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If you have an aggressive dog, we sincerely empathize with your situation. This must be a very difficult time for your family. Aggressive behavior in any dog is a serious issue, and there are many things you'll need to consider.

Most dogs that suffer from aggression are sweet, affectionate, caring dogs, at least most of the time. They are very rarely the snarling, snapping, frothing monsters that most people picture when they hear "aggressive." However, any form of aggression is a serious concern, and must be addressed. Aggressive conditions will, almost without fail, become worse if not treated.

At Pets Alive, we care for many aggressive dogs. However, because these dogs require special care and control to live both happily and safely, we are limited in how many we can provide for. Our secure dog areas are often full and since the dogs in those areas do not get adopted very often, openings in secure areas open up infrequently. I’m sorry that we may not able to take your dog here at this time, but we will help you find trainers, work with your dog and try to find solutions with you, so that you can keep the dog in your home.

Generally, the only real option is to work out the problem within your household. Placing the dog in another home or shelter doesn't correct the problem - it just relocates it. There are several different routes that you may take to correct and/or control your dog's aggression. You will want to determine which, if any, will be most appropriate in your situation.

If the aggression is aimed at another dog or cat in the household, sometimes, changing the living situation can work. Though juggling dogs around to prevent fighting can be daunting and is simply unmanageable in some households, it's worth looking into. Kiddie gates and extra doors (screen doors can be a good option) can separate the household so that the dogs each have their own territory. The yard could be separated by additional fencing, or a dog run could be added. Be creative and see what you can come up with.

If your dog has Fear Aggression - we suggest reading the following article: Helping Your Dog Overcome Fear Aggression by Ann Allums, Certified Pet Dog Trainer, Best Friends Animal Society.

First, if you have not already done so, we encourage you to have the dog spayed or neutered, as neutering lessens territorial aggression for both dogs and cats. Puppies and kittens can be spayed or neutered as early as 8 weeks old. Visit the following link or call 1-888-PETS911 for low cost or free spay/neuter resources in your area: http://www.pets911.com.

You should also schedule a checkup by your veterinarian to rule out any health problems. Pain or irritability associated with a physical ailment can cause aggressive behavior. If a medical problem is discovered and treated, the aggression should subside on its own. Once a medical problem has been ruled out, you may want to consider training and behavior modification to improve the situation.

In most cases, it is highly likely that training and behavior modification will reduce the chance that another incident will occur. If your dog has bitten someone, or even snapped to warn someone to back away, we strongly encourage you to read the article “Once Bitten” by Pat Miller, Certified Pet Dog Trainer and author of the book The Power of Positive Dog Training. The article provides information to help you determine the level of severity of a bite incident as well as suggestions to help modify behavior, here: http://www.kerryblues.org/WDJ/BITTEN.HTML.

As I am sure you know, it is paramount to protect others from harm; therefore, we strongly encourage you or your dog's future caretaker to use the intervention of a basket muzzle. This very humane muzzle can be worn by the dog comfortably as it allows the dog to pant, drink water and be given treats and at the same time prevents his ability to inflict a bite wound. You or the dog’s caretaker would be wise to consider keeping this dog muzzled around strangers, children and other dogs, to avoid any sort of future incident. Never leave other humans or dogs alone with this dog--it is simply not worth it to drop one’s guard.

You should also protect both your dog and future victims by using a muzzle in situations like trips to the veterinarian or groomer. Secure the muzzle with string in at least two places on your dog’s collar. Test the muzzle for safety and proper fit before trying it in any situation where it is truly needed. For information on how to help your dog accept wearing a muzzle, see the following article: http://www.sniksnak.com/doghealth/muzzle.html.

While it is important to keep your dog safely away from triggers that cause the aggression, do not chain your dog outside, even for short periods of time, as chaining can contribute to certain forms of aggression as well as other behavior problems. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite than dogs who are not chained. The same holds true for crating your dog for long periods of time. This too, can cause additional behavior problems.

An escape proof dog run or kennel in an enclosed back yard, on the other hand, can provide additional security when your dog is outside for short periods of time, and when you need to keep him or her separate from the rest of the household, such as when you have visitors.

As we mentioned above, training and behavior modification strategies are very helpful for solving aggression problems. For more information and assistance with training and behavior modification:

Consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may be a helpful resource for you, since some vets have experience with behavioral issues. There are many medications available for tackling aggressive behavior. If you use a holistic vet, he/she may be able to recommend some alternatives to drugs as possible treatment for the aggression. You could also ask your vet to consult with a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist at one of the university behavior clinics, such as Tufts University (see the behavior helplines below).

Consult an animal behaviorist. An animal behaviorist attempts to understand the reason for the behavior by considering the animal's history, temperament, environment, experience, etc. After making a diagnosis, a behaviorist will help you understand the way animals learn, and how you can work specifically on the aggression problem to control and/or correct it. You can ask your vet for a local referral or you can visit the Animal Behavior Society website at: http://www.animalbehavior.org/Applied/CAAB_directory.html

Work with a trainer. A trainer works differently than an animal behaviorist. In most cases, a behaviorist is more appropriate for helping with an aggression problem. If no animal behaviorist is available locally, and you want to work with someone in person, check out the programs of local trainers. Trainers vary in their experience, services, and training techniques. Make sure that you are comfortable with the person you'll be working with. Information on choosing a trainer, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) can be found at www.ccpdt.org/.

Use a behavior help line. Here are some examples:
* ASPCA Companion Animal Services Behavior Help Line (New York), 212-876-7700, ext. 4357.
* San Francisco SPCA Behavior Help Line, (California), 415-554-3075. You may leave a voice mail message 24 hours a day. Within 48 hours, a behaviorist will return your call (collect) or they will send you written information.
* University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine Behavior Clinic, 215-898-3347. If the clinic is not open at the time of your call, their recorded message will give you their call-in hours for the week.
* Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine Behavior Clinic (Massachusetts), 508-839-7934. This clinic offers consultations for a fee.

Helpful health and behavior fact sheets are available on the Best Friends website at: http://www.bestfriends.org/theanimals/petcare/.

Additional information about causes of aggression and how to treat it successfully can be found at: http://www.k9aggression.com.

We also recommend the following books:
* Final Hope by Stephen Joubert. This book has a very helpful section on finding a professional to work with.
* The Dog Who Loved Too Much or If Only They Could Speak by Dr. Nicholas Dodman.
These books describe many of the drug and behavior modification therapies that are available to treat aggressive behavior.

Unfortunately, when working on the behavior is not an option, or if it has been tried without success, there are not many alternatives. Finding another home is rarely a option (usually only when there is a friend or family member who is willing to take the dog). Most rescue groups are not able to manage aggressive dogs, or to place them because these dogs pose a threat to visitors, volunteers, and employees, and create a huge liability risk for any organization.

An appropriate home for an aggressive dog is with an experienced handler. An experienced handler could be someone who is familiar with dealing with the type of problem your dog has, such as a trainer or someone who has successfully had similar dogs in the past. You could try contacting trainers to find out if anyone is willing to work with and rehabilitate your dog. For a list of trainers in your area, please go to the link above.

Another possible course of action is to try other sanctuaries like ours. Please keep in mind that due to the number of inquiries that sanctuaries and other experienced handlers receive, it can be difficult to find these situations but you never know when your efforts may pay off. Additionally, if you find a sanctuary to accept your dog, we strongly encourage you to visit the sanctuary prior to admitting your dog so you can see the facility, meet the staff and get a good feel for the place.

You may find that that most sanctuaries and rescues cannot accept dogs with a history of aggression because of the risk they present to volunteers and staff. Additionally, most organizations don’t have the resources to give dogs like this the regular training they need to control or transform their behavior, nor can they afford consultations with a behaviorist who can help identify the triggers of the dog’s behavior. Frequently, the aggressive behaviors of dogs in rescues and sanctuaries worsen over time due to their isolation from people as well as the over-stimulation of being surrounded by many other animals.

For a listing of sanctuaries, please go to www.worldanimal.net.

We sincerely hope that something can be worked out for you and your dog.

Thank you to Best Friends for allowing us to use these help sheets.