Saying goodbye to your dog is difficult no matter what the circumstances. In my family’s case, we had to bid farewell to one of our dogs because he was becoming more and more aggressive. This decision wasn’t made lightly, but ultimately, we knew it was best for us all.
After all, we didn’t want our dog to act on his aggression and wind up hurting someone. We thought it was best to say goodbye to him in the hopes that he finds a forever home where he feels more comfortable and less threatened.
We adopted Kopa, a 1-year-old treeing walker coonhound (TWC), in November of 2017. It was easily one of the happiest days of my husband and my life. We looked for a sibling for Sally, our 4-year-old TWC mix, and we felt that Kopa fit the bill perfectly.
We knew it would take time for us all to bond as a family, so we made sure to take plenty of walks, allow lots of playtime and leave some time for cuddling on the couch together as well. This is what we did with Sally when we adopted her from the shelter, and she has proven an excellent companion.
Unfortunately, bonding with Kopa was different than we planned. He began growling at my husband, Pat, for unnecessary reasons. Pat would try to cuddle Kopa, ask him to sit, or make room for Sally on the dog bed by moving Kopa slightly, but he would react with a growl.
Pat was understandably becoming fearful of Kopa. He’s a big dog with an extremely dangerous bite. When Kopa would growl, you could see the anger in his eyes, and we felt that a bite was going to follow his growls shortly after.
Kopa was never aggressive towards Sally. Sally is very much a dominant dog, and Kopa was okay with being submissive to her. She would let Kopa know when he crossed the line, and he would accept that. The two of them always got along great. Learn more about dog-on-dog aggression.
We spoke to our dog trainer about Kopa’s behavior, and she told us that it’s because we aren’t being dominant enough and showing him that we are the alphas. (Basically, we needed to be more like Sally.) She gave us some tips on correcting this unwanted behavior and let us borrow a muzzle to make us more comfortable during this training period.
Unfortunately, implementing these tips only seemed to escalate the situation further. We felt helpless.
Since I work from home, I get to spend 24/7 with my pups. They are my coworkers and give me plenty of laughs on my trips to the “water cooler.” Their snoring and twitching always warm my heart, and I love the excitement they show when quitting time comes. (They know the sound of me turning off my wireless keyboard and mouse and instantly jump for joy because they know it’s eating/playing time.)
After three months of loving, adoring, and caring for Kopa, the aggression persisted. We decided it was best to help him find a new home. This was easily one of the hardest decisions we have ever faced. I was a complete wreck. Kopa had taken a place in my heart quicker than I thought possible.
Pat was a dog lover long before I was. Although most of the growling was aimed at Pat, he was just as distraught as I. Kopa has many beautiful qualities. Still, it’s that small percentage of unwanted, scary behavior that kept us from being able to let our guard down entirely.
When we adopted Kopa from the shelter, there was a stipulation that said if, for whatever reason, we needed to rehome Kopa, we would bring him back to the same shelter. We agreed with this and decided that surrendering Kopa to the shelter was best for all of us.
Some may think that three months isn’t long enough to give the relationship a fair try. However, we felt we had done everything we could, and things continued to worsen. We prioritized Kopa’s needs above everything else. We focused on training him and made sure he was getting enough food, exercise, and sleep. Sadly, none of this seemed to matter in the end.
There are a few different options to consider when deciding what to do with an aggressive dog.
Contact The Shelter Or Breeder You Adopted From
The first place we’d recommend contacting is the shelter or breeder from which you adopted your dog. Many of them have stipulations in the adoption process stating that if a dog requires rehomiing, you need to contact them first (this is how our adoption with Kopa was).
Be completely transparent with the shelter or breeder about your dog’s aggression. Some dogs are trainable but need the attention of someone who has expertise in eliminating dog aggression. Other dogs can be dangerous to care for, so you should consider certain precautions.
Some shelters won’t take aggressive dogs. Others may euthanize them if they threaten other dogs’ lives. Additionally, they may not have the resources to rehab the dog. If this is the case, try to find a no-kill shelter.
No-kill shelters aren’t guaranteed either, though, because if the dog has a bite history, it can complicate the dog’s acceptance into the shelter.
Ask Pet Specialists
If all the shelters reach out to say they’re unwilling to take your aggressive dog, ask them about volunteers or pet professionals who may have the time, knowledge, and money to have the dog evaluated by a behaviorist. Depending on the trigger for the dog’s aggression, they may be able to be placed in a home that doesn’t include those triggers.
For example, if your dog experiences dog-on-dog aggression, a home with no other dogs may eliminate the problem. You should discuss all of this with your vet to determine the safest situation for your dog and any other animals and humans with whom they interact.
There are some options on what you can do with an aggressive dog that bites.
- Work with a trainer or behaviorist to eliminate or manage the problem.
- Rehome the dog with the solutions listed above.
- Euthanize the dog if the aggression becomes dangerous for humans and animals.
Because Kopa’s growling was occurring more often, we felt that the responsible thing to do was return Kopa to the shelter where we adopted him. There were a few key reasons why we felt this was the best route for Kopa and us.
We All Need To Feel Safe At Home
Pat and I believe that it’s important not to be scared of our dogs and for them to feel loved and comfortable around their family. We felt that being scared of Kopa would open the possibility of more growling or biting and ultimately give him unearned status as the pack leader, which would lead to more issues.
We also felt that we should all feel comfortable and safe at home, and clearly, we did not feel that way, nor did Kopa since he was growling. This kept us all from relaxing and enjoying the experience of being a two-person, two-dog family.
We were always on edge, preparing for the next growl to occur, and Kopa most likely sensed that. This was not a life we wanted for our dog or ourselves. Kopa deserved better.
Young Kids & Aggressive Dogs
Another reason we chose to say goodbye to Kopa is that we were expecting a baby in August 2018. We have many young nieces and nephews and have always felt comfortable with Sally being around them. However, with Kopa, we found ourselves hovering around him when there were children around.
If innocent actions like cuddling and slightly moving Kopa to make room for Sally bring out growls in him, then what’s to say a young child stepping on his paw, pulling on his ear or startling him wouldn’t cause a more significant reaction?
We didn’t feel like this was something we could risk happening. If Kopa injured someone, we would feel entirely responsible and terrible, especially a child.
We know in the future, there will be times where our child will be left alone for a few seconds while we get a bottle, wash our hands, or do some other task. In these instances, we would not feel safe leaving Kopa alone with them.
Hoping To Stop The Growling Before It Escalates Further
One of the biggest reasons we chose to return Kopa to the shelter is because we didn’t want him to bite someone. If he bit someone, there is potential that he would be stripped from us and euthanized.
In this instance, we’d be facing a great amount of guilt for not taking action sooner to help Kopa get better. I would personally feel guilty for his death, and that is something I couldn’t live with.
Additionally, someone could be seriously injured, or we could be sued for liability. These risks added up to a lot more than we were prepared to manage in our home.
I hope you are never faced with this decision. I hope that you create the kind of bond we have with Sally with every dog you bring into your home. Saying goodbye to your perfectly healthy dog is just as hard as your dog dying, in my experience.
The night we came to this difficult decision, I spent hours crying. I was so disappointed that it didn’t work out. I felt like I had failed Kopa. Like I hadn’t worked hard enough to help him. We did everything we could think of to help him. We just weren’t what he needed in a family.
We chose to update our closest friends and family. We knew they’d ask about Kopa and that it’d be a complex subject to broach. So we decided to update them via text because we were still very raw with emotion.
I think, for the most part, everyone was shocked. We hadn’t shared with anyone the issues we were facing with Kopa. In the beginning, we were hopeful that we could fix the behavior, and we didn’t want our friends and family to have a tainted impression of Kopa or be fearful of him.
Our friends and family supported our decision and reassured us that we were doing the right thing. It meant a lot to have their support since Pat and I felt such guilt.
We didn’t know all of Kopa’s history. We knew he was originally purchased to be a hunting dog but wasn’t catching on to it quickly enough. The owner was going to kill him, but fortunately, a neighbor stepped in and took ownership of him. That neighbor had him outside tied up to a tree and took him to the shelter because he barked too much (I’d bark too if my life was spent tied up to a tree).
Kopa seemed to be most aggressive with Pat and my brother-in-law. Nearly all of the instances where Kopa growled were when he was receiving affection. Did he have an issue with men? Did a previous owner abuse Kopa? All these thoughts crossed our minds, but in the end, we had no answers nor solutions.
We miss Kopa every day and rehoming an aggressive dog worried us that he wouldn’t get adopted again. Fortunately, he was adopted in November 2018 after going through some training to help with his aggression. My husband and I were ecstatic to see his adoption go through and that he has found his forever home. We wish him many years of happiness with his family.
If you’re experiencing something similar, I encourage you to be proactive about the situation before things get worse. Growling is one thing, but biting is another. Both are unwanted behaviors, but growling can hint that biting could be in the near future. Here are some tips for helping your aggressive dog.
We were able to return our dog to the shelter where we originally adopted him. But, if this is not an option for you, we would suggest that you speak with a local rescue organization like ASPCA, the Humane Society or a local organization to discuss your situation and options.
Have you had to say goodbye to an aggressive dog?