Making the decision to euthanize our problem behavior dog


So, on Friday 2nd January 2015, we did it. After months, years of deliberation, hesitation, frustration, doubts and angst, we euthanized Tycho.  As I write about it here, I am in tears. We’ve thought about it, and mostly gone around in circles in our minds about it for more months than I know to count.

Lore Haug, DVM, MS, DACVB of Texas Veterinary Behavior Services wrote in November 2011 in DVM360 (See the article here) that more young dogs get relinquished due to behavior problems than for any other reason.  She wrote that a family that have a difficult dog have one of 4 possible options:

  1. Live with the problem dog as he is.
  2. Re-home the animal to a more suitable environment.
  3. Attempt to rehabilitate the animal to an acceptable level.
  4. Euthanize him.

We eventually did Option 4.  Both my husband and I believe that this was our last and only available option.  Here is Tycho’s history, as I know it:

On April 17th, 2012, I was walking my little Kooikerhondje, Kira, in an agricultural field on Cook Campus at Rutgers University.  In the distance I saw a dog.  My instinct told me that this was a stray dog: he was skinny with very prominent ribs and pelvic bones jutting steeply above his backbone. He also had a serious limp.  A small tan colored dog, he looked so very needy but kept his distance.  I made the assumption that he must belong to somebody nearby.  I told myself that if I could still find him in this field two hours later, that I would try to pick him up then and see if I could find his home. Well, after two hours, I came back with my PhD Advisor and an undergraduate student to see if he was still there. And yes, he was.  He was not easy to catch, but I had some of Kira’s yummy treats on me to help the process.  We cornered him in the field, and got close enough to attach a leash to his collarless neck.  He came willingly enough once he realized that I had fresh turkey meatballs on me.

He came home with me that evening. We went straight to my local vet who scanned him for a microchip (none found), and looked at his limp and various gashes and open wounds on his body. He was unneutered and the vet estimated him to be about 9 months old at that time. It wasn’t easy to determine the causes of his injuries. For the first two days with us, he pooped gravel and dirt. I advertised.  Craigslist, dogs lost-and-found web sites, on campus, and notes pasted onto every streetlight pole in the area where we found him.  About 7 people responded to my advertising.  None of them could describe the dog I had in front of me, so he clearly wasn’t theirs.

Meanwhile, at home, this new strange little dog was telling us that he loved the warmth of our home, that my husband was acceptable to him as a human being, that he couldn’t stop mounting Kira (as I said, he was unneutered). That our cats were fair game.  For the first three days or so, he seemed like a lovely and sweet little boy (other than the mounting and the focused attention on the cats).  After two weeks, we made the decision to keep him.

After three months, his real colors started to shine through. The cats really were fair game. Clearly, his predatory drive was very strong. I had him neutered, and thank goodness, the mounting of Kira stopped. I took him to many obedience classes, where he either excelled if he could keep his attention on me, or was a disastrous nightmare that barked and lunged at random other dogs in the training room.  We had to abandon a number of class sessions due his disruptive behavior.

We started to take him places: the local towns and parks (never any dog parks), and he started to show some alarming tendencies: he would attack the ankles of any young man with black curly hair and wearing shorts.  Well, okay, we were profiling him, and had no idea if that assessment was an accurate one.  Later on, he started lunging and barking at any young man, then men of any age, and finally he started that behavior with women too.  We stopped taking him places, and started working on desensitizing and counter conditioning him to people on our local rural street under very controlled conditions.

Slowly, we started to work on him to see what his limits were.  Here is a summary of his prognosis:

He had pretty severe separation anxiety.  Actually, more isolation anxiety. At first, we couldn’t leave him anywhere, not at home, nor in the car if we needed to go grocery shopping or anywhere else.  Every exit doorway or crate or bed got extensively destroyed. I changed my life, not going out at all either. We still have to replace all these doorways and staircases in our home.  But with a lot of desensitization and counter-conditioning he came to accept that we would always come home.  What we never realized was that we always left him with Kira, our Kooikerhondje, thinking that the separation anxiety was behind us.  Then one day in 2014, we did leave him alone again, without Kira, for about 30 minutes.  The destruction was evident when we came home.  Clearly, we hadn’t really gotten his anxiety under control, we had just masked it over time, mixing up separation anxiety with isolation anxiety. If you don’t understand the difference, then separation anxiety refers to an attachment to one single person, so that even if other people/animals remain at home, the dog still suffers the anxiety.  Isolation anxiety/distress refers to those dogs that remain calm as long as anybody, and it doesn’t matter who, remains at home with them.

Our house had to be divided into an upstairs for the cats, and a downstairs for the dogs. Seven baby gates or barriers to close off our open-plan house. The lives of our three cats changed dramatically with their freedom essentially curtailed and their fear of him always evident. Tycho slept in our bedroom, in our bed, with us.  He demanded it, it made him feel secure and warm and happy. The cats, who used to sleep with us, were banished from the bedroom at night and our daily lives downstairs during the days.  Every evening he was taken upstairs on a leash, and every morning he was brought downstairs on a leash.  But mealtimes were oh-so-stressful:  he would bark and bark and bark whenever he heard the cats moving around upstairs.  Occasionally, one of our three cats would come too close, and a chase would be on.  We’ve always believed it was a matter of time before he would attack and kill one of our beloved cats.  In a more recent episode, he had the entire head of one of the cats in his mouth (my husband’s timely intervention prevented disaster). But what if my husband hadn’t been able to protect Lexie-cat? How would we get to accept that? The thought of that blame would lie squarely at our feet.

In April of 2013, we acquired a new 8 week old puppy, a beautiful Berger Blanc Suisse (White Swiss Shepherd). The introduction between Tycho and our new puppy, Dakota, was extremely carefully managed.  Dakota spent his first weeks inside a playpen, Tycho was not allowed in the same room.  Eventually, after about six weeks, we realized that Tycho was no longer acting aggressively towards the new puppy, but was increasingly curious about him.  And so they became fast friends. Sometimes the play was beautiful and even-handed, a delight to watch.  Other times it was too rough, but still not fighting.  We would then give them short time-out from play.  Soon enough, Dakota became physically larger than Tycho.  Tycho weighed 23 lbs, Dakota now weighs 82 lbs.  Dakota remains an unneutered dog for the time being, but has always shown a lot of submission towards Tycho.  Crawling, displaying his belly, licking Tycho’s mouth, hunkering down in front of him.

But as Dakota matured and reached 18 months of age, Tycho and he would have more serious fights.  These I had to break up, as it was clearly vicious and no longer rough-housing.  They still played many happy games together, but these “real fights” were phenomenally scary.  And in the last few weeks, Tycho had even attacked Kira.  My sweet little munchie, Kira.  At 20 lbs, Kira is all female, a light and sweet, sensitive and demure little girl. Again, I managed to break up those three fights with Kira.  But again, I felt that would never be able to forgive myself if something happened to Kira.

Getting visitors to the house was difficult.  Some people were relatively easy, the dog-savvy ones who knew how to adjust their own body language.  But others were scared and stiff and therefore in real danger of getting bitten.  My brother was one of those.  Over time, we knew which visitors were easier, and which ones we should just not invite over anymore. We were very conscious of the potential liability of his interactions with anyone or any animal.

We had a cleaning girl, Fleur, come to help me once every two weeks.  So once every two weeks, I had to schedule my time so that I stayed at home for that day, to protect Fleur. Tycho and I would lock ourselves into a room, and switch rooms as Fleur worked her way through the house.  Fleur was one of those people that really was scared of him.  He would bark and lunge at her from on-leash every time we had to pass her in the house for the whole two years and eight months that we worked on his rehabilitation.  My admiration for Fleur remains unbounded, as I know that very few people would have put themselves to the risk that she did.  Her trust in my ability to control my dog was a huge responsibility, and I feared the stress of those bi-weekly days.

I gave up doing my PhD, not only because of Tycho, but he was an essential part of the equation for making that decision. Instead, I pursued and educated myself on dog training.  I have even become a professional dog trainer because of Tycho, completing the KPA Professional Dog Trainer’s course.  I’ve since done many courses, written and passed exams, studied online, and read many books on dog behavior. And successfully started a very small business to train other people’s dogs.

It’s worth mentioning the trimming of Tycho’s nails.  They grew hard and fast. For months and years, I worked on desensitizing him to the clippers or dremel.  But once I reached the stage where I could touch his feet with the clippers for a brief second, we reached a stalemate. This was when he started to air snap at me. Air snapping was no accident: he was telling me clearly that if I did not leave his feet alone that he would bite me. He let me know in no uncertain terms that I was not to angle the clippers to touch a nail.  Progress became impossible. Full sedation at the vet would have become our only option, and because they grew so quickly and were so hard, that process would have needed to be repeated every 6 weeks to two months.

So, did he have a bite history? Yes, he bit me twice, one of those times was in my back when I was trying to protect one of the cats from him.  A nasty millisecond of time that left me feeling devastated. And another time, when we were working on nail trimming desensitization.  Also, the lawnmower man got bitten.  I was always careful.  The lawnmower men came on an irregular schedule, so I learned to listen out for their machines in the front yard, and be sure to keep Tycho indoors whilst they were doing their work. But one day, one of them went into the fenced back yard without first starting up the machines.  Tycho bit him on his shin.  The man was very kind, and never pressed charges.  Note: the dogs were only allowed outdoors if I was at home, and the door always stood open for them to choose whether to be inside or outside.  If I was away from home, the dogs were indoors.

So back to Dr. Lore Haug’s options:

1. We could simply live with our problem Tycho as he is.  By this time, My husband and I firmly believed that we had achieved significant amounts of behavior modification with him.  He was better in many respects e.g. we could now walk him in a town without repercussions.  But our home situation was at a stalemate. It seemed as though we had reached the limits of behavior modification for him, and weren’t able to get any further improvement out of him.  Our cats and both Kira and Dakota remained at serious risk.  Fleur remained at risk. Visitors remained at risk. Even Craig and I remained at risk, although we knew that Tycho loved us dearly, and we loved him too. More than any words that I write here can ever say.

2. We could re-home him.  Perhaps he would fit in better with another family.  But, ours was a good home; we have loved and treated him like gold throughout these two years and eights months. Many new adopters assume that rescue dogs have come from a bad background and that “lots of love” would simply make the world a better place for the dog, not realizing the “severity of the problems they are inheriting” (Haug, 2011).  Sure, he might have been re-homeable, but only as long as there were no other animals in the house, and without other animals, how would our rescuer have handled his isolation anxiety? Our rescuer would not only never be able to leave his house, but would also not be able to readily accept visitors either.  And it would still leave us open to ethical and legal constraints.

3. We could have continued with behavior modification protocols.  And medication.  Back in the first year of having him, I took him to see one of the country’s few veterinary behaviorists.  She put him onto Fluoxetine (Prozac). Later, after he bit me in the back we added Trazodone to the mix.  First, we decreased the amount of fluoxetine, but quickly realized that the reduced fluoxetine was making him more rather than less volatile.  So we upped his fluoxetine to the original dose, and added the full Trazodone dose to that. Beyond that, both my husband and I always carefully, lovingly and without ever scolding or punishing him, worked on the various behavior modification protocols.  As I said above, I believe that we had reached an impasse at the end: we had achieved as much behavior modification as we were ever going to get out of him.  For the last year, we have made no real further progress. Life at home was untenable.

4. Which left us with Option 4. Euthanize him.  Tycho passed away on Friday, at the vet’s office, held closely by both myself and my husband.  We are heartbroken because we grew to love this little guy from the bottom of our hearts.  When he was good, he was a wonderful little boy to be with.

My own life changed dramatically because of Tycho.  For reasons beyond Tycho, but that definitely include him as part and parcel of this, I had been previously been diagnosed with depression, but now also general and social anxiety, sensory processing disorder, panic disorder and a potentially developing agoraphobia.  I have been in ER twice during December 2014 because of this.  Going forward, I will be taking a hiatus from training other people’s dogs, because this has been too devastating. I will be concentrating on Kira and Dakota and the three cats.

Tycho, thank you for everything that you’ve given us.  Thank you for being the sweet and lovable dog that you were.  We hope that you are now in a better place, and you have definitely taken a large piece of our hearts with you.  And given us all of yours. I am so very sorry that we couldn’t do more for you. Be at peace, my little boy.

(I ask that if you feel compelled to write a comment on this blog that you please make it a kind one.  Any criticism, given my fragile mental state, may push me over the edge. So please don’t. I already know that there is nothing easy or happy about this whole situation).

44 thoughts on “Making the decision to euthanize our problem behavior dog

  1. Karen, I am so sorry to hear about Tycho. I know you tried hard to get him socialized and the pictures of him playing with Dakota were wonderful. It hurts, it always will hurt, but when you think of him and start to blame yourself, don’t. Remember what his life would have been like (how much shorter, how horrific if he had ended up with Animal Control or worse yet – a dog fighting ring) and rest easier knowing that you gave him the love he needed in his short life. Hugs to you and to Craig.

  2. Oh Karen, You are the most loving, caring person and mama that I know. If reincarnation is real, I want to come back as one of your pets. I know that this was an immensely difficult decision for you. But, it was the right one. He was a tortured soul. Know that he was not at peace. Allow yourself to be at peace knowing that he had the most amazing, loving family. He still couldn’t find happiness and comfort with all that he had. You did the right thing for Tycho not for you. I love you!!! XXXOOO

  3. I admire your strength. I’ve been in your shoes twice. It’s never easy, nor should it be.
    Love and light,

  4. So sorry for your loss. I sit here snuggled with my 7 year old Patterdale Terrier, Nellie, who exhibits largely the same issues as Tycho. Our Vet Behaviourist appointment isn’t for another 10 weeks, but I have battled with her for 6 years. I sincerely hope medication can help, because I don’t know what we’ll do if we can’t get some normality to her life somehow. I truly empathise, and I know Tycho had the best life he could have had with you.

  5. I’m so, so sorry about your loss. I stumbled across this article through a facebook group. I am in a very similar situation and fear that this might be the end to my pup’s story also. Thank you for being brave, putting so much of yourself into another creature, and best wishes for quick healing of your heart.

  6. bless you for having the wisdom to know when he’d had enough. it’s a brutal decision to make, I know, it cut to your core. but know this, you did all you could, loved with all your heart and in the end gave him the only true peace he could have. I thank you for that. my heart goes out to you as I feel your pain, I currently have a difficult dog that at times has taken my depression and thrown it into the deep dark depths of despair. I wish you wellness. it is time to heal yourself. my best to you and your family.

  7. Oh Karen, so sad to hear. Definitely, albeit sadly, the right decision. You and Craig are the very kindest and most big hearted of all people and Tycho had the very very best you could have given him. The very best. Please look forward and don’t look back, immerse yourself in Craig, Kira, Dakota and the cats. See your friends often. You will find strength in and from all of them. Lots and lots of Love, Evert.

  8. So sorry to hear of Tycho’s passing. There are times when, for certain dogs, letting them leave this world is the kindest, most compassionate choice. He was living in a world that didn’t make sense to him and that had to be pure mental torture every day. Peace to your family.

  9. I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through. But thank you for sharing your story. Sometimes our best is still not enough. Sometimes the dogs are just too damaged. But Tycho had a wonderful life with your family, which is more than can be said for many.

  10. I am so so sorry. I just went through something similar with a foster dog. I hope no one makes any unkind comments and if they do please know that they just have not lived through what you have. I am a big believer that lots of love can do a lot but it cant fix all situations. I think it is awesome that you tried so hard for him for so long and that he got a nice couple of years with you.

  11. I cannot imagine working as hard and diligently as you did to manage this little guy’s behavior. I hope you give yourself a measure of grace and recognize that pets are different from people and that you made the responsible, although clearly difficult choice.

  12. Dear Karen, I came across your blog trying to find help for an analogous situation, contemplating euthanising one of our dogs because of behaviour problems. In your circumstances and ours, there really is not other choice. It is not fair on the other animals and it wrecks people’s life. But it is beyond heartbreaking. I don’t know how to find the courage, though I know I must. Your story has helped. All the best, Patricia

  13. I came across your story looking for ‘advice’ or any overlooked alternatives, as I found myself in a similar situation. It was only 2 days ago. I’m wrestling with rationale and guilt. Thank you and the commentors for sharing

    1. I am so very sorry for your loss. Take care of yourself and your family. And take it easy on yourself. Second-guessing is just too plain hard; you made the decision, it was not easy. I’ve no doubt that you loved your dog, and you tried your best for him or her, and nobody can ask more of you than that. Your dog has been released from a painful life, and you all feel a little bit safer now. Take the time to heal. It has taken me a very long time too, and I have had to make a point of riding the flood of my emotions, but not letting them drown me.

  14. I am going through this excruciating decision as our otherwise very sweet and loving pit mix has now bitten 2 kids. We love him with all of our hearts, but we do not trust him with our own kids, nor do we feel we can ever let friends into our house. While re-homing him may seem best, I am concerned, as you mentioned, that he will not be loved as we have loved him, or worse, surrendered to shelter. My heart is literally broken.

    1. Naomi, I should have reached out to you sooner. I am so sorry for the pain and trauma that you are going through to reach this decision. I hope you find comfort in the fact that you have been your dog’s best advocate, and that your love of him allowed you to see the dog underneath the bites as well as the seriousness of the bites themselves. There are no easy answers, but I hope you remember only the good things about him, and leave behind the guilt. You have done your best for him.

  15. I’m sobbing as I read this, as you’re describing our current situation / decision. I’ve not found many stories about saying farewell to younger dogs with behavioural issues. We rescued a 6 month old puppy that had been very badly abused by a previous owner. We have spent 6 years trying to undo 6 months of abuse & isolation and the impact to our lives had been immense, to reach a point where we have to medicate our dog considerably to get through day to day life. He is now mostly incontinent and we now recognise that his quality of life is impaired also.
    We love him dearly and this is the hardest decision of our lives, but ultimately we believe we have given him a happy, loving home and that as his advocate we need to be responsible for making this decision for the wellbeing of all involved (including the safety of an almost two year old daughter).
    Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. Elise, thank you for sharing your story too. These stories need to be told, and their heartbreak needs to be recognized as traumatizing to all the families involved. I am so very sorry for your loss.

  16. I had a dog for 7 years named Teddy. I had him since he was 6 weeks. Separated at birth from his mother and placed in the pound. He was aggressive from the beginning but I was my first dog I didn’t know any better. He bit many people in our family and strangers. He would not learn commands. It was almost friegtening having him out of the house. We all learned to adapt around Teddy. He was a big dog about 80 pounds. He was quarantined twice for but bighting. I would visit him every day when he was quarantined. My heart hurt watching him scratch away at the mattress on the floor in frustration trying to get out to his family. We were his family. I think of him as a little frankentine cute and loving but unknowing of his aggressive nature and strength. One day he bit my brother in the face. My brother had to have plastic surgery to see his lips and cheeks back together. It was a horrific attack. An accident. Teddy was protecting his food. My brother was teasing him. Our family was broken for both our brother and for Teddy. After 7 years Teddy had become a small member of the family. We ultimately had to make the painful decision to euthanize. This was in 2011, now 6 years ago. I don’t know why but I was reflecting on this experience just now and decided to google owners putting down pets for behavior. I too went through a series of mental health conditions and illnesses after this event. I think it caused a sort of post traumatic stress that bled into ma you other areas of my life. The ripple effect can still be felt today in some ways. You were not alone in your experience. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope your heart has found healing

    1. I am sorry for your experience Jessica. I’m especially sorry that your experience with Teddy happened as he was your first-ever dog. Most dogs are good dogs, and most people are good people. I hope that you haven’t lost faith in all dogs, and that you have tried again to give your love to another four-legged beauty. Tycho will be in my heart and mind forever, as he has changed my life so very much. I hope that he was sent to teach me something new, and I hope that I learned the lessons he taught me (at least, I believe he and I did come together in that way). I am a better person because of Tycho, and that may be true for you too. Here’s to healing for both of us! Thanks for writing.

    2. OMG! I believe this experience causes PTSD too. Unless you have gone through it, it is hard to believe how painful this experience is. I pray there will be more medical advances that will offer real results for these furry members of our families. I call my troubled boy an angel with a basket full of troubles. When he is stable, there is not a finer companion around, but when he is out of control it is frightening. I am trying everything I can to save his life. God bless everyone going through this. May God grant his grace and peace to all.

  17. Thank you for this. I’ve been struggling with my labs severe separation anxiety for the past seven years- we rescued her when she was five- and we’ve tried a behaviorist, training and medication. Nothing has worked. We’ve decided to put her down this Wednesday and it’s the toughest decision I’ve ever made. Your article and your strength has given me support through an incredibly hard time. Thank you.

  18. My husband and I had to make this decision 3 months ago with a dog that lived with us for 7 years. He was a dog I fostered through rescue and wasn’t adopted. Although he could be sweet at times, he would change behavior on a dime and bite at us or growl and jump at our other dogs for no reason, then jump up and kiss us. It had to be stressful for him as something just wasn’t right in his mind. Our biggest mistake was letting it all go on too long. We were prisoners as it was basically impossible to have anyone over and hard to go out of town as he could never be boarded or have a new pet sitter. Having him with us so long made it harder and I still cry sometimes thinking about him when he had good days or when I see a picture of him lounging in the sun. Even though you know you’ve done your best and more than many others would have, it still beats you down somedays to feel the guilt. Reading your page and the comments and knowing others can understand gives me at least some comfort. Thank you!

      1. It’s been only two days since I realized my boy was not getting more mellow, but rather more unstable and more likely to bite again. For a brief time I let my head rule my heart and we had him euthanized. My heart has been convicting me ever since. I knew it would be difficult, but I had no idea the extent of the pain, guilt and remorse I would feel. It feels like a dagger in the heart that will never go away, and like I would give anything to undo the horrible decision. My husband tries to tell me we made the right decision; at some level I agree, but I’d give anything for another day with my baby. Horrible thing to go through–such guilt.

      2. I am so sorry for your loss. This situation is awful beyond words. I wish there were more and better treatment options. My heart aches for everyone enduring this nightmare last resort.

  19. thank you so much for writing this. we have been living with a dog with severe separation anxiety for 8 years. nothing has helped, he can’t be left alone for even 5 minutes to go to the mailbox. we have been struggling with the thought of putting him down for almost 2 years now. I feel like a horrible person but we are trapped in our own home and it is causing myself, ex-husband and son so much anxiety of our own. This is the only thing I have ever found online that makes me feel like I am not the most horrible person in the world.

    1. I am so sorry, Jen. I understand and respect your decision. Malena deMartini-Price is a well-known sep-anx person who may be able to help you. Please google her. Yours is such a long-standing case of eight years that I’m not sure, but if anyone can help you, it would be her. Whatever decision you take, I, and the people who read this blog, will always know the tremendous love you have for your dog, and know that your decisions are in love for your dog, your family, and yourself. These are the hardest of situations. I wish you well. Hold yourselves tight.

  20. Thank you so much for writing this article! While reading it and thinking about our decision we are in the process of making about our dog Knight, I kept thinking how hard it must have been for you to write it all down. But at the same time, it must have helped you heal too, to process what had happened and how it came to this point. Our nearly 4 year old dog has been hard work from the start and at times I questioned whether a dog could suffer from mental illness like humans do. He was so sweet and loving but also a complete psycho when we were out. He cries constantly in the car or if we leave the house, he has got worse and worse with reacting to other dogs and has now attacked two dogs, plus an alpaca. To cut a long story short, it is beyond our abilities to keep him and we have been told he is not re-homable and a danger to our 19 month old toddler (he has snapped at him a few times- mainly resource guarding). We have given it a good go of trying to find someone with more experience and have spoken to any dog behaviourist/trainer I could find with the hopes that they would give him one last chance at life, but no luck. This last month has been an emotional rollercoaster. Even now I am looking over at him asleep on his bed and am questioning how we could possibly euthanise him when he has been such a good boy the last few days… It breaks my heart 😦

    I am so sorry to you and anyone else that reads this with the same situation. It is definately the hardest decision I have ever had to make as he is a part of our family and we will miss the beautiful sweet side of him dearly.

    1. I am so very sorry Nicole. My heart is with you. I do believe that mental illness in non-humans is as real as it is in humans. Give Knight a hug from me.

  21. Thank you for this post. Today I had to make the heart wrenching decision to euthanize my dog. She was only 1 year and 5 months. I had her since she was 3 1.2 months. She was a rescue, brutally attached by her 12 litter mates being the runt. She suffered tremendous anxiety. And I worked for months to socialize her… she was doing really well. Then my oldest daughter decide to rescue another pup when mine was about 9 mo. old, and she ended up living with us (too much to go into here) At first it was good and they just loved each other so much… and despite the younger pup taking toys food attention away the older pup still loved her. My kids are teenagers/young cults and only the youngest at home any more…. well, we recently moved across the country and although it was stressful, both pups were happy. Then the older pup started becoming more and more stressed/anxiety ridden. Our furniture has yet to arrive so our large home is empty. My daughter had been sleeping in one of the first floor bedrooms for about week and decided to move upstairs. That’s when it started. The older pup growled making it clear the younger could not come in the room. We honored that, then in the living room (It seemed) out of nowhere she just snapped and when she did, she attacked the other pup (who is now slightly bigger). We ended up in vet hospital – staples & glue to the younger pups front leg. We kept them mostly apart for feeding etc. but honestly they were cozied up together by the time we got home. 3 days later, younger pup walked near my daughter and older pup attacked. This was far more serious with a night in ER that ended with surgery and stitches to the other front leg. 3 days later I was home alone with them and managed to intercept a near attack. They had been separated since. Today my daughter took the younger pup outside as I was. Eating ready to take older pup to vet… older pup got out of screen door and ran straight to attack younger pup resulting in biting through her back left paw, all in a matter of 10 days.

    Now she has snipped at a stranger once when he came in the door… and it took a lot to calm her down when anyone came over (with teenagers that was a lot). Every time we left complete destruction unless in the crate… but she destroyed anything in ir near the crate that she could reach. I will mention here that older puppy was a possible pit bull mix. Younger puppy pit bull. Younger pup submitted to older pup… before and after attacks and although bigger never really did much to hurt older pup… basically just scrapes and scratches, no stiches or staples required, to the face.

    I am heartbroken, in physical pain over my decision today. I knew I could not rehome her… I had already given up leaving the house (for the most part) for the past year. I knew that re-homing the younger pup would be safer for her… but ultimately having very young children and dogs all around us, it would only be a matter of time before another incident with the older pup. I love/loved her so very much… I am devastated and not sure how I will work through it emotionally. It was by far the most difficult decision Ive ever had to make. Thank you for sharing your story.

  22. I am struggling with this issue. My dog Abbie has never been that friendly with strangers or other dogs outside. She is only 5 but lately she is getting more and more aggressive when I walk her. Last month, she reacted to a dog on a leash across the street and lunged and barked. I fell completely to the ground because she is so powerful. Now I am scared to walk her. Plus she has some growths – like masses on her right shoulder and chest area and she is starting to walk like she has arthritis. She is 5 and looks 12. My vet said she is a danger to me and seems very sick. I can’t afford the price of tests and treatments. I was going to return her to the no kill shelter I adopted her at when she was 3 months, but I don’t feel that will be good for her. I don’t know if she has cancer and I am trying to get the money together to have her tested. But tonight she nipped at a friend who came over for dinner. She has done this before. She barks and barks when people come in house, even if she knows us. She is scared of trucks, like sanitation, fedex, etc. I feel I have to put her down. I am heartbroken and cry everytime I try to decide what to do.

  23. I just read your post on Tycho for the second time as I contemplate our vet visit to euthanize Terrie our Wheaten Terrier today at 4 p.m. So thank you — they are words of comfort!

    I have been crying all weekend about this decision confirmed as the right choice by the Wheaten Rescue that we adopted her from. She has so many wonderful qualities that I love her to pieces for, but some totally off the wall anxiety issues that we have tried to work through for the past 1 1/2 years.

    She is now almost 10, and the rescue says she is probably too old to unlearn behavior ingrained in her from several years of abuse and neglect. Although her worst behavior is the way she angrily comes at us to bite hard if we take something away, try to groom her or try to stop her from peeing on the carpet (she has bitten me six times, my husband 3, sister-in-law because she looked after her while we were out of town, and the vet because she didn’t like the needle), the behavior that has causes us the most angst is her inability to ride in the car without nonstop barking and jumping all over the place. We cannot take her even 5 minutes to the park which she loves. She also is food obsessed, eats in a frenzy so her digestion is bad and right after eating, is constantly looking for more. And her inability to be housebroken has resulted in way too much crate time, but it’s the only way to stop her from eliminating all over the house.

    I thought if only she were housebroken and could ride in the car, I would be willing to work with the biting by simply not doing the things that make her angry. She only lashes out at her caregivers, and is a delight to strangers and children. I am heartbroken. Thank you so much for letting me write this down as there is therapy in that. I love Terrie so much.

  24. We are facing this very decision, which led me to this article. I have worked in canine rescue for 20 years. I am always sent the most difficult of cases. Up until this point, I have never had a dog that I could not find a solution for. We have has Spud for 7 years now. 90% of the time he is a gorgeous playful enjoyable companion animal, 10% of the time he, in the blink of an eye will turn into a demon. Although he has anxiety we have treated with medication, there are never visible or known triggers for his viscous attacks. Although he has snarled and growled at humans he has only attacked his housemates. His attacks are severe and unrelenting, often requiring 2 large adults to remove him fro his victim. His anxiety has worsened being away from the other dogs, but for their safety, we cannot allow them together. As you stated, I feel as I have failed him and we have an appt for euthanasia tomorrow. I have never had to do this before and I am beyond devastated. It will be like any other sedation to him, a deep sleep he will never wake from, but for our family, we will have to live with this decision FOREVER. He was a 6 mo old horribly abused puppy when he came to us that had never been shown love. We have loved him dearly for years and given him the best we could. I hope his anxious, tormented, broken heart will finally be at peace, I’m not sure ours will ever be the same again.

    1. Hi Nic,
      I read your comment and I am so sorry you and your family are going through this HORRIBLE situation. I have a rat terrier that I rescued from a parking lot over a year ago. His tail was broken in two places and he was emaciated. I had to hold him up to feed him and to help him go to the bathroom for the first two weeks after he came home with me. He loves me and puts-up-with/ hates everyone else. I have young children so this can not be. I have tried everything. He is on medication. I have read everything I can get my hands on about dog aggression. I contacted a dog behaviorist and the cost is around one thousand dollars to engage her services, so that is out. Is there anything that I am missing? Jonathan has attacked without warning. He is only 23lbs. but he is still scary. I don’t think he can make it without me. This whole situation has been devastating. Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated. His little life is on the line. Again, let me say how truly sorry I am for your loss, and I pray that God will send his angels to comfort you.

  25. I am in the exact same position right now with my dog Daisy Mae. I am single and have no one to help me with her. She is very calm and joyful and loving in the house but become so reactive outside of the house. I have had literally two years of behavior modification training and I visited Tufts School of animal behavior, but it is more behavior modification. She is on 40 mg of Prozac and .1 mg of clonidine twice a day and she is unpredictable, reactive and I’m pretty much at the end of my rope. I don’t want to euthanize her but I don’t know what else to do with this point I can’t afford more training and I’m not sure it’s going to work. She learns the commands it’s not that she can’t learn she can learn but She forgets them when she is out in the community and is becoming reactive. She was left in the garage for a year by a couple who adopted her. I left her in a crate for year and she never got any socialization. I love Her dearlyBut I don’t know what else to do at this point.

    1. Hi Resist Now Web, before I even saw your follow-on message, I had realized that it must be a typo. You would never have left Daisy Mae in a crate for a year, and I hope that other readers of your comment pick up on that quickly. We still miss Tycho very much even though it has now been three years. These decisions aren’t easy, and shouldn’t be easy. My thoughts are with you.

  26. We are one week out from euthanizing our dog. I just came back from a walk without her. So heartbreaking. The grief, guilt and second guessing is awful. She had severe, self-mutilating separation anxiety, severe reactivity and has nipped everyone who came in the house. We were recluses, walking in the dark. We went to a behaviorist, we had a positive trainer, she was on medication and we modified our life to no avail. I drained my savings and thought about quitting my job to care for her. She was sweet in her moments of calm. We love her, we tried very hard and now we miss her. Karen, thank you for writing about your dog and your heartbreak.

  27. I know you wrote this years ago, but I’m just finding it now, as I’m struggling with the decision to euthanize one of my dogs. Coco was dumped on my doorstep as a puppy when I lived in Mexico, and I took her in permanently when a potential adoption fell through.

    Once she began to recover from dehydration and malnourishment, her real colors came through, as well as anxiety–not a surprise given that she was probably still only six or seven weeks old when I rescued her. It turned out that in addition to fleas, she had sarcoptic mange, which we all got, making for a costly and itchy summer. She began to see every approach from me as time for a treatment or injection, which added to her baseline anxiety. She’s never really been comfortable with physical affection since then.

    As she grew, I could see she was part pit bull, part something else, probably Labrador. While she fit in with my other dogs, she needs far more exercise. I live on a fenced acre, but lately she can’t seem to be left outside on her own for a moment without killing some small animal, fence fighting with the neighbors’ dogs, or digging obsessively for rocks. Her obsessive compulsive tendencies are worse, as is her anxiety. She’s nearly five, but if I don’t get her out immediately when she wakes up, she shrieks like a puppy and pounds on her crate.

    I had to bring my barn cat inside after a family of bobcats attacked her, and Coco *hates* the cat. Like you, I have had to partition the house and restrict the cat’s territory. I am fearful of leaving home overnight, fearful I will accidentally let her get to the cat, fearful she’ll drag another dog under the fence and kill it, fearful she’ll attack the stray cat that sometimes runs into our yard (leaving the poor cat injured and me with a vet bill, because I can’t let it suffer), fearful her anxiety and obsessive behavior could ultimately be turned on my Chihuahua (whom she now respects) or on a human… She routinely breaks her collars and leashes because she has the strength and stubbornness of a stallion. She has nipped at my hands when I’ve grabbed her collar to remove her from the fence–clearly displacement aggression when she’s in a high-focus/high-drive zone. She hasn’t ever been aggressive with people, but I don’t know if I can trust that won’t happen.

    I just can’t live like this anymore. Right now she’s outside digging, digging, digging in a rabbit hole, her collar once again broken, so I can’t retrieve her. I’m tired of my life revolving around her so much. Every effort to modify her behavior has failed (I have years of experience training dogs, including other pits and Rottweilers). I don’t want to try medication, only to get the dose wrong and have it make her behavior worse. I can’t afford to do much more than I’m doing now, and sending her to a shelter to be adopted by an unwitting family could spell disaster.

    I have to take a trip to Europe in the spring, and I just don’t feel like I can leave her in someone else’s care in the house (a kennel is out of the question). I’ll never be able to move to a more populated place, which I’d like to do (actually overseas) and my other dogs (both well-adjusted rescues from Mexico) have little social life because of her. I’m at my wits end, but I think euthanasia is probably my next step.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and thanks to anyone who takes the time to read this and let me vent.

  28. Thank you for sharing your story. I have been racked with intense guilt and grief over my 7 year old dog that we had to euthanize recently. I loved him very much but he became dangerous. One of the few things that gives me comfort is reading other stories from people who had to do the same thing. The worst thing about the experience is that along with the sadness from losing an otherwise healthy pet, I also fear that my friends and family won’t understand. I hope this story and more like it can help other people like it helps me. It’s hard enough to miss a beloved pet without feeling like it’s your fault and you failed him.

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