Aggressive Dog Teeth Removal
Is "Disarming" Your Dog the Easy Way Out?
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 history. 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? Is this more something 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.
What is exactly teeth extraction for an aggressive dog and what does it entail? First, let's take a closer look at Rover's teeth. As hunters, there's no doubt that dogs have been blessed with powerful jaws neatly lined up by sharp blades of teeth. These 42 weapons to be exact, are there as to attest to the dog's meat-eating evolutionary past; a daily reminder of what life must have been in the wild. The 12 incisors were used to cut, nibble, pick up objects and groom. The 4 fangs, better known as canines, were meant to tear food, slash and puncture when fighting and to cradle the tongue and keep it in place. The 16 premolars helped with cutting, shearing, carrying items and breaking food into smaller particles. Finally, the 10 molars were used and continue to be used for grinding food.
When a dog bites, there's no doubt about the fact that those teeth can cause extensive damage to the skin, soft tissue and muscles. Even when a dog's teeth don't puncture the skin, the bite itself can cause bruises to the underlying soft tissue. So how does teeth extraction work, and what does the procedure entail?
Generally, a veterinarian may opt to extract teeth when behavior modification and other measures have failed and euthanasia is being considered. In this case, the vet may suggest an invasive procedure such as full mouth extraction or crown reduction-- a procedure where the teeth are filed down to the gingival margin. Removing the teeth though may appear to be a quick fix, but does it solve the problem?
Evaluating Teeth Extraction for Aggressive Dogs
Perhaps one of the most famous cases of canine "disarming" was Cotton, the American Eskimo who had a history of biting and the Dog Whisperer was unable to help. In this case, a laser vital pulpotomy at the level of the canines was performed making the canines quite blunt. Removing Rover's teeth may look like a quick fix; after all, since without teeth a dog shouldn't be able to do harm, correct? Teeth removal for aggressive dogs though is not a cure-all remedy. Let's take a look into what important organizations have to say about this procedure.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is opposed to teeth extraction or reduction of healthy teeth as a solution for dog aggression. The reason for this position statement are several. 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 potentially painful and invasive procedure. And last but not least, consider that dogs are still capable for causing extensive injury with the remaining teeth. A better option would be to consult with a professional behaviorist.
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."
Should teeth extraction in aggressive dogs be an option?
Alternatives to Teeth Extraction
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. 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.
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. Also important is not exposing the dog to triggers of such an intensity as to cause the aggressive behavior. This often entails walking the dog in the hours when he's 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.
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.
Removing crowns of teeth may provide a false sense of security and often doesn't address the dog's level of suffering. Aggression is often defensive behavior carried out by fearful, anxious dogs. A dog without teeth may no longer sink his canines in your skin, but his underlying stress levels may remain high and addressing them is of paramount importance so to relieve the dog's suffering.
Another alternative a colleague trainer of mine brought to my attention, is the Saciri Bite Guard. This may look like a brilliant invention, but it doesn't take a behavior expert to read the Rottweiler's uncomfortable body language when he is exposed to the child in the video below. 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 cannot handle in the first place!
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 has still the potential for being dangerous!
Disclaimer: this article is not a substitute for professional behavior advice. If your dog is aggressive, consult with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
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The Saciri Bite Guard: Brilliant Safety Measure or Bandaid?
Saciri Bite Guard: Brilliant Invention, or Band-Aid?
For further reading
- Dog Behavior: Can you Reinforce Aggression?
Is it true that you can reinforce aggression? Learn what the pros say and why using positive punishment is counter-productive in many ways.
- 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.
- Dog Aggression Prognosis
What's the prognosis for an aggressive dog? Dog aggression prognosis varies and depends on a variety of factors. Learn about a few that can play a role, but no black and white statements can be made.
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.