Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
Dealing With the Aggressive Dog
If you own an aggressive dog, you may have tried a variety of methods to mellow your dog down and make life much easier for the both of you. The methods may not have worked, however, either because the methods employed were downright wrong, or the problem reached a point where there was not much left to do. Now the aggression may have become an integral component of your dog's life.
Owning an aggressive dog is a very big responsibility, not to mention an enormous liability. The costs for treating dog bites are overwhelming for the average household, and this explains why insurance companies are unwilling to cover dogs with a bite history. As much as you love your dog, you may at some point consider re-homing your dog as an easy way out, but this option is often downright wrong.
Why Rehoming Is Not the Right Approach
Rehoming an aggressive dog may appear to be the easiest way out and the least painful. It makes sense to give your dog another chance and hopefully have somebody who loves dogs take care of him, right? Wrong. First of all, it is not ethically correct to unload a problematic dog on somebody else. It is also downright wrong to do so without even making the new owner aware of the problems.
If you are struggling with your dog, it's very likely the new owner will too. Re-homing is a very stressful event for most dogs, and this most likely will result in amplified levels of fear and aggression. The new owner may risk getting seriously hurt and the dog may then risk being dumped at the shelter or re-homed again—and the vicious cycle starts again.
There are very few cases where rehoming the dog may be a plausible solution. One of them encompasses dogs who suffer from inter-dog aggression. These dogs, which do not get along with other dogs, may do wonderfully in a single dog household. Obviously, the new owners must be made well aware of the problem, so they know in advance they will have to manage the dog carefully on walks and in other places where the dog may be exposed to other dogs, such as the vet office.
Other situations may be when a dog does not get along with cats, small animals, and livestock. These dogs can live virtually trouble-free in homes with no cats, hamsters, livestock, and the like. These are only a few scenarios where re-homing may be a plausible option.
Dogs that have a history of acting aggressively towards people should not be re-homed. Even if the dog acts aggressively towards children but does well with older people, the dog should not be rehomed for the simple fact that it is a liability.
So, what to do with a dog with a bite history? Often, putting the dog to sleep may seem like too big a step, especially if there is room for hope in rehabilitation. It is important to understand, however, that there are times when little can be done for the dog. The best person to evaluate a dog with a bite history is a reputable dog behaviorist. He or she may give you an idea if there is any room for improvement, or if the kindest thing to do is to put the dog to sleep for the safety of all.
Six Dog Rehoming Options for Desperate Cases
The following options are a few steps owners of aggressive dogs should take before considering extreme measures such as keeping the dog tied up for the rest of its life or putting the dog to sleep.
- Consider consulting with a veterinarian. A veterinarian may recommend testing the dog for some medical conditions known for causing aggression. An aggressive dog at times may be simply suffering from pain. There are a plethora of dogs with a history of biting upon being pet on the head, only to discover they were simply suffering from a severe ear infection! There are several other conditions known for causing aggressive displays such as hypothyroidism, chronic pain, and brain tumors.
- Consult with a reputable dog behaviorist/veterinary behaviorist. He or she is the best source to assess and determine if there are any behavior modification programs and drugs that can help your dog. It is very important to check credentials and referrals, since many people can easily call themselves ''dog behaviorists" nowadays.
- While rescue groups and shelters will obviously not take aggressive dogs (since their goal is to ultimately re-home the dog), they may know volunteers or other people that may take the dog if its level of aggression has been deemed to be not significantly dangerous by a behaviorist.
- You have the option of keeping your dog confined all of its life, however, this is likely something that will not work for everyone, and one should also consider if this is the kind of life a dog should be subjected to. Muzzles, head halters, sturdy leashes, fences, and runs are a must for those who choose to use management as an option.
- While no-kill shelters and sanctuaries may decide to take an aggressive dog, they will most likely never take a dog with a bite history.
- Avoid do-it-yourself programs to try to solve your dog's aggression. Most of all, remember that you cannot learn how to deal with aggression by just watching a TV show! Aggression brings aggression. Never try to alpha roll, kick, pinch, or grab an aggressive dog by the scruff.
A study completed by Dr. Radosta while at the University of Pennsylvania showed that 86% of owners reported an improvement in their pet’s behavior 6 months after their initial appointment for treating owner-directed aggression.
Considerations for Rehoming Aggressive Dogs
- Sometimes, putting an aggressive dog to sleep is the kindest thing to do, especially when the aggression is severe and the dog poses a significant danger to others. Aggressive dogs often live in a constant state of alertness, arousal, and fear. They often constantly live in ''fight mode'' and lead stressful, unhappy lives.
- An aggressive dog surrendered to a shelter will likely result in immediate euthanasia. Don't be fooled that somebody will want to take care of your dog. Many shelters temperament test their dogs, and at the first signs of aggression, the dog is put to sleep, no questions asked. The shelter is not being mean, it is just being responsible and protecting the public from serious liabilities.
- With oodles and oodles of non-aggressive dogs being put to sleep simply because nobody wants them, it would be down-right unacceptable for a shelter or rescue to have an aggressive and dangerous dog occupy a run. Most shelters do not have sufficient funds to pay for rehabilitation services or expensive testing to rule out medical problems.
- Abandoning a dog is also against the law. Sadly, each year, there are stories of people who abandon their unwanted canines. This can result in considerable fines and even jail time.
Read More From Pethelpful
Aggressive dogs are ticking time bombs—they can hurt or even kill somebody. Passing the hot potato to people without disclosing the problem can be compared to a criminal act. You may not be hurting somebody directly with your actions, but you can indirectly or potentially leave emotional or real scars on the innocent public.
- Dog Behavior: How to Stop a Dog From Being Protectiv...
Learn why your dog goes into ''protective mode'' when he encounters strangers on walks. Understand how to reduce this behavior and make life easier.
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: If I have an aggressive dog, is euthanasia my only choice?
Answer: Not necessarily. There are several options depending on the type of aggression your dog is exhibiting: his bite history, if he did bite, the level of damage done, and how committed you are in managing him. You can read more here: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Can-an-Aggressive-Dog-...
Question: My dog has a history of killing animals on my farm. Today she killed my cat. I am at my wit's end. What are my options to deal with my predatory dog?
Answer: Secure fencing is your best bet. Have your animals in a fenced area where your dog cannot reach them, or keep your dog in a fenced area so he cannot reach the animals.
© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli
Aubree on July 21, 2020:
My dog only fights with my other male dog but gets along fine with every other dog hes met. Would rehoming be the best option at this point. Trainers refuse to take them
Jennifer Bradley on July 06, 2020:
Hi! My 26 year old son moved back from Colorado and brought a 2 year old Husky/Border Collie mix with him back to Oklahoma. My son suffers from mental health issues and would often times leave "Buddy" with us...well for the last year, we have been stuck with a dog we never wanted. VERY SWEET...however, he is food and object aggressive. I have been bitten 3 times. The last time was pretty bad, to my forearm. He was guarding a bag of food and I went to pick up my cat and he thought i was going for the bag. Anyway, what are my options? He got ahold of my other dogs ear once when the other dog was trying to protect my other son. I just don't know what to do! They are not really...mauling bites...but warning bites. However, for a 80 pound husky mix...that mouth is pretty powerful. Any input would be so helpful. Our goal is to end up without the dog. We are old and can only give him a 20 min walk in the evenings. Not enough for this type of breed. Thank you in advance!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 03, 2020:
Jozyln, it would be important finding out what triggered this biting. Was the puppy guarding a resource? Was he play fighting? Hiring a behavior professional would be important to see what's going on.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 30, 2020:
Hi Tracy, fights between female dogs are unfortunately not uncommon, sibling rivalry between siblings https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Pros-and-Cons-of-Raisi... and then more trouble as they mature. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Dog-behavior-Why-are-M...
Tracy on June 29, 2020:
My puppy is 7 months old , she play fights with her brother and her mom. But she has become aggressive with her sister we have to keep them in separate rooms they go outside at separate times. If they see each other the war is on. The one I’m talking about is thumper, she goes after her sister Bear. Thumper bit and ripped a hole in bears ear. We love Thumper but we can’t take it anymore.. Thumper is a loving dog and has not bit anyone deliberately. The bites and scratches are from trying to pull the 2 dogs from each other.
Lelu La on June 18, 2020:
Hi, We've had our puppy since she was 7 weeks old. Shes always been nippy and when practicing bite inhibition and saying OW and pulling away she would get even more excited. We've started keeping tons of toys around to give her something else which kinda worked but, about a month ago she started to get randomly aggressive. She will just up and bite us. She will seem calm and out of nowhere nip with hair standing up. I heard her bark and so went in the other room and my son is just standing their scared and her hair is standing up. She today 3 times started running around with her hair standing up baring her teeth and running up nipping me. I take her on walks I play with her. I dont understand whats going on. She will be so sweet 80% of the time like a normal dog but, then she just throws a curve ball. Im a single mom and lost my job recently, I dont know what to do. I tried everything on Youtube and I dont think I have enough for a behaviorist. Im supposed to get her fixed in a few weeks. Do you think that will help with this since its gotten worse close to sexual maturity?
Jozlyn Delgado on June 05, 2020:
my dog is a puppy and attacked me leaving rlly bad bite marks i have no clue what do i’m very scared n need advice and help
T on May 23, 2020:
We have six month old pitbull Labrador does really well but sometimes all of a sudden he gets so aggressive. He didn't ever act this way until after he had surgery by the way that he didn't even need from the vet he recently attacked me in the backyard bit my arm bit me in the stomach I'm scared for him to be around the kids so I'm wanting to know what I should do. This just happened last night
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 19, 2020:
Hi Michelle, take a look at these games: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/German-Shepherd-Puppy-...
Michelle Skiffington on May 19, 2020:
Hi my puppy we got free bites us all the time i have a bond with.her but wish she didnt bite.i know she is teething what do we do we love her
Em on May 18, 2020:
We were forced to re-home our new dog today. We had been working on training her, she was about 60lbs and didn’t like other dogs, but was never aggressive before (no bared teeth or anything). We had her on a prong collar while walking even, and walked past a small dog (who was in their yard aggressively barking and body language). We had walked past this dog before and we had taught her to sit and ignore him. today, when we turned to go home, our dog ran and knocked my mom off her feet, and our dog got hold of the small dog. The small dog is in the hospital right now and as of right now stable. While our dog was not vicious and I strongly believe it was only because she was provoked, we can not keep her. We live in a neighborhood with small children and other small dogs. We are heartbroken, we worked so hard on training her and she was improving, as much as we believe this was a fluke, we gave her back to the shelter. She will not get euthanized, and the shelter was understanding, as well that the neighbors (no charges pressed). We feel horrible about both dogs. We feel we let our dog down after only 3 weeks of having her. We also feel we let our poor neighbors down with this incident. That dog was fantastic and we loved her so much.
Mark Crowley on May 18, 2020:
My sons dog has just bitern my grandson where can i get him re homed
Lori on April 09, 2020:
We have a 4 year old 30 lb mixed rescue dog who after 2 years started barking and showing teeth at friends an d family and barking at our neighbors he has bitten us numerous times when it storms or fireworks he goes nuts we do medicate him with fluxetine it has gotten to the point that only I deal with him and I can’t do it anymore it’s exhausting our vet thinks he has a brain imbalance and should be put down HELP
Sara George on March 16, 2020:
Hi, my friend is currently in not the greatest situation with her pit mix. She has no choice but to try to re-home but her dog has a bite history and mainly just aggressive towards other dogs. She doesn't want to have to put her down as she's otherwise healthy and young, but does she have any other alternative? Any advice is greatly appreciated.
Worried owner on January 16, 2020:
My friends dogs has killed other dogs ripped dogs apart gone for kids bitten people and growls at its owner!
What would you do?
Colleen on January 08, 2020:
We adopted a dog who has ran out front door and attacked a neighbor and he did bite her. When my Son walked in to visit the dog got away from my Sister and bit my son 3 times before I could get the dog off of him. I am scared of the dog now. I want to surrender him. I don’t feel comfortable keeping him his aggression is bad and we have only had him for one month. If I decided to try and manage him how long would behavior therapy take?
rob ripper on December 29, 2019:
i just thought I would let people no that about 4 or 5 years ago i adopted a pitbull name deisel he was a little scary at first but after a week or so we became close and i promised the girls at the rescur place in Surrey that i would always make sure deisel had a good home and he has turned out to be the best dog i have aver had he has never once peed in the house he has become very protective of me that i have to keep an eye on when people come over he dosent know but anyways i just wanted to get this message out there i have lost contact with the rescue girls ,i think thay have moved ther office in Surrey somewhere but ya he is very much loved and is now king of the house
Angelica on November 09, 2019:
My dog recently scratched a kid, it was a very minor scratch it didn’t even break the skin however, kids dad reported my dog to animal control. He was then put in quarantine and has been taken out. Today he ran off of his leash again and passed by the same people that reported him. I feel that I’m going to need to give him up. Will he be euthanized?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 26, 2019:
Skypermberton17, your newest addition's behavior sounds concerning. It may be best to enlist the help of a dog behavior professional (make sure he or she uses force-free methods) to see what options you may have, but if your other dogs are taking an emotional and physical toll and she is showing more aggression, you should keep her separated from your other dogs and away from children until you can get help.
Adelia Hurtak on October 22, 2019:
Dogs also become very aggressive when nursing puppies who have teeth.
Skypemberton17 on October 04, 2019:
About 11 months ago, my mother adopted a lab retriever mix of some sort for me after I had given my cat away.
Typically for any normal day, my dog with go out and play fight with the other dogs (we have 5 including her).
A few weeks ago, she attacked my grandparent’s dog when they came to visit, rips fur out of our Great Pyrenees daily, made our littlest dog nose and face bleed just this morning, circles and attacks cars, barks constantly at strangers (I have to hold her or she might nip or bite)
She’s starting to get more aggressive and a while ago we had family friends over, she almost started biting at a kid (about 7 or 8)
I’m unsure of what to do. I want to have her rehomed as much as it breaks my heart, and the cons are starting to out-weigh the pros.
Bride Taylor on June 21, 2019:
So if your dog is aggressive towards your cat, sure it's fine to rehome. But if it's bitten your child or baby it is not??
Ashd04 on June 13, 2019:
Veterinarians and others with advanced degrees in science are finally speaking out against “self-professed animal rescue experts” and “no kill agenda supporters” in light of the public safety risk NO KILL has become:
Laws are also starting to change due to the out fall of lawsuits. In 2018, Virginia passed a law requiring rescues/shelters to disclose bite history due to fatal mauling and cover up of aggressive dogs past:
With all this unpopular spotlight, recuses are scurrying to avoid consequences. In March of 2019 Fairfax County Humane Society escapes consequences of adopting out dangerous dogs by making it illegal to sue a county entity:
Obviously there is a problem, when will there be enough tragedies due to the "save them all" movement that will cause folks to wake up to this farce and take responsibility for their aggressive dogs? Re-homing aggressive dogs is really only successful at passing the problem and liability to someone else.
What dog's life is worth more than the life of someone else's child, grand parent, etc.? Have we stooped this low to not care about the safety of other pets and humans, as long as our aggressive dog gets a second chance at life? Are re-homing supporters okay with sacrificing their own families, or just others? I think clearly they say over and over again, not willing to sacrifice mine, but will pass dog along to sacrifice someone else's.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 07, 2019:
Yes, your best option is to have a force-free dog trainer evaluate your dog and provide with help in managing this situation. Please keep your dog away from children.
Roselynn on June 06, 2019:
I have a 1 year old German shepherd. She was very sweet at the beginning, then she started barking at strangers to the point where her hair was standing. She would stop once my husband commanded her to stop and she would just turn around to go play fetch with her ball.
On a different occasion she saw this kid(neighbor) who would always be taunting her. We told the kid not to provoke her because she was going to be mad and could take a bit. Well, that day came and my German Shepherd bite the kid in the stomach leaving one red puncture mark. I'm mad because my dog did that but I don't know what to do. The parents haven't said anything, but I don't want my dog to do it again. I'm not sure if she's aggressive or not. Should I look in to training? Please help. Any ideas would be great.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 06, 2019:
Susan1, you can try to find ways to safely separate them or you may need to rehome your lab mix. It's not right that you older sick dog must live in fear. You can ask for a dog behavior professional for help.
Susan1 on June 01, 2019:
3 years ago I rescued a lab mix. For two years life was great. When she turned 3 she became unpredictable and started taunting my 11 year old Cavalier. She can be sweet as pie, loving, and is a great cuddler but I cannot have her any longer because my Cavalier is old, suffering from congestive heart failure and is frightened of Tammy. What can I do? Please help me.
Rita Lynn Johnson on May 16, 2019:
I took in a 9 month old stray and I have a dog I've had for 4 years. They are both female pit mix breed. My dog has never been in a fight with another dog always played well. After about six months the new dog started attacking and biting my dog. When my dog would run by her she would hold her head down growling following her then attacking. The new dog is very sweet to us and very friendly to people. But she is vicious and I am afraid will kill my dog. There was another fight I my dogs face torn really bad. I have them separated. The woman who gave the dog too me said if it did not work out she would take the dog back. So far she has been pushing back unwilling to help me find the dog another home also telling me she does not want the dog moved from home to home..
Mandy on May 01, 2019:
I have had three mutts for three years. Suddenly one of the dogs started attacking one of the other ones. We have been to the vet for stitches twice in the last week. I got in the middle of the fight (I do know better) and also got bit and required stitches. There doesn't seem to be any stressors and my heart is breaking thinking about giving the aggressive one to the shelter or rehoming it. I don't know what to do. I am at my wits end and just want the fighting to stop. Has this happened to anybody and did it improve?
Ray on April 14, 2019:
I rescued a 2 year old dog about 3 months ago. He's a mixed breed, not sure what the mix is. He play well with my older dog but a little to ruff at times. He is not aggressive around his food, and he welcomes people into the house with the tail wagging and jumping and licking them. The problem is out of the blue, with no warning, he has bit 3 people. The last one was the trainer I hired to help. The trainer believes he was abused and with defend himself when he feels uncomfortable. He can be a very sweet dog most of the time, then instantly attack. After the bites, he will hide and shake in fear. I don't want him put down, but need help.
Kyle on February 10, 2019:
Hi I have a staffy cross I've had her for nearly 9years now and all of a sudden she has turned nasty and frightened 1 minute she's ok and you can stroke her and pretty much do anything and then the next month she will be like the devil teeth out spitting barking growling this has been going on about 4months now I took her the vets and had a growth taken out of her mouth and her bloods done to see if she had cancer some were thy came back ok so now I am lost I don't know what to do as I have a 3year old and a 13year old and I do not want that phone call from the miss when am at work saying she's biten one of the lads or me girlfriend
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 01, 2015:
You will need to separate the dogs for the time being and decide on what you want to do next. Options for cases like this involve keeping the two dogs always separated or re-homing one. It's often too risky to try to work on getting them to get along and there are no guarantees it will work , and since you have children, you don't want them to ever find themselves close to two dogs fighting.
Heather on October 01, 2015:
I have 2 dogs I resqued from a no-kill shelter. A 2 year old pit who was raised in a home and a 2 year old lab who was rasied tied up. We have had no problems for a year but now they are fighting. The lab is really beating up the pit...ears ripped, several face wounds and many puncture wounds. I am terrified! I have 3 children and a grandchild! Please help!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 27, 2011:
nature47, please don't blame the breed, it's the owners. Pitbulls are the sweetest dogs with the right owners and many are also therapy dogs. Some of the worse dogs I have dealt with were unsuspecting Labs (the one in my pictures was aggressive towards other dogs and at times re-directed his aggression on people).
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on December 26, 2011:
Clearly the dog owner was more responsible than this poor child's parents. This sounds as though the poor tethered dog was set up for failure. How sad.
natures47friend from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand. on December 26, 2011:
What a great, well-written hub. In our paper last night a 15 month old wandered with his Xmas present next door to a tethered PitBull and was picked up by his head and tossed. That dog has been a menace to people and bit the owner to after that. It will be destroyed. Obviously no one had fences or gates here. The parents should not have let the baby wander off but he is alive and will no doubt have scaring. Why do people insist on keeping these dangerous dogs?
We have so many children malled by dogs....especially Pitbulls....gangs like them.
Voted everything except funny...you are a genius with words.
Brett Winn from US on December 26, 2011:
Alexadry, congrats for doing a really good job with a difficult subject. You are so right that it is wrong to pawn such a dog off on the unsuspecting, which is what people do when they take such a dog to the pound without informing anyone of the dog's issues. Some dogs can be rehabilitated, but it isn't a job for an amateur, and sadly, with some, the kindest thing is to humanely put them down. Excellent hub, and voted up!
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on December 26, 2011:
We are dealing with this issue in my family right now. One of my "grand dogs". He has bitten one person, but the person was taunting my granddaughter. He barks ferociously at all strangers but of course stays detained in a fenced yard. However, two or three times he has gotten loose and seriously, I mean seriously injured two other neighborhood dogs. My son is keeping him for his sister and brother in law and trying to work with the dog. I have been forwarding your dog behavior Hubs to him and we are hoping to save the big Lug. Thanks for all your help. BTW he is a Boxer mix.
Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on December 26, 2011:
Very interesting... and useful.. I feel so sorry for the animals that are aggressive. there is a reason why they are so aggressive. so sad.. this is a great hub.
I voted up and interesting and useful and all the above.
Happy New year.