I was young and naive about pet overpopulation when I answered an ad on Craigslist offering Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog puppies. When I showed up at the “breeder’s” house, I found a trash-filled yard and a dirty shack with about seven puppies inside squirming around in their own feces. The adult dogs were separated and kept in makeshift chicken coops.
I scooped up the first puppy who wandered out and placed his tiny paw on my leg. I didn’t know whether I had grabbed a boy or girl, and I didn’t care. I was horrified at the conditions the dogs were being kept in. I paid the man and left. (Later, I reported him to local authorities and even PETA — with no results.)
The man had claimed the puppies were 6 weeks old, but I learned that they were only 4 weeks old, so we had to feed our boy goat’s milk and puppy supplements for the first couple of weeks we had him. Otto also had to spend the first week of his life with me at work so I could keep an eye on him 24/7. He started “nursing” on anything fuzzy. It was cute but sad, as we knew he must be missing his mother terribly.
At 8 weeks old, we found out he was deaf. As a courtesy, I contacted the backyard breeder and informed him of Otto’s condition. He replied that none of his dogs had issues, and that I must have done something to cause the deafness.
I reached out on Craigslist, trying to find out whether anyone else had gotten a puppy from this man and had similar problems. One person replied and said she bought a puppy a week or two after I did and it died of parvo, as did the rest of the litter. Otto was lucky after all, even if he was deaf!
Although we were sad that Otto could not hear, we were determined that he would still have the best life possible. A PetSmart trainer helped us pick treats for our training sessions (the smellier the better) and gave us great tips on how to manage him. We attached a little bell to his collar so we could locate him in the house. One day, I absolutely panicked when I couldn’t find him. He had curled up underneath the couch for a nap and, of course, couldn’t hear me calling him.
We got Otto a friend, a sort of “hearing-ear-dog,” if you will. That’s when we adopted Axle. They were only a month apart, so we thought they would do great together. We would raise them as brothers and train them with the same visual cues.
We had absolutely no idea what we were in for.
The first couple of months were great. Otto and Axle would play together and sleep curled up with stuffed animals. We were working on their basic training, using visual and verbal commands for both of them. Otto was a quick learner, but Axle was just the class clown.
When Otto was about 4 months old, the fights began. He would mostly just growl and show his teeth while wrestling with Axle, and everything we read stated this was “normal” puppy behavior. It was at this point that my vet first said Otto was going to be a problem.
The vet’s advice was to euthanize Otto since he was obviously aggressive and would grow into a large, unmanageable dog. I would hear none of it, so I switched vets. Unfortunately, my new vet shared the same opinion. I just decided that they were all biased against my dog, and that Otto was fine; he just needed more training.
Despite training and behavior modification, the fights escalated. At the time, it seemed impossible to tell who or what started it. I always blamed it on Axle because he was the Pit Bull in the family. It took some time and a lot of watching their body language, but I soon realized that Axle wasn’t the problem … it was Otto. As Otto grew, my vet’s warnings escalated. By this time, he had treated several bites and scrapes, and he was worried that I was next. I was determined that Otto’s growing aggression could be cured.
I worked harder at training both dogs. I reached out to the dog community and received very confusing responses. “Feed and pet Otto first, since he’s clearly dominant. This is all just a dominance issue, and you have to show him preference.” Others gave me the opposite advice: “Ignore the dominant one and cater to the underdog so the dominant one thinks things are equal.”
By this time, Otto had made it clear that he and Axle could not be inside together. Axle would lay on his belly and slowly drag himself toward Otto in an effort to play, but Otto would just look down his nose and hold his tail straight before he’d lunge at Axle, teeth bared.
After scrubbing blood out of my carpet for the umpteenth time, we tried the crate-and-rotate method. This seemed to be the answer to our problems. While I was at work during the day, Axle would be crated and Otto would have free run of the house. We would let them out in the yard together, where they would play like nothing bad had ever passed between them. I was thrilled with our progress and again convinced that Otto’s aggressive behavior was curable, or at least manageable.
Boy, was I wrong.
Otto’s fixation on things like tires and moving vehicles got worse as he got older. By the time he was 9 months old, he weighed more than 80 pounds and difficult to walk. He would lunge at cars and was a menace to bicycle riders.
When I saw a car coming, I would have to wrap his doubled leash around a light pole or tree and brace myself to keep from being dragged into the street. I tried harnesses, positive reinforcement, and other behavior modification techniques with no success. We also were new to the neighborhood, and the nearby kids thought it great fun to poke sticks and throw things at my dogs. Otto even began reacting violently when he saw a child.
My family members expressed concern. They knew how I felt about Otto. They knew that I had told my husband, if we ever had to choose between our dogs, Otto was our keeper. They knew I had three full photo albums of him. They knew I was trying my hardest to manage his behavior. They knew I was nowhere near giving up on him.
They also knew that he was dangerous. My sister had witnessed Otto bashing his head into Axle’s crate, growling and trying to bite him. She, too, had dealt with an aggressive dog before, and it had ended badly.
But I still wasn’t ready to give up on Otto. He began showing intolerance to Axle outside, so we shortened their together time. I restrained him on car rides, and I eventually had to muzzle him if going to the vet. I couldn’t take him in public otherwise.
Our walks were brief and strained. He was becoming a prisoner in a house and a fenced backyard. I had to crate him when repair people or family members came over. Still, I was optimistic about our future. I would post in forums where people were talking about putting down aggressive dogs and let them know we didn’t have to take that route. I believed I was being a responsible pet owner and managing my dog’s behavior.
Otto was born on Dec. 23, 2010. The day of his first birthday, I dressed him up all handsome in a red tie with polka dots. He just sat and stared at me. I’m not sure when it started, but he had stopped greeting me when I came home. Instead, he would sit or stand at attention and quietly eye me as I made my way around the house. If I stopped to pet him, as usual, he would issue a low warning growl. Where had I gone wrong?
On Christmas Eve, we were up a little later than usual. The dogs were having a potty break outside, and I was headed to bed. I had extra-special presents for our little fur-kids, and I couldn’t wait for the dogs to open them!
I had not been in bed long when I heard terrible barking and growling and yelping. Otto had jumped on Axle. There were no toys or bones in the yard for them to be territorial over. At that point, Otto had become so volatile and unpredictable that the least little thing could set him off.
I rushed outside in my pajamas to find my husband already in the middle of trying to break them up. Axle was screaming because every jerk of Otto’s body meant a fresh rip in his flesh. Otto’s eyes were crazed, and he thrashed around wildly as he tore at Axle’s throat. Between holding collars and dumping cold water on the pair, we somehow got them apart.
As I hurried Axle inside, Otto continued to lunge against my husband’s grip, trying to get at Axle again. His sheer violence and determination was terrifying. My pajamas were soaked with blood; in the heat of the moment, I didn’t know whether it was mine, Otto’s, or Axle’s. Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt, but every scenario and “what if” in the world began floating around in my head.
I knew what I had to do. Otto’s aggression was such that he would never be adoptable. He would hardly let my husband and myself near him, much less a stranger. He was violent toward people, animals, and even objects like tires. He was unpredictable and a terrible force when set off.
I knew that keeping him alive was not what was best for him. Whatever was causing his mental distress was not pleasant for him, either. He was a danger to himself and to others, so we let him go.
I couldn’t see his face in his last moments, but my husband could. In a hushed tone, he told me, “Otto looked at peace, and he was calm. He looked like he understood, and as though he was relieved that we finally decided to let him go.”
We buried Otto with his favorite Elmo toy. As we laid him to rest, his lifeless paws seemed to curl around the soft red material, his nose buried in its folds as though he were simply asleep. I was beside myself with grief for quite some time after, and I found it hard to tell people what had happened.
Even though I knew we made the right decision, I felt as though I had murdered my dog. As time passed and I learned more about dog behavior, I felt less guilty about letting Otto go peacefully and more guilty about not doing it sooner. I had knowingly housed a very dangerous dog and had also allowed Axle to be continually traumatized by Otto’s unprovoked attacks.
Part of being a truly responsible owner is knowing when to let go. I didn’t do it soon enough, but thank goodness I did do it. Not all dogs who show signs of aggression will end up like Otto. It’s important to consult your vet and trainer to decide what path is best for you and your dog. Just don’t wait until it’s too late.
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10 thoughts on “Please Don’t Hate Me for This: I Had to Euthanize My Aggressive Dog”
This story speaks to my heart. We adopted our pitbull Grace just 4 years ago almost to date. She came from a similar environment but I thought that by getting a puppy, we could train her correctly. She was a great dog for 2 years. She’s been with her fur brother Walter, a shih tzu, and 2 fur cat sisters since she was 10 weeks old. She’s been around other dogs her whole life and never showed any signs of aggression. However, she is very protective of her yard and she growled and snarled and snapped at delivery people but she has an invisible fence and they have started leaving the packages at the mailbox outside of the fence. We adopted Bo, a 4-yr-old, 80 lb olde English bulldog 2 years ago. They were great together. Playing with toys, running around the yard, playing with each other. But Bo showed food aggression, so we always had their food on other ends of the house. 1 day, Grace attacked Bo seemingly out of nowhere. We were able to separate them easily enough but eventually the attacks grew worse. They are particularly brutal when he is on the couch sitting next to us and she is in on of our laps and we lower the foot rests to get up and she “gets pushed off the couch”. It always seems to be when he is on the couch and she is on the ground that she attacks. She even appears calm no growling, no panting, just locked onto his face or neck. 1 attack we had to strangle her to get her to let go. Water, banging on pots, beating her, didn’t work. She. Would. Not. Let. Go. We took her to the vet after the first couple attacks. Nothing is medically wrong with her. We tried acupuncture, but that just seems to buy us time in between attacks. During the summer months, it doesn’t seem to be a problem but i think it’s because she’s so tired from being outside all day. It’s usually the winter months that we see attacks. Just the other night, she ripped a part of his ear off. I walk her, I have a sniffer mat for her, dog brain games but even after all of that she growled at Bo just last night. I can’t imagine if she got ahold of Walter. We are in the works of setting up with a pet behavioralist. I am at a loss but reading stories like yours gives my heart some peace if we ultimately have to make this very difficult decision. Thank you for your bravery and for being a great dad mom.
Thank you for this. I had to put my aggressive dog down 2 days ago and like you I feel like I murdered my dog. Ariel was a rescue who we adopted 5 years and 3 months ago. All of that time she has been aggressive. Over the years we have tried trainers and behavioralist but nothing seemed to permanently curb her aggression. She would attack one of our other dogs and by the other dog defending herself hurt my Ariel very badly. She has had to have surgery a few times to repair the injuries to her eyes and face. We tried to manage her triggers and we kenneled her when we could not have constant eyes on her. We finally had to make the decision to euthanize her to keep her from hurting herself and others. I know we made the humane decision but I still fill so guilty. Reading your article have given me some amount of peace.
I’m glad I came on here and am reading this. Right now I’m not sure if I could make the decision to put my dog down (4 1/2 years old, border collie shepherd mix), but ever since we got him, he was a lot of trouble and it just got worse over the years. Lunging at dogs, barking, biting, untrusting of visitors, hating other dogs, all of this started at around 6 months old. By year 3 he had already bitten 4(?) people and we had moved out to a house with a large yard to accommodate him. Just a few nights ago he bit our cat in the face in a horrible attack, completely unprovoked. The cat was just touching his nose to our dogs nose in a gesture of kindness (the cat has NEVER hurt anyone, he’s a great cat) and our dog snapped, snarled, and bit ferociously. That was the LAST straw for me.
We have another dog, about a year old, in the household and she is so much smaller than him. We cannot risk him with her anymore. He hates everyone who visits so we have to hide him, we can’t take him on walks because he lunges at any dog that comes his way. We love him, we really do, we have been his home and family, but so has the cat that he bit in the face, the cat he was raised with, the cat he loves and plays with and has known for his whole life. We can’t risk it.
Would a shelter take him? Would they euthanize him? Is there any chance at him having a normal life?
So sorry to hear that you’re experiencing this. We suggest working with a behaviorist, trainer and vet on these specific issues.
These articles might provide some insight as well, but please seek help from the pros:
Hello, we have a dog at home (aussie shepherd) who is 2 years old that has aggresive behavior to other dogs and my family is thinking of putting him down. He hasn’t attacked anyone or any dog yet but that’s because we don’t walk him, otherwise he would lunge at other dogs. He would fight with the other dog we have at home but hasn’t hurt him yet. Do you think putting him down is the best? we are kind of heartbroken here. Thank you for your reply.
We suggest contacting professionals, like your vet and a behaviorist before putting your dog down. They can help you work out your dog’s specific issues.
These links might help provide some insight, but please try professional help for your dogs:
Hello , we have a very similar situation and am being so cautious of euthanizing. We have a rescue Ridgeback/hound mix ,moved three times since and at was 8 weeks old when we adopted him and it’s been 5 1/2 years later he has the Alpha thing going on wit our other smaller rescues. We have moved three times since and have a decision to make going into a smaller rental with a small side yard. But his aggression towards the other dogs and some friends and family have us worried. He had K-9 training when he was 8 months old and we were toiled then he was “different”! Suggestions?
Hi Frank — We suggest contacting a vet and behaviorist for suggestions tailored to your specific situation. Best of luck!
I cannot stop thinking about my dog that I euthanized a month ago…he was only 5 yrs old… got him from a rescue group on his last day on “death row.” He was about a year old and just got neutered before coming to us. My son was about 3.5 years old at the time. After acclimating to us and our huge property, we started socializing him with my mother’s dogs and going to the dog park. He looked very happy. The third time we went to the park, he bit a dog in the face (right at the entrance). Right then I knew we cannot go there again. I wish I knew about his breed earlier and I probably would have never put him in such situation again for his own good. After I euthanized him, I did in depth research that for him it was very stressful to have all these dogs sniff and get in his personal space…And I thought that a dog park was supposed to be a dog’s happy place. After that incident, I noticed that he started getting very aggressive towards other dogs during our walks, so I’d walk him away from people and at night. He would make very loud crying noises when a dog was on a horizon, so it could get a bit embarrassing at times…if I got caught in a situation when a dog was approaching us, I’d hide him behind a tree, etc…and if he did notice a dog, he’d react his angry feelings by jumping on me with his paws. Also, I could not hold him by the collar because he would try to bite. One day he tried to bite my son’s hand as he playfully grabbed him by the collar. I knew I could not trust him with my son. We made my son a smaller fenced yard in the back and my dog had the free run of the rest of our property. He’d sleep at night in the laundry room with the baby gate and run outside all day (we also had a nice barn where he had a doggie door and could hide during the day). My son was not allowed to go anywhere without me but his part of the yard. We had an older female chichuachua mix that he adored, but she was not interested in playing with him. He had so much energy! We tried to get him a playmate, but two introductions of craigslist’s free dogs did not go well. He literally chased them back to their cars and it was soooo embarrassing 🙂 But he was still good with my mother’s 4 dogs whenever they came to visit, so I was determined to get him a playmate that’s his age and energy. We adopted a boy dog (that’s my mistake) from a shelter. We brought him home with my mother’s four dogs (we wanted him to blend in). The introduction wasn’t very smooth, but nobody got hurt. My boy showed he was the boss! They became what I thought best friends. Digging holes together, sleeping together, even carrying huge pieces of wood together, one on each end! We even had months of hard labor to fence our acerage so that dogs don’t run, but especially my boss boy since he was always ready to attack the neighbor’s dogs. He was super reactive that he’d just bite whoever was close to him if he couldn’t get those dogs. We even put all the dogs on electric fence as an extra precaution…(it took days to install that too). Then, 2.5 yrs later, we had to move to another state and instead of renting, we decided to buy a home so the dogs could have a yard…it was a much smaller yard, with a community association so the dogs didn’t have as much freedom as before. It was temporary until we find our desired home on acerage again (mostly for dogs…). It was hard to find a home that had a good school, acerage and no homeowners association. Because by then we had another baby and a 6 yr old, the kids were not allowed to be together with dogs unless I was present. We gave dogs the sunroom, deck and part of the yard, however they would always want to hang out in the sunroom, close to us….it was separated by a long stretchy baby gate. It worked, but there was definitely less exercise and freedom for them. One night, a year after the move, I released the dogs to the bathroom before sleep. Almost immediately I heard there was a dog fight (first one ever!). My boss boy was holding his playmate by the neck and shaking him. He would not let go. Me and my husband tried for almost half hour to get him off, but he would not let go. My other dog was desperately crying for help. He actually got my ankle and partially crushed it…maybe he thought he was reaching for my other one’s paws….we screamed for neighbor’s to call 911 and bring a gun! Now I know, remaining calm would have been the best thing for all, but I didn’t know that at the time. We got so lucky that it was my ankle only!!! My big boy actually was over 90 lbs at the time. Our other dog had 2 procedures on his neck, first shave and clean up of wounds, then few days later, an abscess developed and he needed drains…my big boy got a ear hematoma from being hit that we got fixed as well. I looked for help. I talked to a trainer. She specialized in his breed. She said she could help with obedience but of course there was no guarantee that he would not do this again. To start, it was about $2K. At this point, I was very fearful that he’d attack the kids and we wouldn’t be able to get him off of them. I didn’t see any aggression towards them, but again they weren’t allowed to touch him. My 6 yr old understood that he was not to open the “dog room” gate unless I was present. I made sure that the baby was constantly supervised as well, meaning that my big boy would be crated at night and if we wanted to nap, etc ( just in case the baby decided to escape my bedroom and I’d be alseep). In general, the two big dogs had to be either rotated in their cages, outside/inside or the big boy would be in his muzzle if in contact with his playmate. It was constant work. I would always fear that a slip up on our part would be potentially very dangerous. He did try to attack his playmate again, however, he couldn’t do it with the muzzle on. One day, while his playmate was outside and my big boy was inside, I actually caught my 6 yr old trying to open the sliding glass door. Both dogs were on opposite sides and thankfully i got there on time. What if my son was in the middle? Since the incident, I was also searching if it would be possible to safely re-home my big boy, but was mostly reading that adopting an aggressive dog would prevent many rescues from adopting many friendly dogs…many said they were also at their limit…I didn’t want to give him to a private adopter because of my fear of him attacking anyone, being abused, chained or used in dog fighting… About 8 months passed since the incident. We were on constant alert almost all the time. Always watching who was in and out, or who got crated last, etc. Always watching for kids’ safety. I also filled out paperwork for a behavioral eval, but it seemed that no matter what the behaviorist would say, we could not trust our boy again…so we never went…oh now how I wish we did…one day when kids were out of town, I decided that I’d euthanize him because of the constant fear that he may hurt them… I think I’ve heard too many stories of dogs mauling kids and I didn’t want this to happen to mine…I bought him 10 cheeseburgers and took him for a long walk in our favorite woods away from people…my vet was great and she respected my decision. I wish I haven’t done it!!!! It’s been a month. We just found a home without a community association and it would have been possible for me to give him a shed with a run and have him age with us…I feel like I betrayed him because I promised him a forever safe home and I killed him! He was very loving to me and always so happy to see me. I learned how to manage his behaviors outside then home and avoid the difficult situations. For some reason, when I decided to euthanize him, I kept seeing him as a danger to my kids…I still feel this way, but I don’t think euthanasia was the answer. I should have given him the chance of an outdoor area where he could wait until I got home to be released in his muzzle or taken for a walk. In my mind, we would slip somewhere and it would lead to a disaster.
I cannot think of anything else, but killing my big boy and how his big brown eyes looked at me that day. I failed him… Everything reminds me of him…
Now I know that getting a playmate was a bad idea and that a smaller space and lack of exercise lead to his frustration and he snapped. But we all snap at times and are forgiven…
It’s been a month and I hope it will get better because I don’t know how much longer I can exist like this. Nothing makes me happy. I play with my kiddos but constantly think of my big boy. I think I’m very depressed.
I’d advise anyone to please do research before putting your animal to sleep because I’d give anything to have another chance with him!