I Don’t Wanna and I Don’t Have to

I refuse treat a dog whose behavior is too aggressive for safety

Published: June 26, 2017

furious dog Bigstock

Sounds like that sulky teenager in the back of the car, right?  Maybe I should have used “Just say NO!” as the title for this piece instead.  Or the classic “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” 

What’s got me all riled up inside?  What’s making me “take it to the streets”?  The expectation by some people that it’s okay to thrust an aggressive, uncontrolled dog (e.g., their pet) at me and my staff and expect us to perform whatever veterinary service they request ― or even demand.

A grocery clerk can refuse to serve an unruly or drunk customer. A restaurant can refuse to serve a client missing shirt or shoes. And I can refuse any landshark that poses a threat to human safety. 

“You need that rabies vaccination for your lunging 150-pound Rottweiler? Let’s talk about this.”

“Your ‘overprotective’ German shepherd that just tried to remove my technician’s nose has a cut on its paw?  Houston, we have a problem.”

Look at this veterinarian’s face and you’ll see why I refuse to treat some dogs. Don’t be fooled by the smile; she’s in shock. You can see outlines of a dog’s canines on her cheek all the way down to her jaw bone.

Is it cruel of me to deny treatment?  Am I heartless? Not at all.

Do I turn away every aggressive dog? Of course not. There are clear circumstances where I am more than willing to go the extra mile. I have worked with police dogs expertly restrained by their handlers. I have worked with dogs that have undergone Schutzhund training. I have worked with frightened and injured strays brought in by shelter or animal welfare personnel. Not all dogs are happy Labradors (and believe me, there are rare vicious Labs as well!).

I have clients who understand their dogs’ behavior and the danger it poses and will muzzle their dogs before allowing anyone to approach them. I use sedation when necessary; "happy drugs" usually make for happy (and reflexively slow) dogs and happy vets. On rare occasions a catch-pole can help me restrain painful, scared, aggressive dogs so that I can sedate or anesthetize them to examine them. But for any of these actions, I need the client’s cooperation plus acknowledgement that this dog could maim or kill. Sometimes, clients are making good faith efforts to modify the dog’s behavior, such as seeing behavior specialists or trainers, and that’s reason enough for me to try to work with them.

Veterinarians understand most clients don’t grasp the danger inherent in our jobs because they’ve never seen it. The vast majority of dogs who don’t like being at the vet don’t attack. Clients don’t hear about the veterinarians and technicians who have quit the profession after being dragged by the leg through the clinic; the dog that leaps up and bites a face or throat; or arms and legs covered with stitches because a veterinarian jumped into the fray to protect technicians. A well-placed chomp to the hand can ruin the ability to do surgery and even end a career. Every veterinarian knows a colleague who has been seriously injured at work. Knowing this, maybe you can understand why I refuse to treat a dog whose behavior is too aggressive for safety.

What I don’t need is the person who thinks it’s perfectly okay to point a saber-toothed lethal weapon at me or my staff and expect me to “deal with it.” I’m also not okay with you holding your dog while I vaccinate it, since a client who gets bitten while trying to restrain their pet in my office can sue.

Sometimes clients threaten bad online reviews if their veterinarian chooses not to treat their aggressive dog. As a colleague once said, “I don't care if you tell everyone I’m scared of your dog. I *am* scared of your dog, and in most cases, you should be too.”

It’s not the dog’s fault. Bad upbringing, bad genes, bad circumstances have all conspired to make an aggressive dog what it is. That said, working with me ― using muzzles,  sedation, etc. ― to keep me and my staff safe goes a long ways. Attitude matters: yours, the dog’s, and mine. If you don’t care about my safety and that of my staff (not to mention your own), we have a problem and I won’t work with you and your dog.


MaryAnn Russell
November 6, 2023

I totally agree and empathize with anyone who works with pets/people. Sometimes the people can be just as vicious as their pets. I agree you should always have a choice who you treat and don’t treat by standards/safety…


July 23, 2021

German Shepherds: I have owned 5 German Shepherd and they Are not aggressive. They are aware and want to please . They only bitte on demand that’s why in my opinion every german Shepherd should be professionally trained for at least obsidiance. They are shy in nature and bite out of fear at times so socializing them is a must . They are happiest when they got a jobs. Like Police dog’s will bite on demand but one word from their master makes them stop right away. They are not a couch dog if tbey don’t go daily and have a Job and Are getting thrown in the back yard or tied up all day they will absolutely get aggressive. They are people dogs and if you train them right your very best friend

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