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Removing Teeth in Aggressive Dogs: Solution or Band-Aid?

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant and author of Brain Training for Dogs.

Teeth Extraction for Aggressive Dogs

If you own an aggressive dog, you may be desperately looking for solutions, especially if your dog now has a bite record. Teeth extraction for aggressive dogs may have crossed your mind, especially if you own a level 4 or 5 biter, but is this an acceptable form of treatment, or is it more of a last resort? Let's take a closer look at what this procedure exactly entails and then look at some important considerations to keep in mind.

First, let's take a closer look at your dog's teeth. As hunters, there's no doubt that dogs have been blessed with powerful jaws lined with 42 teeth. These teeth are there to assist the dog's meat-eating evolutionary past—a daily reminder of what life must have been like in the wild. Here's what standard canine dentition looks like:

  • Incisors (12): Incisors are used to cut, nibble, pick up objects, and groom.
  • Fangs or Canines (4): Canines are meant to tear food, slash, and puncture when fighting and to cradle the tongue and keep it in place.
  • Premolars (16): Premolars help with cutting, shearing, carrying items, and breaking food into smaller particles.
  • Molars (10): Molars are used for grinding food.

When a dog bites, there's no doubt that canine teeth can cause extensive damage to skin, soft tissue, and muscle. Even when a dog's teeth don't puncture the skin, the bite itself can cause extensive bruising.

What Does the Procedure of Teeth Removal Entail?

A veterinarian may opt to extract teeth when behavior modification and other measures have failed in a dog and euthanasia is being considered. In this case, the vet may suggest an invasive procedure such as a full mouth extraction or crown reduction—a procedure where the teeth are filed down to the gingival margin. Removing the teeth may appear to be a quick fix, but does it solve the problem?

Evaluating Aggressive Dogs

Perhaps one of the most famous cases of canine "disarming" was Cotton, an American Eskimo that had a history of biting and could not be helped by the Dog Whisperer. In this case, a laser vital pulpotomy at the level of the canines was performed to make the canine teeth blunt.

Removing a dog's teeth may look like a quick fix, however, this is not a cure-all. Let's take a look at what important organizations have to say about this procedure.

The AVMA Opposes the Procedure

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is opposed to tooth extraction or reduction of healthy teeth as a solution for dog aggression. Several reasons for this position statement are provided: For starters, teeth removal fails to address the underlying cause for the aggressive behavior in the first place, and secondly, the dog's welfare can be negatively affected due to a potentially painful and invasive procedure. Last but not least, consider that dogs are still capable of causing extensive injury with the remaining teeth. A better option would be to consult with a professional behaviorist.

The AVDC Discourages It

The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) further warns that teeth extraction for the purpose of decreasing aggression will "not absolutely prevent injury to people or to other animals." However, according to the organization's position statement: "the removal of crowns of teeth may be necessary in selected cases."

Dogs with extracted teeth may still do harm.

Dogs with extracted teeth may still do harm.

Alternatives Methods of Treatment for Aggressive Dogs

Proper management and behavior modification carried out by an experienced behavior professional is the preferred protocol when it comes to dealing with aggressive dog behavior. Of course, this route is undertaken after having ruled out medical conditions.

Training Techniques That Reduce Aggression

Confrontational training techniques are not recommended as these increase the dog’s aggression and may lead to punishment fallout. Counter-conditioning and desensitization are positive, more appropriate methods that can be employed in the rehabilitation process.

Ways to Manage Aggression

Management is key in preventing the dog from rehearsing the biting behavior and keeping the public safe. Crates, safe fences, leashes, and muzzles are important management tools. It's also important to avoid exposing the dog to triggers that may cause aggressive behavior. This often entails walking the dog during hours when he or she is less likely to be exposed to people/other dogs, locking the dog in an inaccessible room when there are children visiting, muzzling the dog at the vet, etc.

Veterinary Behaviorist Consultations and Other Options

The welfare implications of a tooth extraction procedure should be evaluated carefully. It's important to determine what is causing the aggression in the first place and assess the best behavior modification protocol. Consulting with a veterinary behaviorist is recommended. It would be unfair to resort to such a drastic procedure when the aggression may be due to an underlying medical condition such as hypothyroidism or chronic pain. In a few cases, re-homing the aggressive dog may be an option.

Ignoring the Issue Impacts Quality of Life

Removing the crowns of teeth may provide a false sense of security and doesn't address the dog's level of suffering. Aggression is often a defensive behavior carried out by fearful, anxious dogs. A dog without teeth may no longer sink his or her canines into your skin, but his or her underlying stress level may remain high and addressing that is of paramount importance.

The SACIRI Bite Guard Demo

Do Bite Guards Work?

Another alternative some people discuss is the SACIRI Bite Guard. This may look like a brilliant invention, but it doesn't take a behavior expert to read the dog's uncomfortable behavior in the video above. Such options should not be used as a substitute for behavior modification, and most importantly, the dog should not be exposed and placed into situations he or she cannot handle in the first place!

Tooth Extraction Isn't a Solution

Tooth Extraction Isn't a Solution

Tooth Extraction Isn't a Solution

If your dog is suffering from aggression and you are concerned about safety, consult with a veterinary behaviorist before resorting to tooth extraction. Teeth removal shouldn't be considered unless all other treatment options have failed. And remember: An aggressive dog with extracted teeth still has the potential to be dangerous. If your dog is aggressive, consult with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

For Further Reading

  • Dog Behavior: Understanding Dog Threshold Levels
    What does it mean for a dog to be over or under threshold? What exactly are threshold levels in dogs? This guide should give you a hint and helpful advice on how to create the fertile grounds for a good desensitization and counter-conditioning progra
  • Dog Behavior: Considerations for Re-homing Aggressiv...
    Learn why re-homing an aggressive dog can be downright wrong. So what to do with an aggressive dog? There are some options, but there is little left to do with dogs with a bite history.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Comments

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 17, 2019:

Wendy Bonds, thank you for providing your experience. It is much appreciated. I agree that it's a work on progress, just as dogs who are muzzled still need behavior modification and strict management.

Wendy Bonds on December 13, 2019:

Great advice,Adrienne Farricelli, for Anonymous’s post!

Hi Anonymous! I have posted a few times over the years about our experience in disarming our

‘rescue’ dog in 2013. Every circumstance is different & every dog is different so what works for one may not for another. But for us disarming(the process of taking the dangerous front teeth & canines to gum level)was a godsend but is not a cure all. Behavior training must be continued after the dental process since they will still have the jaw power to inflict damage, just not as much damage. Six years after disarming our dog, he is a different animal who no longer fears everyone and everything. We will always keep him away from young children(a major trigger for him) & leashed around strange dogs as a precaution but he’s a happy dog who has no problem eating kibble, chewing on elk bones or playing with balls and toys. For our dog, it was literally a lifesaver but we had the time, finances, childless home,ect. that he needed while he learned to trust again & to develop new coping skills. As much as you love your dog, you have to be realistic about him & whether in your case disarming is enough. Dog bites can be life threatening & as much as we love our dogs sometimes we can’t save them from themselves nor risk the damage they can do to others. But as far as disarming being cruel and terrible for the dog, I’d strongly disagree and it could be the option that would work for your dog.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 13, 2019:

Anonymous, I have no reason for giving rude or offensive comments. I feel your pain and imagine how attached you are to your dog, despite the aggressive displays. First off all, more than training, I feel your dog may need behavior modification. This is quite different. Dogs who are highly stressed and fearful don't respond well to average training because they are too over threshold to cognitively function. Yes, medicine can lower the threshold to pave the path for training, but more than learning how to sit/stay/come/leave it etc. dogs with fearful/defensive aggression need to learn how to cope, de-stress and a very important component is changing their emotional responses towards triggers *if they can be identified.. If you haven't already, I would suggest working with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. This is to rule out any medical causes for the aggression and determine whether there are any particular triggers so that these can be worked on in a systematic level. A functional behavior assessment may be the first step. I know you mention that his aggressive displays are random, but sometimes, dogs undergo cumulative stress (trigger stacking) or they may give out subtle signs prior but these are not noticed. If there is no known trigger, this can be more difficult to work on using behavior modification and certain management techniques (for the purpose of preventing rehearsal of the problem behavior by limiting exposure to triggers). If this is truly a case that doesn't respond to behavior modification, then management can certainly involve using the muzzle even to a great extent. You mention you haven't found a muzzle that fits and that he can't take off. Muzzle conditioning is often needed to help the dog get more accustomed. If feasible, the veterinary behaviorist can show you how to create positive associations while wearing it (you want to obtain a conditioned emotional response). There is also a supportive group on Facebook on muzzling dogs (many owners of aggressive dogs muzzle for extended periods of time) I think it's called the "muzzle up pup - the pro-muzzle community". Of course though no muzzle is always 100 percent effective (it can come off at the wrong time) and no level of management may work (a door may be left unlocked, crate latches move) so there is always some level of risk but hopefully it can be lowered considerably. So if you haven't gone yet the veterinary behaviorist route, using behavior modification (it has to be force-free as we don't want to add any more further stress) then there may be a glimmer of hope, but of course, there are several prognostic factors to consider to weigh out how effective behavior modification can be in decreasing these episodes. Prognostic factors may include the age of the dog, level of bites delivered, whether triggers can be detected etc. You can read more of these prognostic factors here: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Can-an-Aggressive-Dog-...

I hope this helps somewhat. Best, Adrienne

Anonymous on December 11, 2019:

Unfortunately, there are a few dogs that have innate fear-based aggression that cannot be cured with proper love and training - I would be the happiest person on the entire earth if you could prove me wrong. I am not suggesting that that tooth removal is the answer, and I certainly agree that it should be a last resort option due to the physical and emotional impact that the procedure can have on the dog. I have a male English Mastiff approx. 190 lbs. He started exhibiting signs of aggression at 3 months. He went full "Cujo" on the trainer so I brought in a behaviorist. She told me (at 3 months) that my dog was "defective" and that I could "probably return or exchange him." Naturally, I hated her and thought she was a crazy person. I then went through 3 other trainers with no success. My dog has more bites on his track record than I can count. He sent my aunt and uncle to the emergency room (14 stitches and 1 stitch, respectively). He is on Prozac and Trazadone. The current trainer uses a bite sleeve. He just sent me to the hospital with bites to the arm and hand (something I never thought would happen). The worst part is that 95% of the time he is a the most adorable, goofy dog. The 5% crazy is random and unexpected. I had to move home (w/ my parents) because it would not be safe to have him in apt building. I can't find a muzzle that fits/he can't take off. I love this dog more than anything. If there is a choice between euthanizing him and taking out some teeth, that might be the way to go. I am not sure. Any suggestions would be highly appreciated. Rude or offensive comments would be less appreciated.

MJ on May 13, 2019:

Yo this is actually horrific. If you can't handle training your dog properly, don't abuse it and remove all of it's teeth. There are very few dogs who can't be trained with the proper love and care. Holy crap.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 23, 2019:

Shawnee, as a general rule of thumb, no dog should be pet when sleeping. Even good dogs (With no bite history) can bite when startled upon being awakened. That's the reason for the famous saying 'let sleeping dogs lie." I don't know what other triggers your dog has, but I hope you can talk to a professional to see what options there are.

Shawnee1707 on February 03, 2019:

Hello! I’m at the end of my rope. I feel like a horrible dog owner and mother. Our children have been bit over the yrs needing stitches at times from bites from out 9 yr old TFT. I can not afford a behaviorist. I have looked into it. We have put very specific rules in place. I know her triggers. But she just bit my 15 yr old today. My daughter said she just went to pet her while the dog was sleeping on the couch! I will never give her away and it seems only putting her down is the solution! This dog is so sweet and loving 99% of the time, but one bite was too many already. I know that loud and clear. I could go on and on with what I’ve done and tried. I was going to call the vet tomorrow. It’s heartbreaking!

Marshall on October 18, 2018:

Pulling teeth dont change the pets mindset and the aggression dont come out with the teeth.. its a training issue......

Jennifer on April 01, 2017:

If a dog is aggressive and has bite multiple people without being provoked and is not properly handled the dog should be removed from the home and euthanized. Even if the dogs teeth are removed it can still hurt and scare the victim, dog bites even without teeth could cause serious bruising and psychological impacts on the victim.Not mention how removing the teeth effects the dogs health and eating heating habits. It might cause the dog to be more aggressive and cause them to experience higher levels of anxiety.

Carol on March 25, 2017:

Where do I find a vet that will do this?

I'm in St Louis, MO

I have been taking care of a Pekinese mix who bit everyone who walked in the door.

Now 2yrs later ...he no longer does that with conditioning and behavioral changes

But...he will bite if you clean his face

He just bit me yesterday....3 puncture holes in my finger...and it hurts

I don't want to put him down

I love him

But I can't have him causing this harm...plus he's a risk

Athalyah on March 11, 2017:

If course it should be an option. Aggressive dogs are at best liability and at worst a fatal tragedy waiting to happen.

* Not all aggressive dogs are equal.

* Not everyone is equally equipped to treat behavioral issues.

* Not all behavioral issues are treatable.

Just because a dog owner:

* Is not rich enough to afford extensive behavioral treatment that goes beyond reasonably expected ownership expenses

* Doesn't have the luxury of spending 20 hours a day monitoring their dog

* Doesn't have the emotional stamina to devote 90% of their home life to their dog

...is NOT the dog owner's fault, and it is NOT a reasonable expectation to place on a dog owner, especially when the dog is not adoptable, cannot be trusted around children, 0r cannot be trusted around other house pets (one aggressive dog can actually create aggressive tendencies in other dogs who are frequently exposed to them).

When a dog owner is looking at tooth extraction, odds are they've tried every alternative they can and are down to last resorts before euthanasia, which is where this kind of situation inevitably leads. I would think that it's preferable for a dog to be missing a few teeth than to be dead.

Sam on January 05, 2017:

Hi I have a 6 year old female German shepherd I have a couple of problems with her bitting we have multiple other shepherds and she never really had a problem with most of them other than one or two and those couple I could understand her irritation with them but recently she has bit multiple different dog and the worst part is she is leaving a single puncture wound right under the eye on the nose on every dog she has attacked. So I thought maybe we should rehome her to a family without dogs since she grew up her first two years with a newborn as it got older so I thought it should be ok. Than I remembered something that happened a few months ago. We were moving and people were aiming over to look at the house so we took my dog and her daughter down to the park where we met a mother her sister and her two children no older than 3-5 as we were talking and the kids were running around playing with my dog (who we haven't had a problem with before on anything except climbing into the house through our kitchen windows) so the aunt of the two children got up to go catch the younger of the two I saw my dog creep be hind her and open her mouth nearly had her mouth around the aunts leg about to snap it shut. Luckily I was right there and got her before it happened . I believe since she grew up with a kid she thought the aunt wanted to harm the kid so my dog was protecting it. But since that happened I don't feel safe with her going to a new family that she might meet kids in someway. My dog is perfectly healthy the attacks are happening at random nothing to do with food or a protection issue of another got too close to me.(her mother had that problem sometimes) but it happens nowhere near me most of the time. And this last time it happened it really upset me cause she attacked a 3 year old female whom she raised since it was 8 weeks old never had a problem with it in anyway thought of it as her own. The wounds are a single puncture wound from her upper k9s do you think the wound might stop if they were filed.(I know the aggression will still have to be addressed but the wounds have to stop)

Please any advice helps thanks

Sam

Wendy Bonds on March 19, 2016:

If it's between the two, I'd try canine dental disarming (along with working with a reputable trainer). Warning: it cost us $2100 for the procedure & good trainers aren't cheap! Have you worked with a trainer yet?

Michaela on March 19, 2016:

We have a young pitbull . OK with people but have had a couple of serious incidents with our other dogs. Considering canine extraction rather than euthanasia. I know she will still be able to cause damage but less likely to kill.

Alicia Jen on March 09, 2016:

Overall, it is after a dog mauling that you wished you had had this procedure done on your dog. A child's face or your friend's leg is more important than a dog. A good dog may be great with his family, but if he mauls a intruder or a neighbor's pet, you could be liable. Humans are more important than animals. Animals who don't respect humans, gotta be dealt with. It only takes one bad bite to ruin your or someone else's life.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 22, 2015:

I am sorry to hear your mom had to go through such an experience. I agree that shelters should be very careful in screening dogs before placing them in homes, especially if the homes have children! Some shelters are better at assessing than others. Some are horrific, I have fostered shelter dogs and these dogs were definitively not suitable to go to a home! While resource guarding is something they should definitively screen for, unfortunately, they are also sometimes limited in assessing certain types of aggression that occur only in specific contexts or situations. In my opinion, it would be ideal to have more experienced people fostering dogs before for a certain time frame being adopted out, so they can actually observe the dog beyond the "honeymoon period" and assess them better, but it's likely not as easy as one would think finding all this help.

Carrie Peterson from Colorado Springs, CO on June 22, 2015:

My mother had a very aggressive rat terrier. She got it from a shelter and had to eventually give it up to a "home" for other naughty terriers because it would attack us whenever we were eating. It became a danger to my children (and the ONLY time it would attack is when we were eating) and then became so unruly with my mother that she thought about putting it down. She was a long-time dog owner and even a breeder in the 1970s of afghan hounds, so she was quite experienced in raising and training dogs but Max was not going to be cured.

I think the bigger issue is that people need to stop thinking of dogs as accessories and breeding needs to come to a standstill. Most people I know who have dogs shouldn't have dogs. And shelters need to be more honest about the dogs they are adopting out. I know it's a difficult decision, but judging by the animals that just my mom has adopted, perhaps more of them need to be put down before they're dumped on another unknowing family. I know it sounds terribly cruel, but Max was a truly horrid little dog and how the shelter could adopt him out again is beyond me.

Wendy Bonds on July 07, 2014:

Hi Lucas,

I understand what you're going through! It's been over a year since we disarmed our rescue(see above post). We did have one incident a few months after the procedure where he bit using his remaining side teeth & did break skin but it was a food aggression issue that could and should have been avoided by us. Over the past year he has gradually learned to trust us and he feels much more secure. Nevertheless, we will always have to be careful with him and limit his contact with visitors, ect. More than ever, though, we feel we made the right decision in disarming him. It's given him the time to recover from whatever trauma occurred prior to his rescue and he's definitely been worth it. It's not a cure-all though and the ability to bite and cause damage is still there, just not to the degree that having a full mouth of teeth gave him. Best of luck in making your decision. Each case is different but I'm glad you're at least considering it as an option!

Lucas on July 06, 2014:

Hi, I have owned different breeds all my life, rescued, fostered,am part of a charity that gives scholarships for dog training etc. I am well educated and do have means and have had good dog trainers to work with. This past Dec I pulled a mix, 10mos old from NY that was to be euthanized for displaying aggressive behaviors. I knew work would be involved but this dog had been stabbed by owner, no details, taken to vet for 3 months to recover andcthen back to animal control. I did shut down, basic training and tried to start integration. I quickly found after about a month she is fear aggressive and dominant. She will bite. Luckily the people she has bit did not require medical attention but the fear and fight response was clear. This has happened with my other half who she loves also. We have tried tovwork on her dominance issues and I try to desensitize her to new situations and stangers but she is unpredictable. Even our people that she is OK with 10 times she will then bite them the 11th time. Luckily these people have been friends with no serious injury but she is a huge liability. We have no kids, she has her own bedroom we can put her in but I can't socialize her as much as Id like because of the bite factor. She wants attention, she is happy in her comfort zone, the yard and house but I would like her to be able to make friends and keep them, keep trust building. Right now she has me and my husband that can handle her but if he comes near me when we are together she tries to go for him. She has bitten him twice but tried more. So my vet and both of us have discussed putting her down. The problem is she has made small steps and we both love her. My father suggested removing her teeth. I am leaning towards it because I feel we could work with her more with our dog savy friends with less chance of someone getting really hurt. Of course shell probably never be one of our dogs to be around people that come over and I understand she is still a liability as all my dogs are. Weve done, doing dog training. We do have a vet behaviorist we could go to but even on doggie xanax I know she will be so intense it wont prevent her from biting if she goes for it. I have to muzzle her and drug her to go to the vet, she had a bowel obstruction and we took her home after surgery because the vet called ans said she was starting to snap as she was coming out of anesthesia. I am in the medical field so am practical about medical implications. Any thoughts from anyone who has done this?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 26, 2013:

Wendy, thanks for commenting and allowing others to read about your experience. I have denied your first post because it has your e-mail address, I don't want spammers and other malicious people to get a hold of it, but I will happily post your experience in this quoted segment without your e-mail: "Our rescue Golden Retriever/Collie/? was disarmed in May '13 by a veterinary of dentistry & we are completely at peace with our decision to try it as a solution to his snapping without body language signs or warning growls. Otherwise, he would have been euthanized, as we were his 'last chance' parents. He had been rescued & raised by a positive reinforcement trainer(award winning) as a pup & adopted by friends of the trainer who had children. Although we don't know the whole story(Nannie involved) he bit a child sometime around his 2nd birthday(Dog's bd) & was surrendered to a dog sanctuary. The original trainer rescued him from there. In hopes that pain from an elbow problem was causing the snapping behavior, the trainer had our dog go through stem cell therapy. We adopted him the following week. He was highly stressed & we gave him his space, continuing with training. Within the 1st month he bit my husband's thumb & 1 of our dogs. In the next few months, he bit both of our other 2 dogs, my daughter's dog and finally me. Our choices were euthanization, behavior therapist(for a dog with near perfect training responses who was a joy 99.9% of the time) or disarming him immediately. I could not picture allowing him to remain a threat to our other dogs or us while we tried the behavior therapy & did not want to euthanize, so after discussing options with the trainer and dentistry vet, he was disarmed. I picked him up the afternoon of the surgery and he as on pain meds & antibiotics for 10 days. He actually showed no signs of pain, even during recovery. We have not had an incident of aggression with him in 3 1/2 months & gradually our other 2 dogs have accepted him into the pack. He seems to know that he no longer has the option of snapping to express his discomfort with situations. We continue to feed him softened kibble(Fromms) with a Tbsp. of canned food mixed in(although the vet said this wasn't necessary past the 1st ten days). He can play with toys, chase balls,ect & live a normal dog life(we'll always avoid contact with children & take precautions around other people & dogs). Disarming him hasn't seemed, from our viewpoint, any serious consequences for him other than making it harder to hold on to some types of toys. But he's alive & happy and we do not regret our decision. Leave a post if you're considering this option & need someone to discuss it with or e-mail me at -address removed for privacy reasons-" Wendy Bonds

Wendy Bonds on August 26, 2013:

SeeThe Animal Medical site on canine disarming. It gives a good overview of the process. Each case has to be evaluated on its own merits and in some cases, a truly aggressive dog who has gone through behavior therapy,ect. might be beyond benefiting by being disarmed, but for many dogs it is a life saving process. You don't put your pet down if there is a chance of saving it!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 10, 2013:

Thanks for the votes up epbooks. Behavior modification for aggression indeed takes time and the owners need to keep up. It's not easy and requires loads of management.

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on June 10, 2013:

Interesting hub. I never even knew teeth removal was an option to curb aggressive behavior. I'd have to imagine that they could still do some damage. I've seen aggressive dogs go for behavior training and it seemed to have helped. It did take a long while, however. Great hub- voted up!

Gail Louise Stevenson from Mason City on May 31, 2013:

I agree, too. I think its best to be positive about aggressive problems with dogs, and to try to help dogs that need help with aggression.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 31, 2013:

I agree Gail! I wrote this hub cause I had a person asking me about this option and wanted to give a detailed answer, so I printed this out for her along with the position statements. It's interesting to see what inventions/procedures have been created to reduce dog biting. Disarming a dog isn't really the cure-all solution expected.

Gail Louise Stevenson from Mason City on May 31, 2013:

Hi, it would be hard for a dog to eat if its teeth were all extracted. It would be better as a last result rather than having to put a dog to sleep, but only if the aggressive behavior can't be fixed. Very interesting hub!