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Local Woof: Living With an Aggressive Dog

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Editor’s Note: The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

What if you can’t keep your dog because of aggression?

Every year, almost 4 million dogs end up in shelters in the U.S. Some of these are the result of poor decision making and irresponsible dog ownership. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

What if you do everything right? You carefully picked out your dog, adjusted your schedule to spend time with your new pup, trained and socialized according to plan. Sometimes no matter what you do, things don’t work out.

Every year WOOFS! works with families who have done everything right but still end up with a dog who is aggressive. WOOFS! owner Laura Sharkey specifically specializes in aggression in young puppies. In many cases, aggression is a result of genetics and can be very difficult to modify through training.

Whether or not a dog with aggression can stay in its home depends on two main factors: the nature and level of the aggression, and the makeup of the family.

Sometimes, the aggression is manageable. Management involves adjusting the dogs environment so that they are never put in a situation that triggers their aggression. For example, dogs who are only aggressive to other dogs can often live very happily in a home with no other dogs. Owners of these dogs recognize that their dogs do not enjoy the company of other dogs and do not force them to interact with other dogs. Problem solved. But this only works if the family has enough space. If they live in a dog-friendly high rise in the middle of a dog-friendly city, effective management may not be possible. Moving to the suburbs with a large backyard may not be possible.

Aggression towards people is even more difficult to manage. Some dogs are only aggressive when they have a high value treat. Don’t give the dog that treat, and you don’t have an issue. The aggression is predictable and easy to prevent. Unfortunately, many dogs have much more serious aggression that is not predictable or happens too frequently and with a dangerous level of intensity. This is a heartbreaking situation with no good solution.

One of the most critical factors in living with an aggressive dog is whether or not there are young children in the home. Young children can not reasonably be expected to follow complex management rules. If there is any risk of the child getting bit by the dog, the dog can not stay in that home. No exceptions.

So what are the options? Sometimes aggression can be mitigated with training and counter conditioning. Getting professional help should be the first step. If the decision has been made not to keep the dog, owners should contact the breeder or organization where they got the dog from. These groups will often accept the dog back and have the resources to help get the dog into a home that will work for everyone. If this doesn’t work out, your local shelter or rescue group are also great resources. Unfortunately, not every dog will find their way to an appropriate home.

Finally, if you know someone who has to re-home their dog, be sympathetic. Judgment and criticism doesn’t help the family or the dog because for most people, this is a heartbreaking decision.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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