Adopting Out Aggressive Dogs

Don't do it!

Published: February 17, 2016
Photo courtesy of BigStock

I recently visited with a physician friend. He had just come from the hospital after sewing up the face of a 3-year old boy who was mauled by a dog. While I do not know the particulars of this case, it brought to mind my own work with some shelters and their desire to save every single dog and cat, regardless of their aggression towards people, regardless of the animal’s physical and mental health.

What I really want to know is when did the safety of those adopting animals become less important than an aggressive pet? Why is finding a home for every animal, regardless of their temperament the most important thing? Some people assume that being alive equals quality of life. It's clear to me, as a veterinarian and dog-lover, that not only is this equation incorrect, but it also causes fear and anger to spread like a virus, amongst people and pets alike.

What to look for to protect yourself

How do you protect yourself, at least a little, from selecting an aggressive dog and all the heartache associated with it? While you may have a home with no children (or men or women), remember that you need to keep passersby safe, as well as neighbors, delivery people, and your visitors. You do not want to hear that the wind blew open your gate and your new dog mauled the little old lady next door while she was getting her newspaper, or chased a bike-riding child down the road.

There are some key phrases I look for when I am reading about an animal available for adoption. All of these phrases mean the same thing to me: “Please take this dog, even though we know he is dangerous."

  1. Not good with kids.
  2. Needs to be in a home with only women (or men)
  3. Needs some training.
  4. Needs to live with an experienced dog owner.
  5. Needs a quiet home.
  6. Needs to live on a large farm.

It is your job to ask key questions. After all, you expect to adopt a dog or cat that is not going to cause you or your family members harm, either physically and emotionally. You expect to adopt a animal that gives you joy, does not leave you living in fear in your own home.

  1. How many homes has this dog been in?
  2. Why was this animal relinquished?
  3. Has this animal bitten anyone?
  4. Is this a pet you would adopt out to someone in your family? Why or why not?
  5. Ask to talk to the prior owners.
  6. Ask to talk to the prior veterinarian.
  7. Ask around to see if the shelter/rescue has a history of adopting out aggressive animals. Ask your vet, ask your neighbor, ask the local animal control officer.
  8. Ask to see how the dog acts around men/women/kids, without the handler, although the way they act at the shelter may not be how they act at your home.

Take the time to do your homework so you don’t literally get bitten in the seat of the pants!

Back when I was still in clinical practice, I did a lot of free work for the local shelter, run by a group of well-meaning individuals. They worked with limited funds and it was staffed with mostly volunteer workers.

While we enjoyed a good relationship for most of my practice life, it fell apart over one aggressive dog. I visited this dog in the shelter to give him his vaccinations. As I reached down and touched him, he lunged at my face. As I jerked up and back, my employee pulled back on the leash and he came away with several mouthfuls of coat. And I do mean several mouthfuls: he did not just snap once, he bit continuously until he could no longer reach me. Through winter clothes, he left bruises on my breast. Sadly, the shelter workers insisted that this dog could still be safely homed; they just had to be careful about who they adopted him out to. It took several weeks and lawyers got involved, but I finally euthanized the dog. Even as I euthanized the dog, the shelter staff again told me they thought they could have found someone to take him. They just needed the ‘right’ home. I have to admit, I always wondered if ‘the right home’ was someone they did not like since they would be putting those people and their family in harm’s way. My relationship with that shelter was never the same and I never did do any dog work for them again. They only brought me cats and then, only those that were friendly.

To this day, I cannot imagine why this has been allowed to happen and continues to happen in shelters and rescues all over the world. And it happens often: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 (the last year for which statistics are available), there were 342,021 people with non-fatal dog bites treated at the emergency room. That's in addition to the 32 people who died that year from dog bites. From 2001 through 2013, the total number of people treated for dog bites is a mind-numbing 4.3 million.

That's millions of snapping teeth, terrified dogs, and damaged people (both physically and mentally).

Some shelters and rescues don't even conduct due diligence. They adopt out stray animals within a few days of being found, without behavioral evaluations, vaccinations, or altering. An egregious example was seen last November when a Tennessee man was killed by a dog three hours after he'd adopted it from a shelter. The man's wife and neighbor came in to what looked like the bloodiest of crime scenes, and the dog bit them. They ran outside, the dog followed. The dog was killed by police, and sent off to be tested for rabies. The dog was sent for rabies testing because his behavior was so crazy. I don't know how this case is turning out because the county's health department isn't allowed to comment on it.

In another case, an animal behavior specialist who temperament tested a dog told the shelter that the dog, who had been returned twice for aggression, should not be adopted; and when he was adopted out, he bit a child in the face three days later. The family sued the shelter (what a surprise):

"I advised that he would not be a suitable candidate for adoption," the specialist said. "The director told me they would look for a suitable placement, and I very specifically stated he could in no way ever be adopted to a family with children or men."

I can just see the lawsuit: "We think this dog’s life is more important than people's safety, your honor. He's just letting us know that he's not in the right home yet. We'll keep trying. The families can pay for their medical treatment because we can't afford it. I am sure the boy can get enough psychiatric care to get him past this fear of dogs."

This lack of evaluation is not limited to shelters. Many rescues operate under the delusion that every animal deserves to be placed in a home, no matter what his behavior is like. Some well-meaning zealots think that any aggressive pet should be adopted out and have a chance. They are thinking of the animal and their placement success rate, not of people who would be afraid of an aggressive animal. Since when is it okay to live with an animal you're afraid of?

The other side of this coin is that every time an aggressive dog or cat is accepted into a rescue or a shelter, they take up space and resources - medical, financial - that can be used for more than one even-tempered pet that needs assistance. In general, finding a home for an aggressive animal takes more than twice the time of an animal who is even-tempered. How many adoptable, even-tempered pets are euthanized because there is no space or funds for them? Why is so much attention given to pets that cannot be safely adopted?  Any pet whose aggression is increasing is an unhappy, fearful pet. His quality of life is circling the drain. Being alive is not what matters most; it's the quality of that life.

It is up to you to look carefully and ask questions; realize that the ads with all of the cute pictures are there to tug at your heartstrings, not engage your logic. Find and use the logical part of your brain.

In addition, it is important to know that there is a honeymoon period for adopted pets when they are on their best behavior. As they become more comfortable in your home, their behavior will change. It's like the difference between the first few dates and two years of marriage: the true temperament appears. Most pets become more relaxed and happy, while a few revert to the nasty behaviors that got them to the shelter in the first place. If this happens, please don’t pass the problem on to someone else; don’t pass on the heart ache or the danger. Deal with it. Get a medical workup and if there are no physical issues, find a veterinary behaviorist. Whatever you do, do NOT look for someone else to place in danger.


Bri, vet tech
October 15, 2021

Oh and for reference, both my pets are rescues - one is a diabetic cat (who I just dropped $5,000 on after she went into diabetic ketoacidosis) with FIV and IBD and the other a GSD/husky mix with fear-aggression. To be fair, I adopted both of them knowing these issues and with some semblance of expertise in treating them, but having them in my life has only enhanced my love for animals and the need to help owners facing similar issues. As members of the veterinary community, we all must gain a better understanding of dog and cat behavioral disorders and treatment so that pets can remain happy and healthy along with their families for the duration of their lives. I will never regret adopting traditionally "difficult" animals - they've made me a better, more empathetic person in all facets of my life. Animal lives are no less valuable than our own, and the sooner we all understand that, the better off we will all be.

Bri, vet tech
October 15, 2021

I agree wholeheartedly with many of the opinions in this article, especially with the need to better evaluate shelter dogs and the right environments for them. Unfortunately, I feel that it places much of the blame on shelters and personnel, when really the crux of the issue is that people are over- and irresponsibly breeding dogs and cats not for temperament or health, but for aesthetics. Shelters wouldn't be inundated with poorly-socialized and psychologically-damaged animals were it not for the fact that certain people will breed their pet over and over again for profit, or simply because they can't be bothered to spay/neuter them, despite that animals health or personality. I have worked with some wonderful, sweet adopted animals (Pit Bulls come to mind especially - blame should only be placed on the previous "owner" for any incidents, not the poor animal who doesn't and has never known better) and I have worked with toy breeds from "breeders" who have not only bitten me but the owner and their family. On the other hand, with there being so many animals euthanized daily because shelters are full, the overtly and irreconcilably fearful ones should probably be euthanized, at least while daily euthanasias remain in the thousands. Fear is the single worst thing a social species can experience, as Dr. Marty Becker once said, and the most unfortunate thing of all is that it is genetic. My hope is that one day, shelters will have the resources and space for these dire cases and we can truly save them all. For now, every veterinarian should have some serious conversations with would-be breeders about the homeless pet crisis and what bringing more animals into an already overpopulated world really means.

Brian Fischman
September 6, 2021

I'm dealing with this now.  Have a dog we adopted in january,  that show some resource guarding. even with training, it got worse and worse. Come to find out after some digging, the last owners hired a trainer for the exact same issues.  except her friend was bitten and snapped at a few children. The shelter told us she was fine with other pets and children when we adopted, and tonight, in an email, they said, oh no we told you that when you adopted her.

Jadene McGeough
August 29, 2021

And you are deadly right this dog was a dream for the first near enough year I have so many photos videos and no one can believe what happened. True colours do come out after time

Jadene McGeough
August 28, 2021

I'm lucky to bbe alive after a couple sold me a English bull terrier online as could no longer house him apparently. All was good for months no aggression got on with my cats other dogs etc. One night he randomly came up to me on the phone on my bed and nipped me he had never done that my partner was out I jumped up went to say no and he lunged himself at me.if I hadnt of been on the phone at the time I wouldnt be writing this  it took 10 plus minutes for the person on the phone to get to me had to smash window and wrestle it and still after locked in room was trying to get to me for more. The sheer terror I had I thought I was going to die I gave up just before I got rescued took 4 police cars and tasers to control it iv had endless surgery turns out the past owners knew he had been seized by police before and assessed and shouldn't of been re homed without this knowledge i hate them for what they did. It could have been my daughter. The paramedics said 5 more minutes and I would have been dead I had skin hanging from everywhere broken fingers that have had to be screwed and still are not right. 4 full thickness skin grafts which are the worst type he had basically eaten my flesh in places and even with skin graft it dips in terrible and I have no feeling. My legs are covered in stitches and my arms. I had pieces of tattoo ripped off. My legs were that bad I had to have a machine 24 7 sucking out infection they didnt know if I would even keep my legs. The nurses didnt even know I had blonde hair there was that much blood they thought it was brown. Tereible

August 23, 2021

Last week we adopted an older small beagle who was shy, nervous, timid, but friendly.  The county animal shelter had him for a short time but did something unethical and devious as far as I'm concerned when it blacked out the "Notes" on the dog's intake/description form.  Until tonight after this dog tried to bite my cats and me, we loved him but his viciousness was known only to the the shelter, not us.  The Notes blacked out, read on a light box because they didn't redact it properly, read: "CAUTION fear, aggression will bite."  I never would've adopted this dog because we have neighbors with small children who pet everyone else's fur babies.  After reading this article, I realized that lying to potential adoptive pet parents is just par for the course and the consequences, like being sued when someone else is bitten, doesn't matter.  Wrong.  I won't adopt from a shelter again.

May 13, 2021

This is an interesting topic.  And not to sound insensitive to anyone's issues with my opener… but there are no large dogs that were bred to be a companion animals...Except an Alsatian. They were bred to have certain temperaments and instinctual drive. I dont think there is any mention in this article about considering an animal and breed that will fit your home.  ANY dog can be dangerous and bite...tiny ones however are just less likely to kill you but can do serious harm to a small child and terrify them none the less. Barring a major medical issue with the animal, which is rare, it is usually the lack of understanding, commitment, and training that makes the dog crazy and lands a young dog in a shelter in the first place (while there are exceptions)...That and irresponsible breeders.  It should be harder to get a dog, it should be harder to be allowed to breed a dog for profit or fun. I value any person that takes an animal from a shelter or rescue…You are all truly angels…and unless you are taking a puppy or possibly a senior please be careful.  And be prepared to invest significant amounts of time and money. If not don’t get an animal at all. I can never understand why families with children and busy lives try to adopt a large breed working animal with zero expectation of properly training that animal (Pitt, Shepherd, Retriever, Anatolian, etc.)?  I feel that rescues and shelters with more expertise should do a better job matching families to dogs…rather than letting families walk through and pick a dog that 'looks cute' or a breed they saw once in which the example was incredibly will trained. These shelter employees have good intentions and screen as best they can but there are things they are not allowed to say and have a job to do. There are some things I would recommend that could help in selecting a shelter dog or any dog. Find online, or ask for, a behavior assessment checklist (they might have one on hand somewhere).  As a potential owner you have a responsibility to investigate as much as you can before you take on an animal and decide what you are capable of handling or willing to invest in working on. Please complete the assessment prior to adoption or taking an animal in and do so in a controlled environment. The form should include approach, passiveness, acceptance of touch, food aggression, and willingness to be corrected. I agree with key word phrases suggested here…while they aren't deal breakers they do mean something.  A 'home without children' could mean anything…'this is or might be a big dog that could knock over your kids', 'we don't know his background', 'he is fearful', 'he is known to act aggressively toward children'.  Either way there is a liability they want to avoid. I volunteer for transport for several giant breed rescues of LGDs and every time I go we have to decide on temperament...So I do understand the comments made by fearful neighbors and those that tried to do a good deed but now feel helpless.  It can be nerve-racking to show up at all hours to evaluate and possibly take into possession a strange dog that has shown up at someone house or that they are surrendering without much knowledge of background. I am currently trying to rehabilitate one that I have similar worries about and am $7k in on professional training (not petco basic obedience).  This save is in memory of my two boys who passed and I do not recommend anyone do this.  He is getting better every month as a foster...I know, since I have seen him at his worst, the possibility of a nip in the future will never be out the realm of possibility and the with someone new they MUST understand and be willing to maintain consistency and training otherwise he could go backward easily.  He has most of the vet's warning phrases baked into his   description online.  Beyond his history he is an amazing animal, smart, athletic, loving and actually loves the dog park now (however am very careful that he does not play with ill-mannered dogs). He requires 20 miles a week of physicial activity but mental activity is the most important (which people often forget).  He is so smart he is easily bored and has object permanence (he knows it is there even after you have removed it from his sight days before).  He will do best in a home where he has a job to do (he would love to guard your property but without a proper owner to teach him right from wrong…its would be a bad idea).  He may be hyperkinetic and I am not quick to use the term, but the shelter will not test him.  He desires love and attention so badly but never learned not to mouth as a puppy and a lot of bad treatment before he ended up in a shelter becoming kennel crazy.  My investment is in hopes of finding him a forever home but unfortunately I dont get to be selective on who he goes to as he is owned by a city shelter. I do however do my best to steer those away that raise any red flags and will do my best to keep him if a suitable match cannot be found.   He is doing very well and in the top 20% of all dogs I meet, 5 months ago he was in the bottom 10%.  People are shocked to hear he was ever aggressive and make comments they wish their dog behaved so well.  Even now if he is adopted I will always worry if I will have done enough. 

February 11, 2021

I found this article very interesting.  We are so sad at our house.  We adopted a “lab mix” from a rescue that was “calm, gentle, easy-going, good with kids and dogs”.  A month and 1/2 later, we know we have a greatly troubled dog.  He arrived home to our house scared.   We had to be careful around him since the fear had elements of early aggression signs - stiff body, lowered head and tail, some snarling.  As he warmed up to more of the females of the house, he started barking at my dog friendly gentle teenage son which escalated to charging and snarling.   My son can no longer be on the same floor of the house as the dog. I would have appreciated a more clear posting on this dog.  Something to the effect, this dog was a stray pulled out of a kill shelter.  Any early background is unknown.  He was in foster for too short of a time to determine his temperament.  He is fearful.  Breed unknown. This would have been an honest posting which would have provided us with better information on which to make a decision.   We have adopted two rescue dogs from another organization in the past which had completely accurate descriptions due to a thoughtful evaluation of their dogs.  I should have asked more searching questions from this new organization on how they their evaluate dogs so I am at fault here. We have consulted with 2 dog behavior consultants that specialize in aggression. They advise that they believe but cannot guarantee that they can get control over the aggression but not cure it.  I reached out to the rescue organization to discuss their experiences with rehabilitating fear aggressive dogs, but have not heard back from them. We are not sure what to do next.  The dog is  reactive to my son.  We all need to be careful with the dog, since he shows the stiffening and air snaps with all of us.  We have a house where kid and relatives visit often for a week at a time (pre-pandemic).  Even with training, I would worry with this dog and children and non- dog familiar adults so we would need strategies in place to keep dog and humans safe.  Under contract, if we were to return the dog it would have to go back to the rescue.  I am afraid they might in their very good intentions of finding him a home state “nice dog, wary of some males” which might not give the whole picture.  I can’t understate how painful this has been for my family.

December 22, 2020

I agree far too many aggressive dogs are sold out of shelters. However, I disagree with "key phases". When I take out an ad for adult dogs I'm selling I don't have a ton of space to communicate about the dog I'm offering. If I have posted a particular dog as being "not good with kids" you can bet the dog won't bite them, but I have known this dog it's whole life and know that the dog would prefer to be in an adult only or at least older children home. All my dogs have been raised with my own children, however, some just don't like the yelling and erratic movements that kids make. Every one of my "non kid" dogs, actually loves kids, just not the crazy stuff. Because I don't know the people I'm selling to, I typically say no kids, because I want to know that dog will have a happy retirement. I give the people a chance to see the dog with my own kids before they take them home. I think the best two questions are A) is it from a breeder? B) what is the breeder's reputation? Those are the ones that will tell you whether or not you should bring home a dog. I highly advise against bringing home a shelter dog because they want to sell at any cost. A breeder doesn't have to sell. In fact, if I can't sell a dog it's no big deal, they can stay forever. Its just that I know some of my adults would be happier retired as an only pet so they can get all the attention. Most breeders are like this, and it is wise to buy from someone who has a business riding on what they sell versus the shelter which isn't required to guarantee anything should they sell a less than stellar dog.

Donna Kearns
October 30, 2020

This article scares me to death! The key word here being "death". I am a prisoner at my home thanks to a marriage break up and a new girlfriend moving into my son's house with her vicious pit bull. Please don't misunderstand me. I am a Pit Bull advocate. I love this breed. I love the pit bull wiggle. But this woman is why Pits have a bad rap. She won't admit her dog is vicious. She won't bend an inch to help me. And I am so very scared this whole situation will not end, till I am either seriously injured, or dead. I live in California. My son is more interested in his love life than his own mothers life. I live in an RV on my son's land. I pay rent and utilities. The agreement was, my son Joey, his wife Brittany, her father Kirk were to live, with their 3 dogs in their 4 bedroom house. Me, and my 6 (now 5 as Jasper, 23, just passed) we are to live in my RV in the back. 1 acre total land. Rent and utilities split 4 ways. Even if I only have a tiny RV and they a big  4 bedroom 2 bath fully modern house. Having 6 small dogs and need a safe place for them, I agreed. Year later, their marriage falls apart. Joey, being a bully, forced my daughter-in-law out. Plus Brittany's 3 dogs. He moves in Eva, 3 kids, and Ducky the vicious dog. To say life has gone from bad to worse is an understatement. This was never discussed with me. He just did it. This woman's mom, it turns out, gave Eva a limited amount of time to move from her home. I find out later, it was because of her dog. Ducky WAS attacking her 2 dogs. I've asked if we could put a muzzle on Ducky when out. Eva refuses. She is now letting this dog have free run of the property. I can not go outside my gate as this dog has gone after me 3 times. This story has other aspects to it that are stories in themselves. Bottom line, I am a prisoner here. One that is verbally abused also. I'm 67, waiting for cataract surgery. No help from my jailers. I need advice that will give me time to relocate. Please, I don't have anyway to excape. I just want to be happy again. Sorry for the lengthy post. I just wish I could explain it all. Thank you Donna

Sally Spring Time
May 5, 2020

I have had bad experiences with rescue animals, both cats & dogs. Cats:Undiagnosed issue, then ended up costing quite a bit.  Cat died a few months after I bought him. Dogs:First dog - foster home willfully neglected to mention that the dog 'will attack cats'.  It was actually written right in the Vet. medical records.  Unfortunately, we didn't thoroughly read the medical records prior to adopting the dog.  Yet, it must be stressed, that the foster home knew we had cats, yet didn't mention it would be a problem.  That is absolutely underhanded and that particular foster home should have been shut down. We trained him to tolerate cats - nevertheless, we likely wouldn't have adopted him, had this information been divulged at the time. Second dog - was not potty trained at all and would urinate and poop on the floor (on or off the pee pads).  She received plenty of walks (3x / day), yet apparently would just go in the middle of the night anyway. We were not informed of this problem at all. It may not have been a problem with the foster home, whom lived in a house with a large, easily accessible backyard.   We were in an apartment.   Dog returned ~ 2 weeks - complete loss of $ Third dog - too many issues to detail.  Was not informed of them all at the time.  Dog returned within a short time back to foster home.   The issues were not livable/adaptable.  Personally, I would never adopt from a rescue agency again.  There's too many issues at play, including willfully neglecting to divulge certain information, as well as downplaying other issues that turned out to be quite large issues. It's too much of a gamble.  I'd rather spend the big bucks and potentially have a higher chance of getting a fairly healthy animal from a reputable breeder.   That healthy animal will presumably be healthy for a long time, before experiencing the typical older cat/dog medical conditions.  I'm sure there are good places out there, or we've just had really bad luck.

R Jones
February 24, 2020

My son adopted a Staffy from the Animal Shelter about 4 months ago. My son promised to train and look after the dog so I felt confident the dog would be a good fit for us. Three months ago the dog went after my cat and chomped down on him. I screamed, and knocked over furniture getting to the cat. Luckily my cat has a lot of fur, although that night a lot of it was on the floor. The next day my cat looked bedraggled and sad. I took him to the vet - no bite marks. The vet gave him a shot for dehydration. A few weeks ago the dog went after my second cat. The dog is cat reactive and small dog reactive. He's also very interested in small children, and since they are SMALL I don't trust the dog. I was naive and ignorant about my cats being able to defend themselves. It's frightening how quickly a dog can move to attack a small animal. I have begged and begged my son to surrender the dog to the Animal Shelter. He refuses to do so on the grounds that he finds it "morally offensive." Oh, and if you're wondering about the training, it never happened. 

EV King
August 23, 2019

I bought my dog through craigslist. Now the lady DID say her dog was kinda sketchy, and was aggressive twords dogs, cats and children, but although i have no formal training i have studied animal behavior myself by watching Caesar Millan, Victoria Sillwell, Zach with the dog training revolution and so so many more. I thought u could handle him. And i have. I have a cat, so it was the first thing we tackled. He can now be left alone with my cat and just today him, me and her were all lying on the bed watching a movie. I dont have any kids kr another dog i trust so that part has been slow, but he now tolerates kids, which is SO MUCH better than when i first got him. He now barks at dogs instead of COMPLETELY lunging and almost frothing at the mouth to get to them. He barks a couple times, i correct the behavior and hes done. But with the right home dogs CAN change. Not ALL, obviously. But i was able to give a dog that was going to be euthanized in less than a week a new chance at life! And im proud of it.

L Steele
August 19, 2019

My neighbors adopted a "rescue" dog that had "terrible former owners" and had bitten. But people wanted to save the dog. I was out for a walk a few days ago and the dog broke leash and bit me, drawing blood and ruining my shorts. They of course do not believe the dog is dangerous and have stated on numerous occasions that the dog will try to attack me because I show fear.  I am not afraid of dogs, but I am afraid of dogs that bark and show their teeth every time they see me. The dog has now been reported. But it's the owners who worry me. They are in denial and make excuses for the dog.

June 24, 2019

Back in December of last year, I had adopted two am staffs from well known dog rescue based out of Conroe, TX. A month after having them, we noticed that they were aggressive and reactive towards other dogs especially puppies and toy breeds - we tried to contact the director and she just brushed it off saying that the dogs “loved puppies”. If the dogs couldn’t get at something that was causing the reactivity (another dog), they would start attacking each other. They broke out of the tiny truck window (not even sure how they managed that) and chased after an owner with his newly neutered puppy. The puppy was attacked and the owner got bit because he tried breaking up the altercation. The rescue claims that we made them aggressive solely based on a video that they had set us up to make and send to them. They asked us to show them the reactivity because they didn’t believe us despite police file numbers, vet bills and animal control getting involved. So we sent a video of us turning on the vacuum while the dogs were in the crate - the more aggressor couldn’t get to the vacuum so he attempted to get at his brother. Instead of the rescue owning up to adopting out two strays with no training and just empty claims that they love other dogs and puppies. These dogs are now re-adopted to new owners who probably have no idea as the rescue has thrown us under the bus. Good luck to the new owners.

Debra Martin
June 15, 2019

i had a incident with my dogs. They are old english bulldogs. I’ve been waiting over 30 days to get a hearing They say she is vicious. What i don’t understand is why they all ready got her a rescue group wanting her if she is vicious . I want her back home with me

Doe Uknome
May 30, 2019

My family adopted a dog for the first time ever from a rescue organization. A month into it the dog turned on one of us. We returned the pet a short time later only to find out he had been the same way to 2 previous families. Although I understand why the information was kept from us (who would adopt an animal with aggression issues) but I will never understand why this was allowed to happen and why the organization would put a family in danger. Needless to say we will never adopt again.

Teri Ann Oursler, DVM
May 18, 2019

Kimi, Unfortunately, there are a lot of shelters who do not evaluate animals before placing them up for adoption.  In my opinion, they are not doing this for the money, but because in their minds all dogs are good and should have a home. From your description of this dog, he is a danger to your friend and anyone she has around.  Your descriptions of his actions around babies terrifies me.  One bite from this dog can kill a baby! I would ask that you not return him, so that he can be re-adopted, increasing the chances of his seriously hurting or killing someone.  Euthanasia is the best choice, make the right decision now, not ask someone else to do so. This dog is living in fear and is anxious.  It is not fair to him to live this way.  And now your friend is going to be living in fear and anxiety, and there is no way to always control who and what is around.  You said that she was able to hold him back via his leash, but what happens if he breaks the leash or it is torn out of her hands? I am very sorry your friend is finding herself in this situation, but I really, really hope she can make the right decision to euthanize a dangerous dog.

May 18, 2019

My good friend adopted a 2 year old pit mix about 2 months ago. They said he came from a family with kids, was crate trained and had some basic training. One weird thing was that he didn’t know what to do when she got to the car to take him home, he didn’t even know how to get into the small car. I also count that he had a straight line scar under his chin and directly in line with that he has a gap between his bottom teeth on both sides..... was he confined to a wire crate and constantly chewed on it because he was confined and bored?  He seemed good in the beginning, except for his very intimidating black face big jaws and small brown eyes. I thought ok, this might be a great adoption story. When she comes to my house with him she will keep him on a leash when my grand kids are over. First red flag was when he was over, we put his leash around a pole on the patio while she went to get his bowl of water, my daughter brought her 3 month old baby out to lay on a blanket about 10 feet away from him. He lunged to the end of his leash thrashing and making sloppy mouth movements and a few yips while still trying to jump to the end of his leash. Eh, maybe he smelled her baby smell? A few weeks later we took a walk in town. Red flag no 2-, he went insane when a horse and buggy went by, we could hardly hold him back as he lunged, snarled barked, growled. Excuse no 2 Maybe just startled him? Two more times he did the same thing except the next few times were directed at people and another dog, one was a child about 9 years old, the other a lady that said hi to him, he lunged at her like a spider monkey, snarling and snapping growling barking like a hungry wolf. My friend is not a very big person, and if he wanted, he could drag her down, she has her own grandkids, and small kids next door. I suggested she take the dog back. Here’s my question- do shelters or adoption agency’s really take the time to evaluate dogs in all sceneries before releasing them, or do they just say he’s a great dog so they can get paid? Adoption fees are over $200 is it really worth it for a dog that is so aggressive they can’t be out in public or around small kids?. I think this dog is to dangerous for her and her grandkids, and could cause a costly lawsuit if he attacks someone. Is this a good enough cause to return him? Thx.

May 8, 2019

Dr. Oursler, THANK YOU for writing this article. I’m a behavior consultant who has worked with animal control, rescues and shelters for years. I see this almost every week, sometimes with tragic consequences. People are encouraged to foster or adopt dogs with an extensive bite history (frequently not very well documented), without disclosing it, or minimizing the details. A few days later they’re in the emergency room. The biggest red flag is that the shelter/rescue is trying to find “the right home” for a dog. It literally means, “people who will accept living with a dog that is dangerous,” whether they’re capable of managing the dog or not. Another red flag is a shelter that’s primary mission is to “save lives.” Sometimes the goal of a low euthanasia rate overshadows the importance of public safety.

Teri Ann Oursler, DVM
April 29, 2019

Alescia, I am sorry you are having to go through this.  I would like to say, there is no place to take him that will be safe for the people involved.  I realize you do not want to put him down, but if you find him a new home and he severely hurts someone, you will feel even worse.  As you state, he is not a safe dog to be rehomed. Your dog is living in fear and anxiety - hence the biting.  He is not happy. You are not happy. Your baby is not safe and neither are your visitors.  You would euthanize him if he had an incurable medical problem.  Instead, he has an incurable behavior/brain problem and euthanasia is truly the best for everyone involved. I would like to invite you to read this article by our editor and the large number of comments sent in by our readers.  Euthanasia is not an easy decision, but sometimes it is the best one.

Alescia Hardy
April 23, 2019

I have a pitt/husky mix since he was 4 weeks old and now he's 4 years old. He is very aggressive to people that enter my home. He's already bit 4 people. This last time he was quarantined for 10 days. I picked him up and now he just bit the smaller beagle in the home. Ive come to realize as much as I love this dog he did not come back the same. I feel I can not keep him but he is not rehomeable. Where do I take him? I don't want him to be put down. I just don't know what to do. I have a 4 MONTH OLD BABY IN THE HOME

DC Dog Person
March 26, 2019

I wonder if part of the issue is that the window for dog socialization is so small. Many of the dogs at rescue orgs and shelters are mixed breeds that did not come from a reputable breeder with a good puppy socialization program. That’s before you get to the ones that were mistreated outright. Myself, I ended up with a mixed breed dog that was labeled “not a dog park dog.” As a first time dog owner, it didn’t occur to me to ask probing questions about that. He was an unbearably hyper and destructive dog for months after I brought him home, but neither my vet nor my trainer suggested this wasn’t fixable or portended worse behavior. He finally calmed, but as soon as he became attached to his new family, he was a resource gaurder, fear aggressive toward dogs and humans, and territorially aggressive. I went back to the shelter for “reactive dog” classes, but they didn’t retrain the dog in our case; they only helped us to manage around the issues. I wish someone with experience could have been more honest and straightforward earlier on. I didn’t know what I was doing or what warning signs to look for. It’s hard to have your heart broken, but it’s easier than throwing good money after bad and wasting a lot of time. It’s far easier than a lawsuit and the horrible realization that your pet has injured another person or dog. (That never happened to us, thank goodness, but it’s always a risk.) I’m going to have to put my dog down one of these days, probably sooner rather than later, which is why my searching led me to this blog post. I figure the dog is not really self aware. As long as I humanely euthanize him, he doesn’t know the difference between dying at his current age for behavioral reasons and dying at 12 because of organ failure. I am the one experiencing the grief, and I might as well get it over with and move on. As I think about this issue of dangerous dogs in shelters and rescue groups, I wonder if we’re going about it somewhat wrong. It’s ok to grieve the fact that humans treated animals cruelly and created the problem of cast-off animals. “Saving” the really difficult animals may not be the best use of resources, however. If we could do more to reduce breeding, prosecute cruelty, and educate the public, we might save more lives with limited resources.

March 12, 2017

I've also found myself in a hard situation.  We adopted Lola at 3 months old from an acquaintance who's dog puppies.  So she's never been in a shelter or has any reason to be fearful or aggressive.  She is a lab/american bulldog mix.  From day one, she's always been fearful of anyone coming into our house.  This fear manifests in barking and growling with her hair standing up.  She also does not get along with other dogs.  While on the leash, she lunges and barks at other dogs and people.  At 6 months old, she bit my daughter on the face.  She went to pet the dog as she slept on my lap.  The dog growled for a second, then bit.  A few weeks later, she bit the UPS man as he tried to pet her.  She was on the leash, so I was able to pull her back.  Just recently, she growled and lunged at my husband for no apparent reason.  I dread having people over to the house.  I do not trust her at all.  No dog parks, and walks are a nightmare.  She has moments of being a sweet, loving dog which makes the thought of getting rid of her hard.  I do not want to give her to a shelter.  Who would adopt a dog with a history of aggressiveness??  I have tried puppy classes - didn't go well (tried to attack the other puppies), and I've been working with an in-home trainer.  Even with the tips and methods we've received, I'm not confident I can make changes in my dog.  I will never fully trust her.  I feel trapped and depressed by the situation.  I pray everyday for some miracle or someone with the right experience with this type of dog to want to take her.

March 7, 2019

This just happened to me.  We adopted a dog from a shelter.  She was almost 10 years old and was surrendered because the former family didn’t have time for the dog and it wasn’t good with young children.  Our youngest child is 17, so the staff felt comfortable with our family adopting the dog.  Early on, the dog was reactive to being touched. She’d whip her head around and give a whale eyed look when pet.  Two weeks in, she attacked my 17 year old biting her hand repeatedly after my daughter tried to touch her.  Unfortunately, we gave the dog another chance.  Exactly 1 week later, she attacked my daughter again.  Repeatedly biting her on both hands without letting up.  This is a small dog.  If she was large my daughter would have been seriously injured.  We returned the dog to the shelter that night.  Based on what I had witnessed, this dog had absolutely bitten previously which is why it was probably in the shelter in the first place.  I am angry that this dog was deemed adoptable and passed off to my family to deal with.  Never again.

Melanie S
January 19, 2019

This is an excellent article on this subject, on a problem that seems to be sadly increasing. As a dog trainer for over 35 years, I have been shocked to see the unrealistic trend towards trying to rehab problematic dogs who, in my opinion, should never have been pulled from a shelter in the first place. I have been involved in animal welfare work, including fostering, for over 25 years. Back in the 90s, shelters wouldn’t even allow such dogs to be released to rescue or an individual. For public safety reasons, we need common sense to return before more people are harmed by this practice. Not every dog is able to be safely rehomed, and public safety should come first.

January 2, 2019

I find myself in a very difficult situation, having adopted a GSD/Akita X last January, I took the decision to return her to the rescue 8 weeks ago. On the first weekend we had her she "nipped" my step daughter but this was over food. We just assumed she was nervous and let it go. The next time she bit was out in the street, at the local shops where she mistook a friend for my husband, he petted her and when the dog realised it wasn't my husband, she bit the man on the face. Another time we had friends over and she bit a friend on the chest when he reached down to pet her as she was lay at my husbands time she attacked the postman but fortunately only ripped his trousers but it could have been another biting. The last, and final straw for me was on a Sunday walk with family, we sat outside in a beer garden, my son's girlfriend was feeding her some treats, the dog was doing good behaviours for food, paw, sit etc. etc, when the food was finished she sat back in the chair and the dog launched at her face biting through her lip and grazing her nose. I'm sure, you can imagine my horror! I was very stressed by the mounting issues and felt like a failure but also trapped in this situation. I contacted a behaviourist who said she would definitely bit again. I made contact with the rescue and they said that she needed to be returned to them, I did this without the blessing or support of my husband who was very attached to the dog and since returning her 8 weeks ago he has not spoken to me and completely stonewalls me. I am convinced at this stage that he will not forgive me. I am devastated,  I felt the safest thing to do for the safety of my family, friends and the wider public was to return her to the kennels. My family were afraid to be in her presence but to look at she is a lovely looking girl. After reading some of your other articles, I have read the dog bios with a very different viewpoint, I see some of the traits you mention, like "great in foster home" and "nipping" I don't think I am, and sadly not for a long time now, be in a position to have another Dog but, and it is a big but, I sadly can't see me using a rescue of the  "breed" type.

William P MacMonagle
December 18, 2018

I am in the middle of this difficult situation. In this case we got the dog as a puppy. As she grew her destructive puppy chewing did not let up, and no matter what I tried she broke out of fencing and raced around the neighborhood. The final straw was this past week she got out (broke through lattice and screen on the back porch), ran around and then bit our neighbor on the leg.  This was totally unexpected.  I doubt there is a good way to tell if a puppy is going to grow into an aggressive dog. So now she is being quarantined and I fully expect  I will have to euthanize her. What can you do except bow to the necessity? She has no idea that she did the inexcusable "sin" but for the safety of others, I will have to put her down

December 3, 2018

This article brought tears to my eyes because it was exactly what happened in my home. We adopted a seemingly loving dog one Saturday and by the following Thursday we had to euthanize him. Before leaving the animal shelter we did not see any aggressive behavior in him. By the time we got him home his aggressive behavior was evident and was very frightening to us. When we took him to our vet for a wellness check he demonstrated his aggressive behavior to her as well. She told us we would need a behavior specialist to help us in dealing with the dog’s behaviors. Due to my physical limitations we were fearful to keep the pet in our home. When we began discussing options with our vet she strongly recommended euthanizing him. It broke our heart, but we felt it was the best and most humane thing to do for him. I can’t imagine that the shelter did not see these behaviors before we adopted him. When we called the shelter to tell them we had to put the dog down, we were somewhat “scolded” by the volunteer who said she wished that we would have returned him to the shelter so that they could find him a suitable home. What if that “suitable home” had been one with children? This experience has really made me question adopting from a shelter again and that makes me sad and mad.

November11, 2018

Thank you for the article. When you’re ago this month we adopted and eight month old great Dane rescue. We were told a story about the dog being abandoned, being chained to a tree for his first eight months. For the first three months we had him he was perfect. Chi, loving and gentle. Just before Christmas time he started grabbing people by the arm. At this point he was only about 90 pounds. He never broke skin but he also never growled first or show any sign of warning. This incident always happened in the kitchen. We would yell he would immediately let go hit the floor and be ashamed. Typically running for his crate. He wasn’t teams to be aggressive but fearful and anxious. The behavior was typically focused around children so we no longer allowed children in the house except for our own who he seem to be fine with. We met with behaviorists, trainers, veterinarians and started creating him quite a bit. Being extremely careful, leashing him in the house, doing everything we were told to do to keep him safe and keep everybody safe around him.  His anxiety seem to be escalating and he moved from grabbing children by the arm to grabbing small adult by the arm. It also moved from happening on me in the kitchen to starting to happen in other areas of the house. He’s been coming increasingly more anxious and unreliable. After an incident where he was walking from a sound sleep by child and jumped up and bit for the first time actually breaking skin, I put him in quarantine for 10 days. The veterinarians behaviorist and trainers Arlene Tim nonaggressive just anxious and we put him on Prozac and took him home. The behavior continues to escalate and he’s now moved on to lunging at short people at random times, always unprovoked. I’m now keeping 120 pound great Dane on a 3 foot leash tucked at my side at all times. My son and I were both petting him in the kitchen last Week and the dog was leaning against my leg. I felt some sort of shift and I looked at the dogs face and watched his eyes go blank. I realized my son was looking him in the eye and they had locked into a stair. As I was telling my son to avert his gaze the dog latched onto his arm. I pride him off and he left no marks but we were both very scared. I sent the dog to his crate where he laid on his side staring at the ceiling for an hour nonresponsive. It’s almost like he goes into a few state. He is a purebred Great Dane, sold, surrendered, adopted by me after being told the owner “had to move”, clearly not socialized. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He was recently diagnosed with Lyme disease but I’ve been told that this would be unlikely to have caused this behavior going way back to last year. My 12-year-old son has asked that we rehome him because he’s afraid. I’ve have a dog staying at a local kennel who is kindly offered to help rehome him but I’m fearful that if even under my vigilant watch, taking every precaution, he’s moved to biting my family, he’s going to do it to a stranger and next time someone could actually be hurt. He has grabbed arms over a dozen times. Causing bruising twice and breaking skin once when startled from a sound sleep. We believe our only option is to euthanize him however the decision is agonizing. I don’t want to put down a two-year-old beautiful animal who loves me, but if he’s a danger to others I don’t feel that I have a choice. A kind person who owns another great Dane came by to meet him tonight to assess for rehoming the dog bit him. Twice. He didn’t break skin but she normally doesn’t but that does not make him any less dangerous- Does it?

November 9, 2018

My girlfriend and I adopted a one-year old catahoula mix.  He was, and is, the most affectionate and sweet dog I've been around - 99.9% of the time.  Unfortunately, he is also very nervous and fearful.  He often has his tail tucked between his legs, even sometimes when he otherwise exhibit signs of happiness or excitement (like when we're getting ready to take him for a walk and leashing him or putting on his harness - his tail is alternately wagging and tucked).  We always just try to be mindful of our body position and reassure him verbally.  Our first bite happened when he got his paw stuck in a banyan tree in our backyard and my fiancee tried to free him.  He snapped and bit her neck requiring a stitch.  We chalked that up to a traumatic and extremely unusual situation.  The next bite happened right after we moved into our new home.  My fiancee leaned down to pet him while he was laying next to us on the lounge outside and he snapped pretty viciously, biting her in the head and leaving a gaping wound which required five stitches (luckily for her it is just inside her hairline so she doesn't have a visible scar).  At this point we consulted a behaviorist and the working theory was that he had developed fear-based aggression toward her because of the tree incident.  We started working on establishing clearer boundaries - no more couch, she was the one to feed him always, more rigorous basic command training, etc.  It seemed to be working, but hard to tell because of how rare the bad behavior happens.  The next incident was when my fiancee tried to unsnap his harness after I took him for a run.  He snapped and bit her on her legs, and pursued her until I stopped him.  Luckily, because of her pants there were really just bruises and scratches. At this point, we were pretty sure the issues were focused on her and I would do all the handling.  He'd never shown aggression toward me, and I had always been the one to bathe him, harness him for walks, etc. The next incident leaves me ashamed and feeling incredibly stupid.  We had a tradition of putting both him and our other adopted dog in jerseys for big football games, take pictures, do all that goofy stuff.  Although I had done it a dozen or more times, I should have known better.  Putting on the harness is one thing - he needs exercise - but this was so unnecessary and frivolous and ultimately selfish.  I hate myself for it.  He snapped and we had our most vicious incident yet.  He clamped onto my arm in a full-on attack.  Even when he dropped off, he re-engaged and bit me again.  Only when my fiancee threw a blanket on him did it stop.  This one left me with several deep punctures, one of which was two inches long.  All told six stitches.  Sadly we now know all too well doctors are pretty sparing with the stitches on dog bites to minimize infection risk.  We have no children (yet), we live far from our families so visits are rare, we don't invite anyone to our house now, and I exercise him only when interaction with others can be most avoided.  So we decided to keep trying with a new trainer / behaviorist, with the goal of improving his response to commands, training him to accept a muzzle, and ultimately stressing him in a muzzled environment to provoke his reactions and try to de-sensitize him.  We both know it's a long shot, and ultimately I don't believe we'll ever be able to trust him around people and certainly not children.  Just last night he snapped while I was harnessing him for a run.  By sheer luck I avoided a truly dangerous bite and jumped into a bathroom closing the door.  Within half a second, I cracked it open and he was back to normal and ashamed (as is always the case after an incident).  We spoke with our vet about compassionate euthanasia, because of course we understand that is the most likely outcome.  We weren't even ready to decide at that point, just wanted to discuss how it would work and make sure he would not suffer fear or pain.  The vet told me they would not perform the procedure.  Essentially, he said he did it once before and it made him upset.  He said the dog is too young and we should explore shelters.  It made me feel ashamed and confused to hear this.  No one is going to take him and honestly I couldn't in good conscience give him to anyone other than an expert in aggressive dogs.  Even the humane society where we adopted him said they would euthanize him immediately upon return, although their vet would be willing to allow us to be there with him and he would need to be muzzled.  So now we are going to continue with our trainer.  If nothing else, I need to get him comfortable wearing a muzzle so his last hours on earth won't be stressful.  It doesn't seem like there is any other likely outcome.  I know this post is long.  Most people wouldn't bother reading it.  I found this site googling for support groups but can't find anything like that so bleeding out on this page is the next best thing.  I'm so depressed and will never stop feeling like I couldn't have somehow avoided this.  He is a sweet boy.

Teri Ann Oursler, DVM
November 7, 2018

Pam, I have a few comments to add to what Phyllis has written. In reading your description of life with you, your husband, and your dog, I would venture to say that none of you has a good quality of life right now.  You are hypervigilant, trying to keep everyone safe.  Your husband is worried he is going to get hurt.  And your dog is also anxious and fearful, it is usually at the root of most aggressive behaviors. You have gone above and beyond to try to help your dog.  You have spent time, money, and a lot of effort to try to make him a good canine citizen.  It is absolutely NOT you, it is the dog.  He is not wired correctly and that cannot be fixed.  You absolutely, positively have not failed, your dog did. I would say you have reached the point that the best thing for all 3 of you is euthanasia.  You and your husband deserve to live life in a safe, non-anxiety provoking environment.  And euthanasia is the only way to alleviate your dog's anxiety, as nothing else has worked. My heart goes out to you, euthanizing an aggressive dog is HARD (I have done so).  But the relief of no longer living in fear is huge! Take care.  Know that I am thinking of you. Please reach out if there is anything else we can do to help.

Phyllis DeGioia
November 7, 2018

Hi Pam, I'm sorry to hear of your situation. Personally, I despair of rescues that are not forthcoming with the truth about dogs they wish to adopt out. After my experiences, I may never adopt from a rescue again as I believe the people who turned him in lied to rescue. Different cause, but similar result: you've unknowingly adopted an aggressive dog. It's so difficult to love an aggressive dog, I know. I'm responding to your comment, rather than Dr. Oursler, because I've written an article that may provide more food for thought for you at this point. It's located at and titled "Euthanizing Aggressive Dogs: Sometimes It's the Best Choice." I can tell you I tried almost everything: he had medical check ups, an anti-anxiety drug, plenty of exercise, I worked with a trainer, who was personally trained by Dr. Patricia McConnell, specializing in aggressive dogs. The trainer is correct, I believe, in thinking that rehoming will make him worse.  Having a 100-lb aggressive dog in a home with a 75-year old man seems unwise. I hear you when you say you can't handle the stress anymore. I can't tell you how easy life was after I made the choice to euthanize mine; I was no longer walking on eggshells, no longer afraid in my own home, and people didn't feel uncomfortable coming in. The difference was night and day. Please consider what is best for the people, not for the dog. I loved mine deeply, make no mistake, and feel that I made the best choice I could have under the circumstances. My heart is with you.

November 6, 2018

I wanted a companion and family dog. I was misled (and outright lied to) by the shelter I adopted my GSD from. I found out he already knew several commands in German and would go straight for the throat if he decided to jump at someone. I was told when I adopted him that if I couldn't keep him, they wanted him back. NOT true. (I also found out he'd already been fostered out and returned several times which I was not told). So instead I've spent thousands on training, vet, etc., and he has improved so much.  No more lunging and jumping, etc. It took him probably a year before he finally adopted me back and is completely submissive to me.  But only me, he now considers me his "job".  He can be so wonderful, well behaved, sweet, etc to others. But you can't trust him.  He can just as easily decide you moved too close to him or me or whatever. It's been over 2 years and he just bit my husband yet again. And he definitely draws blood. He's bitten others when I was not around to intervene.  Thankfully, no serious injury or lawsuits yet, but I have to monitor every situation and it's wearing me down. My husband is 75, the dog is probably 6? I don't think things are going to change Every time I start to relax, thinking things have turned a corner and there will peace (at least for the 3 of us) It happens again.  Oh and he's large, well over 100 lbs. I can't really blame the dog.  He's a dog and following training, breeding and instincts. But somewhere in the past he learned that biting works.  I do love him dearly, but I just can't handle the stress anymore. The trainer said it would be terrible for the dog to try to re-home him again and I would be worried he might be mistreated.  My trainer died and now I'm sick at heart but feel I have no choice but to have my boy put to sleep. But I'm in anguish.  I'd appreciate any sincere advice. But no haters, please.

October 17, 2018

I frequently view the online site of an animal advocate organization that publicizes dogs and cats that are in danger of being euthanized at a local shelter.  A lot of these dogs have behavioral issues, including lunging and biting, but they are portrayed as merely suffering from kennel stress and being very sweet after “warming up to you”.  One pit bull terrier had been surrendered to the shelter because the owner’s roommate was “terrified” by it and even at the shelter, it was fine with the handler, but violently aggressive to everyone else.  There were hundreds of comments posted, begging the public and various rescues to liberate this precious boy who just needed the right person to care for and train him.  The pressure mounted and at the very last minute, a rescue known for taking in these “misunderstood” behaviorally-challenged canines stepped in and “saved the day”.  Now I fear that “precious boy” will be adopted by someone and end up violently attacking a family member or an innocent bystander.  I myself fostered a dog that repeatedly tried to bite and attack my young son and husband.  The rescue did not address these aggressive tendencies and adopted him out quickly.  They did not call me back to foster since apparently, I could not handle one of their most well-behaved dogs.  I also notice that several rescues and shelters downplay or don’t openly disclose serious medical and behavioral issues in their animals’ profiles in their fervent desire to get them adopted and out of foster homes (so more lives can be saved).  Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, including dogs, but when someone’s judgment is clouded by their overzealous rescue efforts, I lose all respect and trust in them.  Ultimately, the lives of animals should not take precedence over the lives and safety of human beings.

August 26, 2018

Thank you for this article. I am a firm believer that aggressive dogs, fear aggressive dogs, or dogs with issues should be euthanized, not adopted out by these ridiculous "rescues." I'm tired of the sob stories, the excuses, the wasted resources, the accidents, the maimings and the maulings. I'm tired of walking past a raging lunatic of a dog, straining at the end of its leash, jaws foaming and snapping, while its hapless adopter stands uselessly, alternately crooning at the dog "'s OK" while apologizing "he's a rescue." This happens on the regular. And to make matters worse the same useless idiots are dead-set against any training methods that might work, like e-collars. It's so ridiculous. Shelters need to immediately euthanize aggressive dogs and not take any crap about it either.

August 4, 2018

Civil liability will result from adopting out a dog that is known to be dangerous, is known to have dangerous propensities, or is misrepresented as being safe when the transferor has no reasonable basis to make that representation. A dog known to be dangerous or vicious must be put down or cured of its potentially injurious tendency. (For definitions and a discussion of the concepts of dangerousness and viciousness.

September 14, 2017

Hallelujah!  Finally, some good down to earth advice!! I have had two aggressive lab crosses. Never again! In fact, I will never adopt again from the shelter I got the second dog from. He is a biter and was so under socialized, my family had to introduce him to sprinklers, cable boxes, strange people, etc.. When I tried to return him, the shelter said they could not take him (about a month later) because he was unfit to adopt out!  Yet he was to us...?!  Hmmm! Anyway, I now know to not even consider a dog with any known "antisocial or aggressive tendencies".  I am trying to decide whether or not to euthanize the current lab in question...   Not a nice place to be in...

Teri Ann Oursler, DVM
July 27, 2017

Tiffany, While the situation may not be the dog's fault, that will not matter if someone is seriously hurt or killed.  You have seen what this dog can do, you barely got away and you were terrified while you did it. Please don't put anyone else at risk.  He should not go to another foster family!  The guilt you will feel if someone is seriously injured or killed is horrendous and way more than the guilt of putting this dangerous dog to sleep. He is a repeat offender in the biting department.  He is not a happy dog, and he is not safe.  No one who lives with him will be happy or safe either.

July 27, 2017

I feel so much better after reading this. I took in a foster for a local rescue in January. He had been in the head. Since then He has is completely healed physically, but I believe he has some kind of trauma, brain damage etc from his experience. He has been increasingly aggression with other dogs and now myself. He got adopted in June they brought him back the next day because he attacked thier dog and bit one of the adults. This last weekend he tried to attack a dog at the adoption event! That night be tried to attack me. He lunged at me 3 different times before I could get back in the house.the 4th time he lunged he hit the back door trying to get at me again. I got out of it without being bit luckily but I was terrified. I immediately asked for him to have another foster home and That has not happened. He needs a medicial evaluation butt they have not approved that either. They want a 2nd round of training because "we made a commitment to him to take care of him" I have several concerns: He has already bit someone. He has on numerous occasions attacked other pets. If someone else adopts him they are at risk of getting harmed or thier pets are in jeopardy. Continuing to have him in my foster home is preventing another non aggressive dog from having a foster home. I have been really struggling with what to do with him but at the end of the day is situation is not his fault, my fault or the rescues fault. It is the person who shot him!

July 8, 2017

I work in a shelter that No Kill has invaded (New director) I went from being proud of the shelter I work for to being utterly embarrassed of our facilities. No Kill turns shelters into hoarding situations. Then they complain that we kill perfectly healthy, adoptable dogs. The dogs are usually half kenneled (a 4×4 enclosure) for months, until they are adopted or go so kennel crazy that Acepromazine is used, then when that doesn't work, the Coordinator puts it on the list for euthanasia. 9 times out of 10 the dog gets pulled or adopted because of a sob story and the behavior is sugar coated. Or the director flat out denies the euthanasia. They tripled the amount of animals we house, then don't staff accordingly, then complain that we aren't caring for the dogs properly. We lost our ENTIRE medical team due to them not being able to morally or mentally care for these animals. They were afraid of losing their licenses, getting in trouble with the law and couldn't stand the level of care they were able to give with such low staffing. Sick animals are placed in kennels with healthy animals, or healthy incoming animals are placed in kennels with animals that are on meds for illness. Giardia is placed anywhere, even right next door to puppies. They placed ringworm kittens in a non temperature controlled room in the middle of summer. Then used FANS for the cats, in a hot ward, aerating and growing ringworm all over the place as we don't have a place in our shelter for ringworm. We are adopting out aggressive dogs, then they blame the victims or find a scapegoat. The behavior team was told to stop some of the behavior tests. They are pressured to make these dogs available, or face losing their job and that even if they don't do well on the behavior tests, anyone can adopt it if they sign a waiver. They get away with it by signing these waivers. I was blamed for a dog biting a kid. I have no say in who becomes available. The dog in question had a history of unpredictable nature. They were going to adopt the dog to a family with young children. I was foolishly a part of that. I had no idea that an available dog would have that behavior level. I feel disgusted with myself and our facility. Many shelter workers hate it. We need to survive, need our paychecks. It is hard to find a job in animal care that pays decently. I do the job because I pray one day, this No Kill business will be seen for what it is. A dream. A Disney fantasy dream. I stay because I hope the County Supervisors will come to their senses and fire this director, although, the reality of the situation is that I will lose my job as a scapegoat. I have seen it multiple times in the 2 years of this takeover. The workers at the shelter suffer too. Our risk of being mauled has multiplied ten-fold. We actually risk our lives and limb coming to work. My kids could lose their mom. I could lose my ease of mobility. I could hands, fingers (a dog rescue pulled from us bit someones finger off). We hate it too, but we have no options. We have no one to report it to. We are the group that people call to report this type of situation. We used to shut groups down for doing this type of stuff. Our hands are tied.

Lali Espinosa
June 28, 2017

I feel much better after reading this article. My family has always had dogs in the family, since they were puppies. Growing up I learned a lot about puppy mils and buying a puppy from a breeder for a high price never seemed to make sense to me when there were so many puppies and dogs in need at the shelter. My first visit to the shelter, they pushed the idea of adopting a dog instead of a puppy, and it makes sense, they are probably the ones most in need since most people want puppies. We found a small tiny pit mix, who seemed cute enough. We took her out and she started barking aggressively at other dogs, and I knew right away that it was not in play, but because she was wagging her tail (which I know dogs can do when either angry or happy), the volunteer kept saying "but look she's wagging her tail and just wants to play". This right away let me know the volunteer knew either nothing about dogs, or was trying to trick me. I'll go with didn't know anything, because I don't think she was trying to screw anyone over, she was just trying to adopt out the dogs which I understand. They euthanize a lot of dogs. We decided to put a hold on her anyway, because I felt confident I could help her with the dog aggression as long as she wasn't aggressive with me. The second day we went to visit her (we needed to wait 5 days before bringing her home), I walked her around and she bit my arms while I was seated with her, and she was growling while she did it. I looked at the volunteer and she said "she's just hyper", and once again I figured I was being bias and not giving the dog a chance. When we put her back in a cage with another dog, she snapped at the dog and bit her and the volunteer said "she just likes to bully her cagemate sometimes, she's bossy." Again here are signs that I registered, but I had never personally seen a dog like that, and trusted the shelter. I just kept thinking: they wouldn't give me a dangerous dog. The following day I went to visit her, she attacked me. This time there was no excuse of her being "hyper" or "she's just a puppy". She was a two year old stray, and she lunged at me and went for my ankles and then my body, ripping up my shirt. She was medium sized so luckily not super dangerous but I was alarmed. They asked me if I still wanted her, and I said "I don't think so", then they did a quick two second behavior test and saw the same thing I saw and recommended I pick another dog since she would not be good with children. The following days I was really depressed, because this was my only real experience with a shelter, and I blamed myself. Now I blame the shelter for not properly assessing her and examining her tendencies. I know the shelter means well and they are over-packed and busy and don't have the time to see if a dog is aggressive, but now I am afraid of adopting a dog from the shelter. I may go back for a puppy, but even then now I'm wary because they were trying to give me a "ready to go" 4 month old lab pit mix that was covered in fleas, mostly bones, and hiding and cowering in a corner. Now I'm worried I might go home with a puppy that has distemper. Anyway, I apologize this got so long but short end of it, I appreciate this article and I agree that shelters should be more cautious of adopting out aggressive dogs, and stop keeping them in favor of other dogs that are being put down.

May 15, 2017

One of the dogs I had to take back is the "SHELTER'S" best! I saw that and in 4 mths the dog has had a lot of aggression training or she has turned into wonder dog!

Debra Kimble
November 23, 2016

I was recently injured by a German Shepherd at a shelter. During my inquiry about him, I told a shelter manager that I was in search of a dog that would become a service dog. I have an implant in my stomach (similar to a pacemaker). I was also very clear that the dog I adopted would spend a lot of time with  myself, my son, and my 4 year old grandson. In addition, because it would be a service dog, it would be regularly in public. I was also totally up front that I lived in a different state and the dog would be in an airport and on a plane within 48 hours. At this point, they did state that they would recommend cargo vs. the cabin. Perhaps that was code for "beware of this dog in public". I explained that Southwest Airlines only allows dogs in the cabin, and they were just indifferent to that. Fast forward to our meeting with the dog. They first put us, meaning myself, my daughter (7 months pregnant), son in law, and 5 YEAR OLD granddaughter in an outdoor meeting area. We seemed to wait a long time for this meet and greet, and they told us that they had only "certain" staff members that could introduce Joey Ramone, which was the dogs name. Perhaps another secret code? When we finally met, we spent a short time with him in an outdoor cage surrounded by chain link fencing. He  seemed a little nervous but I didn't know what is normal or not for a shelter dog. He did, during that time run to the edge of the fencing in a pacing type behavior, while barking as other dogs walked by. The staff stated that he was a little bit "dog reactive". I took "dog reactive" to mean he would simply be a barker etc., and I'm convinced that is exactly what they hoped I would continue to think based on the entire interaction. Since a service dog is such a long term unique situation, I wanted a little more time with him, so they had me walk Joey Ramone outside the caged area. They suggested that just me, not my family take him for this walk. I didn't think much of it at the time, but the shelter staff member had me double leash him, even wrapping the leash several times around my arm...clearly a bad idea. As we walked out a side door, within about one minute, Joey Ramone saw a Newfoundland across the way, and he took off like a five hundred pound rocket. I was pulled to the ground extremely hard and unbelievably fast. He pulled the leashes off my arms and Joey Ramone attacked the other dog in a way that someone's imagination couldn't conjure up. This was not a dog fight that most have witnessed at some point in life. This Shepherd was in no way a "potential pet, and he was not simply "dog reactive." This dog was violent and the attack was a vicious,vicious scene. I have since spoken to the shelter who denies any knowledge that Joey Ramone had any behavior issues prior to that incident. They claim that the dog just "snapped" but they admit that he did attack 5 or 6 more dogs right after that incident and was ultimately euthanized. Do dogs generally just "snap" like that?

Kerrin Hoban, DVM
November 19, 2016

For B.  with the German Shepherd mentioned in the last post.  If you keep your dog, train him to wear a good quality basket muzzle and put that on him at all times if there is anyone present besides yourself and other people he is safe with.  Train him to walk on a Gentle Leader, or use a close fitting collar and short leash and a basket muzzle.  You will be much more comfortable if you know he can't bite anyone.   A proper fitting basket muzzle can be worn all waking hours unless the dog is crated/kenneled or being fed.

November 18, 2016

I wonder if these people realize they can go to jail for adopting out dogs that harm people: (Editor's note: This message was edited to remove language that could be construed as offensive.)

October 28, 2016

Thank you for posting this article. I never realized how common my situation is. I adopted a beautiful GSD dog from a shelter 4 years ago. When I got him, he was 70lbs - 30lbs underweight - and clearly exhausted of dealing with life. He was found on the street and adopted out by an elderly woman, who the shelter told me at the time of adoption could "no longer handle him." made sense to me, an elderly lady and a huge 6 year old dog that needs exercise? Why did she think she's be able to "handle" him? He walked slowly over to me and laid on my feet - something the shelter personnel told me had never happened. And tbh, I believe that. I took him home, and he started eating again (he lost the weight because after his owner relinquished him he was too depressed to eat). A few months after adopting him, he started lunging at runners on the sidewalk - the first time, he managed to grab and rip the runner's shorts. I called the shelter about hip issues I found out he had (the shelter told me he had a thorough evaluation and his hips were perfect) and mentioned the incident. At this time, months after adopting, they mentioned that aggressive behavior towards men was why he was relinquished - but the shelter staff thought that since he was so sweet there, it must have been the owner's fault because she was too high-strung. I was furious - now what do I do about this dog who has bonded with me, that I can't relinquish because I know he could cause harm to another family - if he didn't die of starvation in the meantime? Throughout the coming few years, and after aggressive dog training, it became clear he has fear based aggression, and was likely brought up in an environment with an abusive male. I love my dog so, so much, but years later I am battling with whether I should put him down or not. He has never drawn blood on anyone, but has given a friend a warning bite, and men in my family have received warning nips on their pants for anything from giving me a hug to walking too close to me. He lunges at men walking down the street if I don't notice them fast enough, which doesn't result in a bite, but understandably scares the men, and scares me too. I have to be 100% on, all the time, when outside of my house, and the anxiety after 4 years is getting difficult to manage. The dreams of taking him to dog-friendly areas for a fun visit are just that - dreams that I know will never happen. He loves me so much, and my immediate family  and is so gentle with them, so it hurts to even think about this. Any advice from the DVM's would be extremely helpful.

April 15, 2016

SPCA Norwich NY:  Called me one night to come and take this sweet dog before he was Heart Stuck in the morning.  He was so friendly and sweet and had no aggression issues they said.  He also had no shots at all and had been at the shelter for 4 months.  So I went down and picked this dog up.  I was bitten, bruised, my neighbor was trapped by this dog in a building - he wouldn't let her move.  He ripped into my arms, legs and body.  The SPCA had no response when I confronted them.  I was so worried about Rabies.  They and the county Health department laughed.  The Rabies coordinator for the county said to me "Rabies does not exist in present day."  So yes.  I think a lot od these shelters are basically allowing lethal animals to leave with unsuspecting caring people without a second thought.  It should be against the law and have some sort of penalty attached for the shelter allowing animals out like this.  But once again, these shelters seem to be above the law.  Nothing is ever their fault and accountability does not exist for them.

Sally J. Foote, DVM
March 22, 2016

What is a fact are the bite statistics, the increase in shelters homing aggressive dogs than in years past, dogs who are aggressive will always know the power of the bite.  That dog has a higher likelihood of biting than another dog without a history of biting. No matter how well controlled the home, there is still risk.  Why are the shelter boards not taking the advice of the veterinarian?  IMO this is the question that must be answered. I support all veterinarians who end their relationship with rescues and shelters that do not take their advice on euthanasia of biting, aggressive animals.

Susan Porter
March 2, 2016

I would go so far as to say that if a rescue organization brags that they do not euthanize then don't get a dog from them. At least pay to have an independent, trained behaviorist perform a comprehensive behavior test to look for the 13 types of aggression before completing an adoption. Rescue organizations who do not euthanize aggressive dogs are passing them on to naive adopters. I know this because there is a certain percentage of aggressive dogs who bite in the population and many of them end up in rescue because their former owners are passing them on rather than doing the responsible thing. I volunteered for a San Francisco Bay Area rescue group for 5 years. I quit because the group became more and more fanatical and was actively promoting the adoption of aggressive dogs. I was actually pushed out because I refused to air-brush the biographies of these dogs and refused to play any role in promoting their adoption. Six other volunteers were pushed out of the group the same year for the same reason. Rescue groups like this tarnish the reputation of all rescue groups. When searching for a dog, I highly recommend that people go to county shelters rather than private rescue groups. This is because the shelters do behavior testing and do not risk liability by adopting out aggressive dogs. If you are bitten by a dog you have adopted from a rescue group, pursue legal action. Things won't change otherwise.

Susan Konecny
February 26, 2016

As a shelter veterinarian I have encountered many different animals and many different opinions. Dogs that are aggressive should never be adopted to anyone unless they are fully aware and accepting of the dog's history, behavior or handling needs AND have the ability to provide the dog with a reasonable quality of life that will not jeopardize human safety.  These conditions occur only rarely. That being said, please don't confuse  the "no kill" belief with this subject. No kill is about ending shelter killing of animals for space and convenience. It is not about keeping every single animal alive regardless of dangerous behavior. The no-kill shelter I worked at for several years did not adopt out any animal deemed unadoptable due to aggression (by a group of several educated individuals, including the executive director, shelter manager and veterinarian). These cases were never taken lightly. So please remember that these two issues are not one and the same. We can choose to be part of the solution (through education and rational discourse) or part of the problem.

Shanna Compton, DVM
February 25, 2016

Thank you, Dr. Oursler, for a well-written and informative article.  I think that many of the comments below, other than the one by "Nobody Special," show how important this topic is.  When I see clients who are afraid of their own pets (usually dogs, rarely cats) then I wonder why on earth they keep them.  Part of having a pet is the joy of interacting with it -- why on earth would you want to interact with a frightening being?

Merritt Clifton
February 24, 2016

From the opening of the first U.S. shelter that adopted out dogs in 1858 until 1988,  no former shelter dog is known to have ever killed anyone.  Newly rehomed wolf hybrids killed two children in 1988 and 1989,  after which the sheltering community became much more careful.  The next fatality inflicted by a shelter dog came in 2000,  when a pit bull killed an adopter's roommate.  Two more fatalities occurred by 2010.  From 2010 to present,  however,  40 rehomed dogs have killed people,  of whom more than 30 of the dogs were pit bulls,  and only two were not pits,  bull mastiffs,  or Rottweilers in predominant configuration.  All of this is recklessly squandering the good reputation for doing safe adoptions that thousands of shelters developed over more than 150 years.

Marc Brown
February 23, 2016

How interesting that a couple of amateur 'nobody specials' stop by to say this vet must have some distorted view due to 'a trauma'. I wonder how many degrees these commenters have in animal behavior, behavioral biology and human psychology. I'm betting none. This blog post describes the daily reality in shelters. Maudlin sentimental staff and volunteers with no credentials or experience that matter satisfy dysfunctional ego needs by jumping on the barricades for dogs that are severely dangerous. Dogs that have attacked -- not bitten, but attacked -- shelter staff are excused by some weird, amateur-invented depth psychology, while many non-dangerous dogs are put down to keep space for these attacking dogs. Shelter work has become a highly dysfunctional subculture that is endangering the whole enterprise of sheltering and rehoming dogs. Real psychology predicts that lying and cheating only work for awhile, then they backfire. And indeed...more and more people are refusing to even look at shelter dogs because they know they can't trust a shelter to be honest with them. And so the casualties aren't only human. They are also the many normal shelter dogs that are put down to keep space for the vicious ones, the normal dogs that no one dares to take home because shelters so often lie, and the many animals that end up attacked, mauled or killed because maudlin shelter staff insisted on rehoming a known aggressive dog. This attitude has nothing to do with caring about animals, including the aggressive dogs. It's all about a misguided ego-trip that is good for no one at all and is actively bad for animals.

February 23, 2016

Awesome. The craziness of overlooking aggression in dogs, especially the largest and most tenacious bully breeds that have the greatest strength has got to be stopped. So many vets stay silent and don't speak out. The AVMA research is old and muddled with unfactual opinions with pitbull advocates as the authors. Facts are facts. Dogs that are temperament tested or have a history of aggression should not be adopted out. Thank you for standing strong as you might of saved the life of some dogs and a human being.

February 23, 2016

Great post!  As a shelter worker in my local municipal shelter I have seen first hand how the zealots of "no kill" have put the agenda of "saving shelter animals" above the safety of the public. Dogs that have been deemed to be potentially dangerous by the behavior staff, that are released to "rescue groups" that have bitten people within minutes of leaving the shelter in the shelter parking lot - yet the excuse I hear again and again is that they are "only stressed by the shelter" - as if "stress" will never happen again in the animal's lifetime - how about the "stress" of a knock on the door by a delivery person, or the "stress" of having a kid ride his bike down the street?  "yes I want to adopt the dog that bites people for coming within 5 feet of it" - said NO ADOPTER EVER. I have seen time again and again that dogs that pose a significant potential for harm are released to a rescue group ONLY to be posted the next day as "available for adoption" to any unsuspecting family. The shelter deludes itself that the rescue will do diligent training and adoption screening, the public is too trusting and naive on reading dogs - and unfortunately it will not only result in someone getting seriously mauled but as a side note, may also cause the public to seek out buying dogs from breeders as they learn of more & more horror stories from dogs adopted from shelters & rescues. "No Kill" and their kool-aid drinking supporters are their own worst enemies, I would no longer recommend to a friend that they walk into a shelter or rescue and adopt a dog - it is just not safe. 

Shelter Vet
February 23, 2016

As a vet in a shelter setting, I agree completely with this blog post.  We often have to look for a medical reason animals with behavior issues shouldn't be adopted out because a small set of people was able to handle the animal.  Rescue groups often take very aggressive animals as well, and I always fear what will happen in their next destination(s).  We have to remember that the general public is not made up of people who understand animal body language and can address behavior issues. Most people think they can brush off, "he doesn't get along with _____" because if the problem was serious the dog wouldn't be adoptable.  And most people forget that dogs can cause serious injuries.

Phyllis DeGioia
February 23, 2016

Nobody, her experience has certainly affected her point of view. That's what blogs do: they provide the author's point of view and experiences. Dr. Oursler has had two traumatic events along this line: disagreeing with her local rescue group, and fostering an aggressive dog who bit her son, so she has an opinion on the topic that she is sharing. Phyllis DeGioia, Editor of VetzInsight

Nobody special
February 22, 2016

Much as I respect the posts on this blog, and recognize that some individuals/groups may place animals in homes without doing proper due diligence ... Nonetheless, I think the author has experienced a traumatic event and should acknowledge that it may have affected her perspective. She is not an unbiased observer in this instance.

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