot guarantee he won’t bite again.”

Dodger seemed to be getting better and although he’d snapped at me a few times he hadn’t broken skin. I thought his bite inhibition was back, and that as long as I didn’t startle him, it would be okay.

I was utterly wrong.

Being attacked by someone you love is a visceral slam to your gut. For a short while, rational thought is gone. It happens so quickly. Your body shakes, and your heart pounds as the instinctive fight-or-flight response is set off. I cried that night as I iced my face, wishing I could ice half of my body. Being bitten by my own dog was a traumatizing event, a betrayal of trust by a beloved canine who’d always slept on my bed.

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