Removing Teeth in Aggressive Dogs: Solution or Band-Aid?
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."
Should teeth extraction in aggressive dogs be an option?
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!
SACIRI Bite Guard: Brilliant Invention or Band-Aid?
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.