Whole Dog Journal's Blog June 21, 2017

A Cautionary Tale - Please Learn From My Mistakes

Posted at 04:58PM - Comments: (95)

Fostering a dog-aggressive dog presents dangers even experts can't always predict.

Note: This blog post is long, and an explanation for the editorial published in the July 2017 issue of WDJ.

Not quite a year ago, I told you about Ruby, a Cardigan Corgi I fostered for my local shelter three years prior. She had found a home, but was being returned to the shelter, and I had decided to foster her again, to try to assess what had gone wrong.

When I first fostered Ruby, I had observed that she was a confident, tough little dog, who would freeze and give a “hard eye” look at other dogs when they crossed her in some way, but I never saw her display any overt aggression. Also, she responded to a verbal reminder – even just a mild “Hey Roo-bee . . .” – with a tail wag and a return to a loose, relaxed posture. Eventually, Ruby found a home with a relative of a friend.

brown corgi


A few months after she was adopted, I received a couple of calls from her new family. It seemed she had apparently caused (or at least, had been an active participant in) a number of dog fights and dog-aggressive events. In each of the two incidents that her owners called me to discuss, I pieced together a clear case of “trigger stacking” – wherein the dog is put into a situation that contains several stressors, and after more than the dog can handle, acts out aggressively to put some space between himself and the stressors.

In the first case, her owner took her on an evening walk that suddenly turned rainy. The owner took refuge at a friend’s house. The friend didn’t want a strange dog in her house, as she had a small Poodle who was fearful of other dogs, so the owner left her in the friend’s yard while she visited with the friend indoors. Ruby started panicking and trying to get into the house, and fell into a fishpond, and couldn’t get out! Her owner and the friend had to help her get out, and then, feeling bad for her, they let her into the house and started drying her with a towel and hair dryer. I lost count of the many potential stressors by this time in the story. When Ruby caught sight of the Poodle, she launched herself out of her owner’s lap and “without warning” attacked the Poodle, leaving several punctures that required emergency treatment.

I walked the owner back through the story and explained the many ways she had given Ruby more to handle than she was capable of dealing with. I suggested that, since she had left deep punctures when she bit the other dog, her owner needed to consider that she would be likely to do damage if she was ever in a stressful situation with another dog. I recommended she avoid other dogs unless she muzzled Ruby, and not take her to other people’s homes where there were other dogs (and not allow other dogs in her own home). I also recommended that the owners consult with a local trainer, and reminded them that they could always return Ruby to the shelter if they were in over their heads with her aggression.

The next call I got was regarding another fight. This time, the owner was walking Ruby during pre-dawn hours at a beach where dogs were allowed off-leash. Ruby was on a leash, but was approached by an off-leash dog. The owner shouted for the other dog’s owner to get her dog, but the other owner couldn’t call the dog off in time, and Ruby dove in and started a fight. Once again, she bit the other (bigger) dog badly and the dog needed emergency treatment.

At this point, the owners did consult with a trainer. They also decided they wouldn’t take her to any other places where they were likely to encounter off-leash dogs. They loved Ruby at home, and said she was very affectionate and funny and well-behaved there. They were just a little sad to be unable to take her out without worrying about a dog fight.

But last year, the owners divorced. The wife kept Ruby, and moved into an apartment without a yard. A runner herself, she started jogging with Ruby before it was light out, to make sure Ruby got enough exercise. But after yet another fight (initiated by Ruby when she was approached by another off-leash dog), the now-single woman owner decided she couldn’t handle or manage Ruby anymore, and she returned the dog to my local shelter.

I believe that dogs who are a danger to humans and other dogs and animals don’t belong in mainstream society. I also don't believe that a dog-aggressive dog should be warehoused in some sort of “sanctuary” for the rest of his or her days; I think social isolation for these aberrant individuals is cruel, not to mention costly. Given that so many behaviorally normal (and certainly harmless) dogs are being euthanized in shelters, I accepted the hard fact that after three years and a number of traumatic events wherein Ruby seriously hurt other dogs, she may well end up euthanized by my shelter as unadoptable. But I also wanted to see Ruby for myself. I could see so many reasons for the stress that would cause her to act out, and wondered if she could be placed in a less-stressful home safely.

I met Ruby and her owner in the parking lot of my local shelter. She was just as cute and engaging as the last time I saw her. I was waiting for the moment when she saw another dog to see if, after three years of inadequate management and “practice” with aggression, she would immediately show signs of tension, anxiety, or aggression. We took Ruby into the shelter, where her teary-eyed owner signed the surrender paperwork. Within a minute, someone else brought a dog through the shelter lobby on a leash, and I, holding Ruby’s leash, watched Ruby carefully. Her eyes flicked to the other dog and then away. Her demeanor didn’t change. She was wagging her tail and her body was loose.

I had spoken with the shelter director earlier in the day, and had asked if I could again foster Ruby, even just for a couple of days, to observe and evaluate her behavior again, just to satisfy my own curiosity. I had a theory that Ruby might be just fine if she was placed in a home with someone who was familiar with signs of stress and anxiety in dogs – someone who could interrupt and redirect her, and certainly manage her proximity to other dogs (with gates and crates, etc.) if these signs were observed. And I thought that her dog-aggression may have been exacerbated by all the classic triggers that a dog-aggressive dog living in an urban area with people who are not particularly dog-savvy are often exposed to: daily walks in close proximity to other dogs, a tight leash, a tense owner, hours of inactivity and social isolation for long working days, and no opportunities, ever, to run outdoors off-leash.

If Ruby had responded to the sight of that other dog with immediate signs of aggression – pulling toward the dog, having an outburst of growling and barking, etc. – I would have left her at the shelter, and let the shelter conduct their own assessment, come what may. But now I was curious: Were all of Ruby’s past aggressive encounters with other dogs avoidable, through good management, acute observation, and a reduced stress level?

I had Ruby signed back over to me as a foster dog again, just for a few days, so I could investigate further. I hated to think that I had made a terrible mistake when I had evaluated her three years before; was she actually a dangerous dog who I had helped place into a good home, setting everyone up for disaster? The converse was also awful to consider: Was she basically a good dog, put into a bad situation with clueless owners, who routinely exposed her to far more stress than she could handle?

I first took Ruby to the house where I have my office, two blocks from where I live. I had left all my dogs at my home. I wanted the Corgi to have a chance to re-familiarize herself with the house and the backyard, and all of its dog-smells. I wanted to see how she would respond to the dog who lives on the other side of the backyard fence, and to the sight and sound of dogs walking by the front of the house. In both cases, I could see her notice the other dogs, and get a tiny bit more alert or tense, but she immediately responded to any sort of verbal interruption – calling her name or a warning: “Ah ah, Ruby…”. She would instantly look at me, wag her tail, and return to a nice, loose posture.

Over the next few days, I watched Ruby like a hawk while I introduced her to my dogs (one by one, starting with large, experienced, dog-savvy Otto; then a large, wiggly, doofus adolescent Woody; and then small, “don’t tread on me” Tito). I was most cautious about her with Woody and Tito, for different reasons.

I was worried that Woody, who tries hard to get every dog he meets to play with him, would push past Ruby’s boundaries and trigger her aggression – and I didn’t want to set him up for a bad scene. I am doing everything in my power to make sure I am helping to mold him into a perfectly socialized, non-anxious, non-aggressive pit-mix. But Woody didn’t seem very interested in Ruby, and when she gave him a hard look, he left her alone.

I was more worried that Tito, a 10-pound Chihuahua-mix, would give a hard look of his own to Ruby. Tito had a chronic back problem that hurt him at times, and though he usually just got out of the way when other dogs were around, he often growled and snapped at other dogs if he thought he might get stepped on or knocked over, in an effort to make some safe space for himself.

I used gates and crates and lots of treats to keep everyone separated and yet loose and “normal,” without tension or tight leashes. Ruby did fine.

I took all of them (first Ruby and the two big dogs, and then the next day, Ruby and all three of my dogs) to a local open-space area where we took long, off-leash hikes alongside a lake, where they could also swim to their hearts’ content. Ruby was so happy; she ran and swam and stuck right by me, just as she had three years ago when I fostered her the first time. I saw her do the momentary freeze/hard look thing a couple of times, when one of my other dogs crossed her path, and each time she immediately responded to me calling her name by looking at me and wagging her tail. I rewarded her with a treat each time she redirected her attention from them to me.

dogs in a lake

Otto and Woody at the lake

After a week of this, I was confident that Ruby was an adoption candidate – with some restrictions. I didn’t think she should be placed in a house with small dogs. Though she had been involved in fights with dogs of all sizes, she had bitten and badly punctured small dogs in each of those those incidents. And while I thought she would be best placed in a home with NO other dogs, she would probably be fine in a home with a larger dog and a person who was very experienced with dogs and observant of their behavior. I thought as long as someone was paying attention and managing her behavior, and reinforcing her for turning away/softening every time she so much as thought about getting stiff or confrontational, she’d likely be ok. At least, that was what I reported back to the shelter. They would want to do their own assessment, of course. But I felt I would be able to promote her to friends and try to find her a more appropriate home than her first one. A ranch would be perfect – with room to run, little if any time on a leash, and only big, well-socialized, familiar dogs to hang out with. In my part of the state, a home like this shouldn’t be hard to find for a cute, smart, tough little dog. I resolved that on Monday, I’d take Ruby back to the shelter so they could assess and hopefully place her.

On Saturday evening, I loaded up Ruby and my three dogs, and picked up a friend and her little dog, and we went to the lake. There is a spot I know where there are rarely other people, and if there are other people we could get far away from them with our pack of dogs.

When we got out of the car, I had Ruby on leash at first, so I could see how she responded to Samson, my friend’s tiny (4-pound) dog. She did glance at him – but she was more interested in the water. Nevertheless, we were super careful to keep Samson and her far apart; he’s just so small. It was Samson’s first exposure to a body of water, and my friend was having fun encouraging him to wade and then swim.

My big dogs took turns fetching a toy I threw for them in the lake. Ruby was having a blast by herself, alternately running up and down the shore of the lake and swimming, biting at the waves caused by the wake of ski-boats hundreds of yards away. Tito was wading at the edge of the water and playing with a tennis ball by himself, dropping it into the water and “catching” it again and again.

chihuaha mix


We had been at the lake for about 30 minutes when it happened. My friend and her dog were on shore about 50 feet away. I was standing waist deep in the water, with Tito onshore about 10 feet from me, and Ruby swimming near me. Tito was momentarily without his ball; I think he was watching the big dogs, who were swimming out in deeper water. Ruby swam by me, and waded out of the water, and, as she passed by Tito, she suddenly just pounced on him. There was no warning from either dog. Tito, who can growl and bristle at other dogs, didn’t. He was distracted, and not paying attention to Ruby. She just grabbed him across the back of the neck and shoulders, and started shaking him like she was killing a rat.

My friend quickly picked up her little dog. I took three steps and grabbed Ruby by the collar and scruff of her neck, actually lifting her off the ground – but she wouldn’t let go of Tito. He was yelping – screaming, really – and she wouldn’t let go. She wasn’t growling or vocalizing, she seemed quite calm, she just wouldn’t open her mouth. Still holding her off the ground with one hand, I started pounding her on the head with my other fist, but I was looking around to see if there was a stick or something I could use to pry her jaws apart. And then she just opened her mouth and let Tito go. He took off running, screaming, for the car, which was parked about 100 yards away.

For a long moment, I considered drowning Ruby on the spot. I was shaking, of course. Mad. Upset. My friend ran after Tito, crying. I don’t know where Otto and Woody were when the whole thing happened, but they had come out of the water and were standing about 20 feet away, frozen, fearful.

I carried Ruby, still by the scruff, to where my leashes lay. I clipped a leash to her collar and walked her to the car. She was calm, wagging her tail and behaving a little deferential to me (given that I had just been pounding on her). She didn’t seem aroused at all.

Tito saw us coming and retreated under the car. I put Ruby in the “way back” of my car, and tied her there, so she wouldn’t be able to jump over the seats into the main part of the car. I lay on the ground and called to Tito, who was whimpering in pain and fear. I couldn’t see any blood on him, which I could barely believe. He crawled toward me, but screamed when I tried to touch him. When I opened the car door, he jumped into the car, on the front passenger floor. We put a towel over him; he was all wet from the lake, and though it was super hot out, he was shivering.

We got everyone else back in the car. I tried to be calm while driving home, though of course my friend and I were discussing and recounting what had happened as we drove. Neither one of us could believe how fast Ruby’s attack was, and how calm. It was exactly as if Ruby had seen a rat and tried to kill it – a purely instinctive thing.

On the way to the emergency vet hospital, I dropped off my friend and her little dog, and dropped the other dogs at my office (with Ruby locked into a room by herself). At the hospital, they admitted Tito immediately, giving him something for the pain right away. They used an ultrasound to see if he had any internal bleeding; they didn’t see any. They took x-rays, and nothing was broken. But he did have some punctures, hard to see under his wet coat (he never shook off, he was in so much pain), so they were going to put him under anesthesia, and clip and clean the wounds, and insert drains. They said they were busy, so it would be at least an hour or two before he was ready to go home.

I texted a dog-trainer friend from the vet’s office, and she said to come over. We sat for an hour in the dark on her front lawn, discussing what happened. She told me some of her war stories about dog-aggressive dogs. She told me not to blame myself – but of course I do.

The vet called and said she wanted to keep Tito overnight because he was in so much pain. For the same reason, the next morning, they gave him both a shot of another pain medication and applied a Fentanyl patch that would time-release strong pain-relieving medication to him for the next five days. I picked him up at about noon the next day, Sunday, with antibiotics and an oral pain medication to start him on Monday.

I sent a message to the shelter director, explaining what happened. I sent the same message to Ruby’s former owner. I recommended that she be euthanized, and both her owner and the shelter director concurred. Her owner messaged me back: “I am sad, but I agree that she should not be allowed to do this ever again.”

The shelter director said I could bring Ruby to the shelter that day (which was a Sunday, and the shelter was closed), but I didn’t want her to be punished by a day or days spent in the shelter; she had been there for weeks before I fostered her the first time and I knew it would be highly stressful for her. I said I would keep her separated from other dogs until the shelter was open.

I was working through Sunday, so I had Tito in my office, on a comfortable bed on the floor by my chair, and Ruby gated in another part of the house with access to the backyard. My big dogs were at home. Tito was quite sedated with all the pain meds. He sat up once in the early evening and drank a lot of water that I offered to him. But I was concerned about how quiet he was. At about 10 that night, I called the emergency vet again and asked how long they thought he would be so quiet – how long the pain meds would have him so sedated. They asked about his breathing, and I told them it seemed normal, neither fast nor slow, regular. His gums (capillary refill time) seemed fine. He would wake and focus his eyes on me if I called his name and told him he was a good dog, but he didn’t wag or try to get up. I was told that he would likely be quite sedated until the morning, but of course I should bring him in if he worsened in any way. I kept looking at him as I worked.

At some time after midnight, I heard a noise. Tito was still lying on his side, but his legs were paddling like he was running in a dream. I called his name, but he wasn’t sleeping. His eyes were open, unseeing. He was having a seizure. I scooped him up, bed and all, and put him on the front seat of my car. I started driving to the emergency vet, crying, saying, “Oh Tito, please, I’m sorry, hang in there, Tito.” As I was driving onto the on-ramp to the freeway, perhaps four minutes after I first saw him seizing, his body gave one final convulsive jerk, with his head up and backward, and then all movement stopped.

I think his death was caused by internal bleeding and/or a blood clot. I didn’t continue the drive to the vet, so I don’t know for sure, but it’s the most likely explanation.

And it was all my fault. For bringing Ruby home. For exposing Tito – and my friend’s tiny dog, oh my word – to Ruby. For failing to anticipate that happy excitement might also trigger her dog-aggressive behavior. For not taking Tito to the vet earlier that night, when I was first growing concerned about how quiet he was.

I drove home, sobbing. I transferred Tito’s body to the back of my car, petting him and apologizing uselessly. Early in the morning, I buried him in the backyard, with some of his tennis balls and a handful of treats.

Later that day I took Ruby to the shelter. I had messaged them about Tito, and told them I didn’t want Ruby to suffer, but I thought she should be euthanized. I showed them the text that her former owner concurred. They agreed. They allowed me to be present, as an owner should be, in my opinion, during euthanasia. I stroked her head and said what you can’t help but say while a dog is being euthanized: that it’s okay, and she’s a good dog, and I’m sorry.

And I am. I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am.

I admire, respect, and appreciate the work of owners and trainers who work to manage and rehabilitate dogs who have bitten people or other dogs, but I don’t think I’ll ever be trying again. And for this, too, I’m sorry.

Lessons from Fostering an Aggressive Dog

Many of you will be shocked by this decision. Some of you will disagree. Some of you might say that she could have been rehomed somewhere without dogs, or sent to a sanctuary somewhere. All I can say is, there are many dogs who have never attacked other dogs and could use a chance to show what good dogs they are, and I thought this dog had all the chances she deserved.

I’m sure that some of you will judge me. Don’t worry, I have spent the better part of this past year judging me.  But if recounting my mistakes will prevent anyone else from making the same ones, Tito’s death won’t be in vain.

1. Ruby was a smallish dog, so I didn’t think she could be so deadly – that was stupid. Any dog who bites, and especially those with a demonstrated tendency to puncture when they bite, can kill or fatally injure another dog. Given her past attacks, wherein she bit other dogs (with punctures), I should have had, at the very minimum, a muzzle on her around other dogs – and realistically, she shouldn’t have been around other dogs at all. And I never should have allowed my friend to have her small dog present. If there is anything I am grateful for, it’s that Ruby didn’t attack Samson. I’m also grateful that I hadn’t yet helped Ruby find another home somewhere else, where she may have had the opportunity to attack another dog.

2. I thought that because I was so close to Ruby, and watching her carefully, I would be able to prevent any aggressive act she might contemplate. In retrospect, that, too, was dumb. I was RIGHT THERE. But she was just so fast. My friend and I have discussed that moment dozens of times since it happened, and we both agree: she showed absolutely no premeditation.

3. Because I had thought that almost all of Ruby’s past attacks had happened when she was leashed, I thought that leash frustration and stress about being leashed was a huge contributor to her aggression. I thought that as long as she was off-leash and happy and (it seemed to me then) unstressed, she wouldn’t do anything aggressive – but that was badly misinformed.

4. I had always thought Ruby’s aggression was tied to stress, and that she had acted out aggressively when she had been put into stressful situations that were past her ability to handle. But, I’ve since learned that I was terribly wrong about two major concepts having to do with canine stress:

  • I thought of “stress” as only unpleasant things. It was clear that she was stressed when around other dogs when she was on leash. It seriously never occurred to me that a dog could become physiologically aroused by happily running, swimming, and playing fetch – and that this biochemical state of that arousal might be nearly identical to a dog in a “fight or flight” situation. One might call it “good stress”, but its effect on a dog’s behavior may be no different than the unpleasant kind of stress.
  • I also thought of “stress” as having an influence on a dog that same day. I did not know that it can take days for a flood of stress chemicals to completely leave a dog’s body. And it never occurred to me that the months and weeks and days prior to the incident would have a bearing on the events of that day. Her owners’ divorce, move into an apartment, perhaps even the daily jogs on leash (in proximity to other dogs), being sent to my house . . . all of those things could have been working to keep Ruby in a state of physiological stress.

I discussed this whole incident with Whole Dog Journal Training Editor Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA. Pat was incredibly kind and empathetic, but she also helped me see where I had made mistakes. I asked her if she would write about dog-aggressive dogs for WDJ, and we talked about various angles for an article. The article she eventually wrote appears in the July issue of WDJ (now online and in print). In the article, and another past article referenced in the current issue, Pat explains how dog-aggressive dogs need to be managed, and how that can be accomplished, if their owners are willing to try.

I’m sorry that I personally wouldn’t be willing to try to manage a dog-aggressive foster dog again. The potential cost and trauma is too great. If one of my own dogs ended up being aggressive, I’d of course do anything in my power to keep him or her safe – and all other beings safe from him or her. I now know that I would have to do much more than I actually did. I’m sorry for that, too.

chihuaha mix laying in sun

Comments (95)

Thank you for sharing your story. I cannot even express how much you have helped me. I am going through an almost parallel situation and I needed to read your words to help me through this.

Posted by: Jenmiles | November 20, 2018 4:51 PM    Report this comment

Thank you very much for your article, and I am sorry for your experience. I just went through something similar. I recently attempted to foster a mixed breed dog out of a rescue in south Georgia. The dog had been "dumped" at the local area kill shelter as she was not making the adjustment from running free in a rural community to living successfully in a city/subdivision. She was a hunting breed mix, and had issues with aggression with other dogs, too high a prey drive, and had attacked a neighbor's dog. Needless to say I had those same issues with her when I tried to foster her. She was great in the house - a lovely dog, very smart. Outside, constantly reactive to other dogs, squirrels, cats, leaves, kept trying to chase after vehicles that looked like the one belonging to her original owner. It took 5 weeks before she escaped from my home ( a history with her) and attacked a small dog belonging to my neighbor. As I am in a condo community, I told the rescue I could not keep her as she was a danger to other animals here and a liability. They took her back and had her put down that day. There was really no good living arrangement for her, her first owners refused to work on training her, although they had the resources, and no one else had shown an interest in adopting her. I was distraught and mortified that she was put down, but there were really no options left for her.

This is one of the most heart-breaking situations I've been in with animals. I will never again foster another dog from rescue or shelter, as I have tried 3 times, all with unwanted consequences. I know dogs, but I am not a professional trainer or rehabilitator.

I hope Izzy is at peace, that is the best I can hope for her.

Posted by: lgmaddox | October 22, 2018 10:42 AM    Report this comment

It is a very sad situation. Nobody wanta to have to put an animal down for aggression. However, sometimea there is bo other option. We had to recently put down one of our labs for this exact reason. Initially he was agressive with our other dogs, he had to be muzzled when going ro the vets as he would lunge at other people and animals. He had never show any agreasion towards family in our home and loved our grandchildren. The unthinkable happened and he attacked our grandson leaving severe wounds on his face requiring stitches. We knew what we had to do and contacted our vet and animal control was involved. They could quarentine him for 10 days and make an assesment or we could have him put to sleep. We did not want him to feel abandoned and afraid in a shelter and have the end result be put down without our love. We loved him enough to be there for him till the very end. It was one of the hardest things we have ever done. But we had to do what was right, the next time he could have killed someone.

Posted by: Asuch | July 5, 2018 11:47 PM    Report this comment

I’m very sorry for the loss of both Tito and Ruby. About seven years ago, we adopted a coonhound from a shelter. We had her a few months & were dealing with severe separation anxiety. Family came to visit, we were in the backyard, just standing talking when she ran up to my sister in law and bit her in the back of the thigh, then whirled around and bit her in the hand, twice. She drew blood in all three locations.

Our grandaughters were a little over a year old. I felt I could not keep this dog. I made what I consider a mistake: because I signed a contract with the shelter that she;d go back there if we couldn’t keep her, I called them. I felt, still do, that she had a “screw loose” with the SA and human biting. I wanted to put her to sleep but it wasn’t allowed. She went back, got adopted again & I have no idea what happened since. If this ever happened now, I’d lie through my teeth and be there when shee took her last breath.

I don’t blame the shelter, they didnt know about the SA or aggression but it has soured us, for the most part, on shelter adoptions.

Posted by: InkedMarie | October 31, 2017 7:04 PM    Report this comment

I'm so sorry about the loss of Tito. I have been reading Whole Dog Journal for 12 years, and I remember when you got Otto and when you got Tito. You are such a wonderful dog owner, and accidents can and do happen. Please stop blaming yourself. Your honesty about this incident will definitely help save the lives of some other dogs. I have a 13-year-old female toy poodle who is aggressive at times to my 10-year-old male toy poodle. After reading what happened to Tito, I am going to keep a closer eye on her aggressive behavior. I hope you can get over this and forgive yourself for being human. You took every precaution that you knew to take. You did your best, and your dogs have wonderful lives. It breaks my heart that you're suffering so much. Please forgive yourself. ❤️

Posted by: sdmtexas | July 18, 2017 8:40 PM    Report this comment

SO very sad to read this, but i am happy i sat down and took thew time to read this very complete and factual recounting of the situation. I have a small dog walk/pet sitting business and am constantly on guard for the traits that you have mentioned. One 5 lb Yorkie fits all the descriptions and I live in fear something might happen.(its been 6 yrs now, mon-friday) Owners can be clueless that is for sure(it is not cute to snarl and growl at every dog even if you are 5 lbs and adorable). If nothing else your saga has helped me immensely. Your heart and caring is felt as I read your article.

Posted by: loveonaleash | July 7, 2017 6:44 PM    Report this comment

I am so sorry you had this tragic experience. Thank you for honestly sharing with us so that we might be better informed. My daughter and her husband had to euthanize one of their dogs for aggressive behavior several years ago and we were all so sad about it. Please know that you have my good thoughts and wishes for dealing with the aftermath of this incident. Sincerely, Kathryn

Posted by: Enter your email address here | July 6, 2017 6:31 PM    Report this comment

I had to make that decision twice with dog aggressive dogs. I worked with the first dog for 2 1/2 years before ultimately deciding that the dog would never be able to make the transition to a companion dog. She had an extremely high prey drive for any animal smaller than her. On leash with me she was fine, but she was a powerful dog as she went through a locked storm door (glass not screen) to attack a smaller dog who was loose and playing with his owners grand children. Thankfully I was able to distract her before damage was done but living in a city with a dog such as that is a recipe for legal issues.

My other dog was a mixed breed dog that was dumped near where I was living at the time - she had a dislike for any dog, no matter the size and was especially hateful toward male dogs. I tried with this dog for nearly 2 years before she took after one of my other dogs, causing damage and also biting my husband as she refused to disengage in her intent to kill. Thankfully, my results were better as my other dog survived this encounter, though had issues initially with any new dogs coming into the house.

In both of my cases, there were very, very subtle signs that were easily overlooked. But upon reflection, they were there, the odd quick hard look and or slight stiffness for that fraction of a second before the attack began.

What happened with Tito is not your fault, the mind of the dog is still a mystery to us humans. However, you can take and learn from this and other people and dogs will benefit from what you have learned.

Posted by: MissyP | July 3, 2017 2:35 PM    Report this comment

I appreciate your telling of this sad and heart breaking story. I volunteer with a Lab rescue group in upstate New York. Your story is invaluable to me and our rescue group. We too have struggled with aggressive Labs....America's favorite dog for crying out loud! Unfortunately there was no other choice but humane euthanasia. This was after professional intervention, training, fostering by experienced fosters and much soul searching and heartache. We needed to be responsible to the public, the breed and to the rescue group. The decision was always difficult and not made lightly.
Thank you again for sharing this sobering and sad event.
My sincere condolences,

Posted by: pbeemer | July 3, 2017 9:27 AM    Report this comment

Ya know.....we treat our dogs as thought they're our children and family members , until they are inconvenient . We don't kill our kids for anti social behavior(though I've been exposed to more than a few who should've been put to sleep) so why is it okay to kill a dog who has issues. Yes , that was traumatic ,losing your Tito ....but killing another dog wasn't the solution. She needed a responsible, dog experienced , no kids, no other dogs owner. I'm sorry, but I just can't condone, and am SICK of people putting down healthy dogs with potential for love. For christs sake this was a corgi , not a friggin pit bull.

Posted by: Mattk | July 3, 2017 12:30 AM    Report this comment

Nancy, I am so sorry you lost Tito this way. What a beautiful contented photo of him on the step. I believe the hardest dog death we humans can ever bear is the rapid accidental death, the tragedy that might have been prevented if something was done differently. I have lost a dog tragically (different circumstances) and know exactly how it feels. The only antidote is the love you feel for Tito. And the only way out is to move forward in a positive direction. Aloha.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | July 2, 2017 9:19 PM    Report this comment

I had a female Golden/Retriever Collie who was, before I adopted her, first a nanny (watch Timmy while I shower) dog, according to her family, and then started biting kids (not Timmy). She never bit through skin, no bandage, the skin isn't even red, from my experience. Super dog savvy kids ten and older, slow movements, no problem. She and I lived with mentally ill, and intellectually and developmentally disabled adults. She never did anything but make my job easier. I always carried a cloth muzzle, that she wore in public (little ones adored her, they absolutely brought back horrible memories for her, this way we all were safe) We used the basket muzzle if she was going to be in it longer than thirty minutes. So, saying Golden Retrievers don't bite is not accurate- I volunteered with Golden Rescue and we wept after temperament testing beautiful 1.5 year old dogs that attacked and ripped, and could not be placed in a safe home. They came from pure lines (whose breeders didn't bother to take the dog back but that's a whole different issue) that showed no warning. I am so sorry for every person who has gone through this. I was experienced with training young dogs, and rescuing senior dogs, so I asked for help from my vet, her behaviorist, the one I hired (My friends had kids with good dog manners, and kids who stole my Whole dog journals). All told me that I should muzzle her if there was a chance of young kids. I felt like the worst dog owner ever for muzzling her. I wasn't, and you weren't either. I am sorry beyond any words for your experience. I hate that you had this happen, especially to your sweet Tito. I could so easily be in your position. Work your magic on scared dogs that need to bloom into success, and you are great at that.

Posted by: lclass003 | July 2, 2017 7:40 PM    Report this comment

So sorry you had to go through that, that was tough for you but necessary.

Posted by: Rhiannon | July 2, 2017 6:18 PM    Report this comment

I have two dominant male dogs. One is a Shepherd/harrier mix, and the other is a AmStaff/Catahoula mix. Both are neutered. Both get exercised daily. They get along fine until they don't. My husband and I got caught in the middle of their last fight 1.5 years ago. We worked with a behaviorist for quite a while prior to the last fight because the AmStaff mix exhibited signs of redirected aggression, although he never bit our other dog. He'd snapped to warn him away, like a personal-space issue. The Shepherd mix would then "go in for the kill" and grab onto him and not let go. We still have both dogs, We minutely manage their lives. They are muzzled during the day with Baskerville muzzles when there is a likelihood of triggers (mail carrier, UPS, oil delivery, etc), They are exercised separately, We do everything in our power to keep them in a calm state, although that's difficult because the Shepherd mix is a very excitable dog. The muzzles keep them from hurting each other, and when they start a shouty match with each other, my husband and I can stay calm when we're interceding because we know they can't hurt each other. They've also learned that they can't hurt each other, and I think that helps keep them calmer. Both dogs have gone to the dog park in the past without any incident, although we've stopped going because of drama queens that started coming. When not together, these dogs are great with other people, but when together they're not. I wish things were different, that we could ease up on some of the restrictions we've put in place, but the routine of muzzling, and the managed interactions have kept all of us happier and healthier. Aggression can be managed, There are tools for it, although if aggression goes un-checked for too long, I think it's difficult to overcome.

Posted by: StriderMom | July 2, 2017 12:21 PM    Report this comment

We should also pay attention to how other dogs react to a dog. They can read each other better than most of us can. In Nancy's case, Woody wouldn't play with Ruby. It's also true that some inherently non-aggressive dogs and/or dogs with no previous experience with aggression, cannot read signs of aggression in another dog. As a result, a playful gesture on the non-aggressor's part can trigger an aggressive dog's attack.
Pointing out the prolonged effect of stress and the potential of positive excitement turning aggressive is very helpful, Nancy.
Thanks for that and for the courage it took to share your experience.

Posted by: Jessie | July 2, 2017 12:00 PM    Report this comment

This sad story is an affirmation that I did the right thing.The two dogs in my life that I had put down for "behavioral problems" where pitbull mixes. I never had the time, support or commitment to try to rehabilitate or understand them fully and I was criticized by a few "humaniacs" that I know for what I did. I held both dogs (a couple of years apart) while they were being put to sleep and cried and told each: "You are a good dog and will go to heaven like all dogs do. But, you do not fit in in our society." In fairness to them and others that may be harmed, euthanasia was the kindest thing. Valerie, thank you for sending Frank years ago to walk "Baby", when she was kenneled (the person who promised to help pay her board and give her play time and walks never came through). ...but then Baby caused Frank to break his ribs when she lunged at another dog to attack and it was a wise decision to not let him handle her anymore. She was then evaluated by a qualified ACO who thought she was adoptable and got her into our local AWS that took her in to get her adopted. She was there ten days when I got a call that there were several episodes of being aggressive without provocation, and since they were a no kill shelter I would have to take her back. To what? And that is when the decision was made to put her down. Putney was a lovable, young stray for adoption. He was with me about six weeks while I was trying to find him an appropriate home. Fortunately, he turned and attacked me one day for no apparent reason, and I am forever grateful that I had never found him a home… that it was only me that he went after and not some child.
Charlotte: (Meade Canine Rescue) we both get lots of emails and calls from people who want to save dogs that have bitten numerous pets and people, yet because these people don't want to make the final, irreversible decision, they want us to take the dog because "he is so sweet at times." The time, money and compassion spent on aggressive dogs can be used so much more wisely on 'nice' dogs… dogs with no problems other than perhaps manageable health issues or are a bit up there in age. Too many of these wonderful dogs are euthanized daily because their stories are not very dramatic and they don't make the headlines.

Posted by: Ruth, Pet Assistance, Inc. | July 2, 2017 11:10 AM    Report this comment

I took on an "aggressive" westie a few years ago that I thought I could rehab. When I got her, she had hip dysplasia that I fixed and I changed her food from Walmart to healthy organic. She trained easily and seemed to be very calm. I thought I'd fixed the issue. Boy, was I ever wrong!

Evidently, she would bite people in the face. I thought, OK, I'm just too close into her personal space, as I dodged her first snap. After she snapped, she settled down and went back to sleep as though nothing had happened. I thought that was strange, but thought it was an isolated incident. I kept her away from everyone and watched her every movement. Then one day I was at least 5 feet away from her. She appeared to be sleeping, when she leaped up and nearly took my nose off. Blood was everywhere. My roommate was ready to kill her. But she sat down as if nothing had happened.

I talked with my groomer who was also a trainer, and my vet. They were horrified at my injury and when I talked about my dog's calm demeanor afterwards, they said that I had to put her down. This made my decision - my vet said

"How could you live with yourself if she bit a child like this?"

We were spending vacations in Canada with a camp of children.

I put her down and have had guilt about this for years! Now that I've read your story, maybe I can let go of that guilt. Thanks for posting.

Posted by: Nina Hanson | July 2, 2017 10:04 AM    Report this comment

Nancy, my heart goes out to you for this heartbreaking experience, your loss of Tito, and for your courage in laying your soil bare so that others can learn. We have all learned a great deal from this story, all related to the circumstances of our own lives with dogs. We have a gorgeous Labradoodle now, Winston, who we adopted 8 years ago from our local Humane Society after a major puppy mill raid. His laidback sweet demeanour covers a very very anxious dog. He has been having seizures for about 18 months now, and your words about the effects of stress on our beloved four leggeds have really given me further food for thought. Thank you so much.

Posted by: GracieAndGeorgia | June 29, 2017 10:39 AM    Report this comment

Let us just note the fact that Ruby is half pit bull and half Corgi.
That is a verifiable fact just by looking at her and anyone who claims to be a trainer or to know dogs sholud have known that with a single glance.
Therefore, after the first, second or even third time she showed the triggerless dog aggression pit fighting bull dogs have been bred to possess, anyone claiming to know or train dogs should have euthanized her then.
This entire blog seems to be more about the author trying to convince themselves they did not endanger countless people and pets trying to "see what they could do" with a pit cross that got sent back for several instances of triggerless dog aggression.

Being outside in the rain, falling in a pond, and getting blow dried are NOT sufficient stressor for a NON pit fighting bull dog type to "launch" itself ACROSS a room to attack another dog not posing any threat.

In the SIMPLEST terms, if you put 2 golden retrievers in a pit, they would not try to kill each other simply because they were in a pit together.

If you put 2 pit fighting bull dogs together in a pit, they will t r y to kill each other simply because they are in a pit together.

Bease THAT is what they were bred and culled to do so people could bet on the out come.

Posted by: Thayer | June 28, 2017 2:53 AM    Report this comment

I am so sorry you had to experience this. It is so hard, and yes the feelings of guilt are hard to shake. And yes, it's something we need to talk about more. Many years ago, reading the book Dogs of Dreamtime greatly affected my approach to judgement when euthanasia is the right, if difficult, choice. I like to think I was not judgemental before but Karen Shanley's story and, now, yours, are reminders that none of us should ever assume we know the whole story, nor that a decision has been made rashly.
Love and compassion is the way.

Posted by: NRTomasheski | June 27, 2017 5:59 AM    Report this comment

75 comments prove that one human cannot learn for all the other well-meaning humans.

I will never consider myself capable of managing a mysteriously aggressive but otherwise healthy dog again. I managed one day in and out for 8 years on lockdown and it ended horribly for everyone.

His last victim? Me. His protector. His human. The one person he had bonded with - and I have the dognition.com results to back that up.

I watched Roscoe P Minimutt morph from Chihuahua to Hannibal Lector and back in the space of 15 minutes. It was the last straw.

I'm yet another person who learned the hard and horrifying way that not all dogs can be fixed. Not all dogs can be protected. Some dogs are sadly, just broken. The best option and fairest option in Roscoe's situation was Euthanasia. That was my last act of protecting him and everyone else from him.

I had 8 long years to learn this lesson. Roscoe was saved from a southern shelter and adopted out in upstate NY immediately. No foster family intervened. No one knew his true disposition until the troubles began.

Can you even say you "rescued" a dog that would have been euthanized by keeping the dog on lockdown and totally managed for eight years? I don't think so. The result for Roscoe was the same whether he had been adopted or not. He had some quality of life for a temporary period of time at the great expense of my own level of energy and the effort that went in to protecting him from the world and the world from him.

And this is why I no longer volunteer in rescue to work with any dog that has not been in a foster home for at least 2 months and is a known reliable dog.

I did my time. I still have Roscoe's favorite squeaky toy. And pictures of his sweet little face licking me after I had gotten home from a business trip.

I'm sorry for your loss of both Tito and Ruby. As much as I'd love to believe in the Best Friends' Mantra to "Save them All," I've learned otherwise. It's not possible to save them all, and it's heartbreaking when you haven't yet learned the hard way. And then you do.

Judging by the number of comments on this thread, a lot of us have learned the hard way. We meant well.

My new mantra is "first do no harm."

Posted by: Jeankap | June 26, 2017 9:24 PM    Report this comment

Thanks so much for writing this. It's time to start recognizing that the "no-kill" philosophy isn't realistic. In this case, it means two dogs lost their lives instead of one.

Posted by: septembermary | June 26, 2017 8:54 PM    Report this comment

I am one of the biggest animal lover there is. I almost think it is a character flaw in me. I could of done the same thing you did. But I think I have learned something from your odyssey. Thinking all dogs can be changed. Dogs are no different than people. I have given advice to friends about people with problems. My advice has been that people do not change. I an sorry to I say the same about dogs.

Posted by: Ray | June 26, 2017 6:45 PM    Report this comment

Wow - such incredibly sad stories from everyone. When we were going through our attempts to ‘save’ a dog that couldn’t be saved, I felt so isolated and always feared everyone’s judgement. Were we doing enough, were we doing it right, were we capable of controlling the situation 24/7 and be so hyper-vigilant that nothing bad ever happened? No - and no one is…

Over a 14 month period we did everything Pat Miller discusses in her article. We muzzled, we crated, we medicated, we separated, we exercised, we hired trainers, our vet ran every test imaginable, we hired a vet behaviorist (we are blessed to have a good one in the area and she worked closely with our vet), we did CAT and BAT and all the other alphabet things, we had two very separate households (not easy to do in a 2 bedroom house when one dog can’t be trusted and four others don’t understand why they are locked in a bedroom most of the time).

I won’t bore you details but our loving puppy turned 22 months old and it was like a switch flipped. Although, truth be told, looking back (‘cause hindsight is 20/20) there was always something off about that dog. Our vet behaviorist said if he was a human child, he would be diagnosed autistic…

As another poster said, your world becomes very small. I would go to work waiting for the phone call from my husband that something had happened. We were afraid to have people over (fortunately the time a child was involved no one got hurt). We couldn’t leave him with anyone. And it was very hard on the rest of our pack. And us…

I began to be very afraid of him and the possibility of what might happen…

And the day came when I got home and there had been an unlocked gate… It’s hard to believe but I was grateful it was the other 4 dogs that had gotten out. And I had ‘the talk’ with my husband. The dog was euthanized an hour later.

So 14 months and $10,000 later (yes, that’s ten thousand dollars) I learned a few things. My fur babies mean the world to me, but they are animals - and there’s more where those came from. No dog is worth your peace of mind. We owe it to aggressive dogs to humanely euthanize them before we admit that no one can watch them enough or react quick enough to stop something that can never be reversed. We need to stop making excuses or explaining away behaviors that are not just unacceptable but downright dangerous.

Nancy, my heart breaks for you. I pray you will find peace someday.

Posted by: Scamp's mom | June 26, 2017 6:03 PM    Report this comment

Nancy, I've been there. The weight in your heart won't go away, you'll just learn to live with it. No matter how many years go by, you'll keep this ground-shifting episode fresh in your memory, blame yourself for it and regret it pointlessly. But you did the right thing. You tried to help Ruby trusting your experience with dogs, way above most dog owners, and it would have worked with most of the dog-aggressive-dogs out there, but there are some beyond help, and you wouldn't know unless you tried.
I have Chito buried in my backyard, a chihuahua mix very similar in looks to Tito. It happened three Februarys ago, it could have been yesterday.
Thanks for sharing, you must have been crying out of sadness, regret, impotence, and rage through the whole typing of this tale.

Posted by: Elena | June 26, 2017 3:37 PM    Report this comment

Dear Nancy, Thank you for bringing out a "Nasty" subject....euthanizing for reasons other than health issues. I had a Cattledog pup which I raised from 8 weeks of age. Seemed a great potential Therapy and performance pup. One day while practicing heeling, he lunged past my leg, tearing the opposite one 3/4 the way around through thick jeans, hit the end of the leash, returned to heel, sat as if to say "Hey, wasn't that cool?" I didn't seek medical attention as the wound was pretty superficial and the dog vaccinated. Felt I had triggered the attack somehow. He made a couple tries at biting my husband in the next few months as I tried to work through the issue, always was restrained by a leash and didn't connect. Never showed any aggression toward my other dogs, until one day as they played in the yard, he ripped open my Catahoula mix from shoulder to flank. Not a deep wound again, but required sutures. I felt sure I could manage this........ I had for years managed two females who disliked each other immensely! I was in denial. These weren't herding nips, but rather slashing attacks. My vet, with whom I work, tried to remind me that there are many good dogs out there and the risk was too great for a biting dog. He has always welcomed my bringing a dog to work with me, but Cowboy was taboo (not that I would consider it after the incidences)! After months of agonizing, the final straw was when he on leash, reached over and sunk his teeth in my female Border Collie's shoulder as she walked past us....not running, not seeming to be either aggressive or fearful. The light finally came on, what it would mean to "manage" this dog, who gave no indications of what he was about to do. I have always prided myself on my ability to "read" dogs but pride comes before the fall... thankfully my fall was not as hard as yours, but it could well have been and the fact that my dogs are all larger than Cowboy saved me that horror. Thank you sooo much for your article and honesty. I hope others take it to heart. I fear the dogs that are adopted out with the caveat of being "Managed" only to have the owners fall into a sense of false security because "He has never offered to bite" until that fatal day.... God Bless and my we all take this lesson to heart!

Posted by: All Around Dog | June 26, 2017 10:20 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for sharing your story, Nancy. It brings to mind a GSP dog we got as a puppy. For the first 6 years he was wonderful with the other dogs and I never would have guessed he would become dog aggressive. I have quite a few dogs and we never had even the slightest issue. The kids showed him in 4-H and he was wonderful with all the kids and the other dogs including strange ones. All that started to change when at a 4-H event he was near two black labs that got into a fight. The fight was quickly ended and our dog wasn't involved in the fight, but it seemed to spark something in him. At the same time we had two adolescent dogs, one a GSP and the other a Bluetick Coonhound. The two grew up as best buds, but had recently started to get into low level quarrels. There was never an serious fights between them, but the older dog started to really feed on any disagreements between them. After that we couldn't allow the older dog with either of the adolescents or he would attack them. The scary thing was when he fought he would clamp down and refuse to let go. We would have to pry his mouth open to get him to release. For the first while we tried to manage him, by keeping him kenneled when any other dogs were out. I had several young kids at the time and unfortunately there were a couple times were the gate wasn't latched securely or he was accidentally left out and if we didn't get to him quickly enough an ugly fight was the result. One time he sunk his teeth into my son's thigh while my son was trying to keep him away from the Bluetick, which was his dog. I don't think he meant to bite my son. I think in the fray he bit the wrong target. In all of this he never showed aggression to people, but there was a real danger of someone getting seriously injured trying to break up a fight. Another time he attacked my 12-year-old GSP male and nearly killed him. The last fight he got into was another attack on the Bluetick. We quickly got them separated and the Bluetick seemed fine at first. The other dog had grabbed him by the throat and as usual had clamped down and wouldn't release until we forced him to. There was no broken skin beyond a few superficial scratches. The area where he was bitten swelled some, but we though he would heal up fine. Two days later the Bluetick died suddenly. We think a blood clot let go from the bruised area. In all the fights he had gotten into he was always the instigator, although the other dogs tried to defend themselves. I thought about keeping him, but I knew I would have to literally keep him under lock and key in his kennel for the rest of his life to prevent another fight. My next thought was to re-home him where there wasn't any other dogs to fight with or small kids to let him out by accident. I actually found someone who wanted him, but the more I thought about it I knew that if ever given a chance he would kill another dog and the guy did have neighbors with dogs. We decided to have him euthanized. Our vet agreed it was the right thing to do under the circumstances.
In hindsight I feel I was rather irresponsible to keep him around as long as I did. I kept remembering the wonderful dog he had been all those years and for the first while I couldn't really believe he had gone bad and was dangerous. At 2-years-old the Bluetick he killed had just started to do well hunting and my son was very proud of him. My son who was 11 at the time was devastated by his dog's death.

Posted by: Hall777 | June 26, 2017 9:01 AM    Report this comment

A heartbreaking story, so many losses. My heart is with you, Nancy.

Posted by: mej | June 26, 2017 7:28 AM    Report this comment


Thank you so much for your candidness and openness about what happened with Ruby. It takes a lot of courage to be so honest about such a situation and I am very grateful for your willingness to relate in full what happened. My heart goes out to you, and you have my deepest sympathy. I too had an aggressive dog, that we adopted at the age of 1. Despite the years and thousands of dollars that we spent to try and help her, in the end we had to euthanize her for her aggression. It was devastating to put a 4 year old dog down, but we had no other choice. I truly hope that you will find peace with what happened, and thank you so very very much for sharing this story. I am so grateful, on a daily basis for WDJ, and for the integrity with which you publish it, and live your life.

Posted by: 03dogmom | June 25, 2017 8:53 PM    Report this comment

Dear Nancy, Thank you for writing such an important and honest article about aggressive dogs. You have not written in a politically correct way and I completely agree with everything you wrote. I have shared your article with my rescue partner. We have been working together for 20 years now and have encountered so many rescue people who claim to value the sanctity of life but are willing to place dogs whom they know to be dangerous and will eventually cause harm to humans and/or other dogs all in the name of saving lives. There seems to be a disconnect in their minds about the inconsistency of their own values. I too do not see happiness for a dog to be left alone in a cage for the rest of its days in order to "save" its life.

Posted by: Nancyhc | June 25, 2017 3:51 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing your experience. I think those people who are trying to second guess you should be ashamed.

Posted by: Ratman2455 | June 25, 2017 3:36 PM    Report this comment

This brought tears to my eyes. Nancy, I can't imagine the heartbreak, self-recrimination, and grief you've been going through. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing this story publicly. It was incredibly brave of you, particularly when others, including other trainers, can be so judgemental. The truth is that there are some dogs who, as you said, have no place living in society. And, as you pointed out, they are taking the space in a shelter or rescue of a perfectly nice, adoptable dog. Having been in rescue and training for over 20 years, I completely understand how you wanted to give Ruby another chance, and how you would have been the perfect person to do it, given your experience. What this story shows is not that you did something terrible--you didn't--but that regardless of how careful a new owner might be, and how qualified, some dogs will NEVER be safe in a home environment, and euthanasia is the right thing. I also give you a lot of credit that after what happened, you stayed with Ruby right to the end. You have a kind heart. My condolences on Tito, and I hope that you can heal from this. Sharing your story will educate so many others and will more than likely save others dogs' lives as well.

Posted by: doglover1111 | June 25, 2017 9:59 AM    Report this comment

I am so sorry to hear about Tito! I train service dogs and years ago someone donated an imported GSD to our organization. Ava tested out wonderfully and we were excited to have her. However, after we had her for a few months thinks started to surface and we realized the dog had been abusively trained. At that time we decided that she could not be placed as a service dog down the road, but we could use her as a demo dog in classes. I kept her and worked with her issues for years, certain men could never pet her but she would let you know which ones by laying her ears back. She was wonderful to work with and I used her to help teach our teams many new commands. I work with a lot of veterans who have TBI so having a dog to show what we want and how we get there is priceless.
However, she was not allowed off leash to play with dogs outside of our household and introducing her to other dogs coming to love with us took quite a while. She had bitten several other dogs (at my house) I will admit due to her taking it too far and trying to control them. But it wasn't like she went after every dog, she got her RE and CD titles with other dogs jumping each other in the ring while she stayed in position. BUT...one day she went after my youngest son's dog who was very submissive to her, then she did it again, but this time at a friend's who is a trainer and I wasn't there. My friend said the attack was premeditated, she went across the field to get her. I called a fellow dog training friend and talked to her. I knew what had to happen, but this was MY dog, how had I failed her? Rehoming wasn't an option. My fear was even if we managed the household differently, if the wrong door was opened at the wrong time then my 5 year old son who loves his dog, shows his dog and competes in dog sports with her would wind up watching his dog get killed or one of the kids would get bitten trying to break up a dog fight. Nope, couldn't do it...couldn't take the chance that one of my KIDS would get hurt. I love my dogs, but they come after my family.
I she'd many tears, but I had Ava put down. Just shy of her 6th birthday. A perfectly healthy (physically) dog and it broke my heart. But I knew the alternative and first and foremost I'm a mom and I wasn't willing to take the chance.
It's been a year this month that I put her down. I still miss her. I really miss her when I'm teaching classes to my veterans and am needing her to show them what the final product is. I miss her when I'm out throwing the ball for the other dogs. But let's be honest...I don't miss the stress of managing her around people and other dogs. I have since gotten a puppy and have super socialized and exposed him. While he isn't Ava, he is in some capacity able to help with training, but even more importantly he can be around any dog friendly dog and everyone.
And I get it, people will say enough wasn't done. Everyone who isn't in that situation becomes what we call a SME (subject matter expert). However, we do the best we can with what we have, which is what you did with Ruby. You gave her some wonderful time while she was with you. You will always have the what ifs floating in your mind, I sure do, but remember not every dog can or should be rehabbed. For some euthanasia is when they are finally at peace.
I cannot tell you how sorry I am for your loss of Tito.
And lastly, please, do not take to heart all of the comments saying there were other ways!

Posted by: Brooke C. | June 25, 2017 7:16 AM    Report this comment

Our dog Lexie was dog aggressive and had to be managed carefully. One of the earlier commenters mentioned that managing a dog with these issues shrinks your world and that is so true. Lexie died seven months ago at 14 years old and while we miss her, we do not miss the liability issues.

My condolences on Tito and Ruby. This is just such a sad story.

Posted by: Phurn | June 24, 2017 9:52 PM    Report this comment

I once fostered a hound mix. He was a strong resource guarder of normally low value items such as stuffed toys. I managed the environment while I started working with him. I was already starting to worry about the kind of home he could be adopted in to.I knew I needed experienced dog owners who could manage the environment and be committed to training with me. One day I heard a horrible noise, looked up and saw him chasing another dog. I burst into tears. I knew exactly what I was looking at. He was trying to kill the other dog. I recalled the other dog to me and the hound stopped and went back to the spot where it started. Sure enough, I missed a toy. The next day I took him in and had him euthanized. Why? Where would I find a home that could handle that dog? I knew without a doubt he would kill over a toy. Would I put that dog into a home? No. Why would I ever take the chance? It was sad for me but I never regretted my decision. The way I look at it, I kept a catastrophe from happening.
I'm sorry for your sweet Tito. Please forgive yourself. That's a really hard lesson to learn. I hope you find peace in your heart regarding Tito.

Posted by: Jean | June 24, 2017 5:56 PM    Report this comment

First: Deepest sympathies for your inconsolable grief. Second: You are to be highly commended for EVERYTHING you did—nothing wrong. Of course, Monday-morning quarterbacking will provide a ton of different options, but you did more than the average adopter would ever have been capable of doing to try to save Rubie, especially given current dangerous policies (well-intended but beyond naďve) being promoted and practiced at shelters and rescue organizations. Adopting out any potentially aggressive dogs is close to, or should be considered, a crime. As soon as we see “must” or “should” be “only dog,” that is the first red flag of a disaster in the making.
This story is a “cautionary tale,” but it’s a very common occurrence. Many similar altercations never get reported, so shelters and rescue organizations continue to adopt out dogs that will cause exactly the same kinds of injuries, deaths and heartbreak. Those who advocate for “no kill” exacerbate the problems, along with those who claim the dog(s) is(are) not “aggressive,” but rather “re-active.” Sugar-coating behaviors is irresponsible, cruelty in the making, and sets the stage for future heartbreak.
Euthanization must be one of the very first considerations when a dog has shown aggression and especially if it has attacked any other dog (or human, of course), especially if unprovoked. In a number of cases, the victim does not show overt injuries, but needs years of expensive treatment for nerve, neurological, or other internal ailments that indeed lead to death—all caused by an aggressive dog attack.
No one wants to see any adoptable dog put down, but keeping aggressive dogs in adoption line ups is a disservice to non-aggressive dogs. Dog “aggressors” are time bombs for unsuspecting adopters, as well as their families, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Please, for the sake of everyone, humanely euthanize them and stop expanding the trail of heartache with meaningless band aids.

Posted by: Ernie Jay | June 24, 2017 12:07 PM    Report this comment

I'm in tears reading your story. Thank you for your heart, caring so much for these dogs. I am so sorry for your loss, thank you for sharing this information.

Posted by: klperry26 | June 24, 2017 10:06 AM    Report this comment

Ruby belonged to an only dog home and needed a muzzle going out. I have 7 dogs 3 males and 4 females and the females don't get along so what i do is that i have a system of sharing kernels and a timetable for them playing outside so that they do not get in each others way. Before that there were some terrible fights but everything seems to have eased to an occasional growl since they can no longer get at each other.

Posted by: chrisdame | June 24, 2017 6:58 AM    Report this comment


I am SO sorry for your loss. Yes, hindsight is 20/20. It is HUGE of you, to tell us this and so painful to have to relive it.

IMO, as a foster or dog evaluator, you ALWAYS need to put your OWN dogs' needs & safety FIRST. IMO (and as another poster said) Ruby DID tell you who she was, you just could not, or would not believe it. This is a little like the woman who SAID she felt "uncomfortable" in a certain situation (but ignored her instincts) and got ATTACKED, mugged or raped. Too many people (esp women, and I am one) feel for some REASON, they should IGNORE their instincts. {Don't!}

I would not EVER take out 3 or 4 dogs at once. Your friend could not really help you (still too many dogs, not enough people.) YOU CANNOT control that situation, and even less so, when you have added a complete & unpredictable UNKNOWN, in the mix.

Sadly, Ruby went for the most vulnerable of your pack. I do NOT think that was by accident, but it could be argued. Tito might have been the most convenient dog to "go after" at the point she "went off the rails", BUT he was also the least able to fight her off, or to survive, if the worst happened, since he lived with some back pain and was SO small.

Knowing her prior dog-attack history, I would not have exposed Ruby to either; your friend's small dog, OR to Tito. That would have been my advice, had I known what you were about to do.

Posted by: Betsy | June 24, 2017 3:23 AM    Report this comment

I appreciate the article and how hard it must have been for you to write. All I could think while read it thought was - muzzle training. For the love of God, I don't know why so many people refuse to see the value and necessity of muzzle training. With a well fitting basket muzzle a dog aggressive dog can play at the beach, go for jogs and generally enjoy life without the potential to harm or kill other animals. In Europe many dogs are allowed to ride public transportation with a muzzle and I've seen many happy, muzzled dogs accompanying their owners on errands all around town. In Venice they ride the boat ferries happily muzzled and not one person blinks at the muzzle. For some reason, back in my own country, I can't seem to convince people that muzzle training is the only responsible way to take ANY aggressive dog to public spaces - period. I wish someone could tell me why so many otherwise intelligent people think that it's better to allow a dog to harm another dog or human rather than simply train the dog to comfortably wear a simple muzzle, which would prevent any potential for harm. I don't get it.

Posted by: GSD owner | June 23, 2017 10:49 PM    Report this comment

I have a rescue that is fine with my husband and I but doesn't let anyone pet her if she doesn't know and like you. She has tried to snap at me but I move quickly and it is over. I am a senior and she should never have been given to me. Now I have a problem.

Posted by: JaonM | June 23, 2017 10:24 PM    Report this comment

Oh Nancy thank you for sharing this story. We adopted one of our foster dogs because we were worried that she would bite.....and she did ...she attacked and bit dogs 4 times (bit my husband twice trying to get her off of the other dog). We kept trying different things but nothing worked. One of my dogs had surgery twice but finally died because of his injuries. When you have an unstable dog your world becomes very small. You cannot board the dog and you can't risk a petsitter being injured....you cannot travel or have people over to the house. We did have her euthanized while I held her (the vet agreed with my decision). I'm so sorry for your loss of Tito and all of the trauma everyone suffered.

Posted by: Olivia | June 23, 2017 9:34 PM    Report this comment

Nancy, I am so sorry for your heartache, and for the human tendency to blame ourselves, as if we can foresee and prevent all possibilities, which we can't. I have a 2 year dog, an aggressive rescue stray whom I love very much. I exercise him off leash in remote areas where we are not likely to encounter other dogs. He is cat and squirrel aggressive, and if we run into other dogs, i put him on a leash. He was feral when i got him at 6 months old, and i think "hunting vermin" kept him alive. Unfortunately cats and small dogs are hardly vermin. I have considered exercising him off leash in a muzzle. Currently we are using the Outfox, to prevent foxtails, and he can't bite thru that. Any dogfight is potentially dangerous, but a small dog vs. a large dog is particularly deadly. Aggression is one of the canine survival drives, so we should be surprised it does not happen more often. Mine fights only rarely, and the main precursor seems to be barrier frustration. But it hasn't been forseeable; once it happened after a long tiring off leash 2 hour romp at black butte lake, when we had returned home. My 14 year old 50 lb. is the target (the only other male). He has never had a problem with my two females.....dogs are pretty complicated organisms, it is no wonder we don't grasp their subtle atavistic evolutionary rules. They don't know they are civilized.

Posted by: hilfri | June 23, 2017 8:48 PM    Report this comment

Nancy, Transparency takes courage. Thank you for sharing. For those who critiqued, maybe they have yet to make regrettable decisions and cannot fully understand. If only we could go back. But we can't, so we take your words to heart and move forward with you.

Posted by: HT | June 23, 2017 8:37 PM    Report this comment

Nancy, This is an important story to tell. Thank you for being so brave in sharing your story. This is such an educational, yet heartbreaking post. So sorry for your loss. Thinking of you and your canine family. Karen

Posted by: KarenM | June 23, 2017 8:04 PM    Report this comment

My current rescue is in my opinion dog aggressive. The sad thing is other dog owners don't get that if their off leash dog comes up to my leashed dog bad things can happen. I am very very aware of our surroundings while walking and I redirect her if she sees something before I do. If I do I remove us from the potential stress. She's very treat motivated so if we're caught in a situation I am able to focus her w/treats. And I'm not about to not walk her because others are not as responsible. I have a dog walker for two days s week and she gradually introduced her dog to mine, says they're ok. But seriously people need to be educated about dogs, there's so much more to know besides feeding, grooming, vet appointments and exercise. No two are the same. And most importantly I am sorry for your loss 1.

Posted by: Mabregs | June 23, 2017 8:01 PM    Report this comment

I can barely see through my tears to type. Your continuing generosity in sharing your experiences in order to help the rest of us is awe-inspiring. I am devastated for your loss.

Posted by: ChicagoBeth | June 23, 2017 7:57 PM    Report this comment

YOU DID~!!!!

Posted by: jd_3010 | June 23, 2017 7:47 PM    Report this comment

Oh, Nancy, you have all my empathy for your heartbreak. This is one of the most touching, identifiable tellings of a trainer's nightmare as I have ever read. What professional trainer hasn't been in your shoes -- curious about a dog they've known, willing to investigate, yet also a dog owner with responsibility to their own house dogs? We all take risks fostering a dog "just for a day or two to see if I can help" or using our own bomb-proof dogs as decoys with questionable dogs because we trust our guys. The outcome with Ruby was the worst possible outcome, and my heart breaks for you and the guilt I know you're carrying for what happened to Tito. There is no pat answer to the "right" thing to do from here on out. Your decision is absolutely right for you, and no one should second guess that. For what it's worth, after years of using my own dogs in my work, I no longer expose them to dog-aggressive dogs under any circumstances.

Posted by: Jennifer CPDT | June 23, 2017 7:27 PM    Report this comment

I am so sorry about your loss but why tempt fate?Why go swimming with a group of dogs where there is no control or safety net?It seems like hubris to assume that you could solve the problem.I live in NYC in a huge building with many dogs of all sizes and a a large amount of pitbull mixes. I often see dog owners coaching their dogs trying to control them but sometimes the best thing to do is just avoid the situation.I have two dogs and if I see a dog that is a problem I just go the other way .The worst is the owner who makes the unruly dog sit and listen often it is so evident that if the dog were off the leash the owner would have no control at all.There is a golden retriever who loathes my dogs the owner has apologized but when I see this dog we leave.I do not understand why if there is a known problem someone insists on socializing .Put a muzzle on and let the dog go out on individual walks and exercise it where it doesn't encounter other dogs why ask for trouble?

Posted by: bersam | June 23, 2017 7:13 PM    Report this comment

I literally have tears in my eyes reading this. You did the right thing by having Ruby put down. I'm a wreck about Tito but I've learned so much from this article so his passing has taught at least this trainer a huge lesson. Take good care of yourself as you grieve over this. I'm broken-hearted for you.

Posted by: Heather.s | June 23, 2017 6:36 PM    Report this comment

Dear Nancy, I'm so sorry for your losses. You gave Tito a good life and the very end was but a small fraction of his time here. I'm sure the good parts are what really counted with him. As for Ruby, it is hard to look at a sweet-seeming dog and believe she can kill. You gave her a chance at being happy and it seemed to be working. I know you're an expert and so are some of your friends, but it's 20/20 hindsight to believe the outcome was inevitable. I think you are brave to share your story. I recommend a book by Sue Klebold, "A Mother's Reckoning." Her son was one of the two Columbine shooters. It might be healing to read it. With the best will in the world, we cannot predict or prevent every tragedy. Thinking of you with the hope that in time you will remember the good times with Tito and that any mistakes you made were made from a caring place in your heart. Sincerely, Claire F

Posted by: ClaireF | June 23, 2017 6:06 PM    Report this comment

Thank you of telling your story. It is heartbreaking. You did the right thing. Sometimes the right thing is the hardest.

Posted by: jet4221 | June 23, 2017 6:01 PM    Report this comment

You knew Ruby had prior dog attacks....why would you put Ruby, yourself and your dogs in that position??
Going by this you have no idea about dog behaviour...
Ruby should of clearly been at a only dog household with someone experienced with dogs...
Its common since...even Ruby was telling you ,l want a home to my self.
How did you not see this after the first incident!!

Posted by: mannis | June 23, 2017 5:57 PM    Report this comment

Thank you so much for your article.

I have never had any problems with my dogs. This is a good reality check. Dogs can be problems, dogs can have problems, just the same as some people.

I wouldn't walk up to a group of people I don't know and assume they all were wonderful, would love me, just needed some loving. Yet I would do this with dogs!

You did the right thing.

Posted by: Bullseye | June 23, 2017 4:55 PM    Report this comment

Sharing your experiences and insight is a great gift to those of us who passionately love dogs. Thank you.
Jessica Davis-Stein

Posted by: jd-s | June 23, 2017 4:53 PM    Report this comment

Suggest check out 4 min Ted talk; Billy Collins, What Dogs Really Think.

Posted by: Linda Furney | June 23, 2017 3:31 PM    Report this comment

Well, I didn't exactly keep a long story short, but I hope my story is able to help someone, sometime.

Posted by: GiftofGalway | June 23, 2017 3:03 PM    Report this comment

Oh, this was so hard to read. My heart goes out to you.
A few years ago, I had a Gordon Setter. He wasn't my first and I got him as a pup from a respected breeder. We did conformation, obedience, nose work and a few other things. No problem at all. To keep a long story short...one day he attacked me out of the blue when I walked by him. I was shaken and tried to figure out what triggered it. Since I was between my husband and the dog, we decided he was resource guarding. We did a lot of behavior modification, had him examined by specialists, tested for medical problems.
He seemed fine, then months later, he came after me a second time. Again, no warning. It happened a few more times, but very rarely, almost a year apart and always me, never any other dog or person. Each time required a visit to the emergency vet, and sometimes to the emergency room as well. Always to the vet first, even though my arms were bleeding from his bites and soaking my clothes.
Why did I keep trying? Because although I was never able to convince veterinary specialists, who blew me off as a pet owner clutching at straws, I believed that his behavior was in fact a seizure. He would be perfectly normal, then leap at me with eyes that didn't have a clue who I was or where he was or what he was doing. Ten seconds later, he would be back to normal and wondering why we were so upset. In fact, as horrified as I was while the attacks were ongoing, a part of me wasn't scared because I knew it was a seizure and would stop within seconds. It did but the intensity escalated a little every time.
I was told many times I should put him down, and once even made the appointment to have him euthanized. But I waited a couple of days and by then, I couldn't do it so I cancelled. OK, maybe I was an idiot, but I knew it was a neurological issue, he was ill, not aggressive, and I couldn't give up on him.
Finally, after trying everything, as a last resort, a vet suggested Prozac. It seemed to work, and everything was fine, but I had forgotten that he only seized once a year anyway, and sure enough, twelve months to the day, he attacked again. Even as it was ongoing, all I could think was that it was over, I was out of options, I was going to have to put him down. To prevent me from changing my mind again, I made the appointment for the vet to come out to the house the next day.
I can't describe the sheer agony of watching this happy, healthy dog that I loved, and who trusted me, being put to sleep. It's hard just to think about it, much less type that sentence, without crying, and this was four years ago. Shortly after he died, I was put in contact with, of all things, a Gordon Setter breeder of many years who was studying canine genetics at Tufts. He explained that I was right, and that my dog's condition, though very rare, does happen in the breed. I asked if there was anything I could have done, any medication that would have worked. He said yes, but any medication would not totally prevent another seizure so I would have been risking my life. Even though my theory was validated, however, and irrational as it is, I will always regret putting him down, and probably never forgive myself.
During this time, I had a beloved Irish Setter, one of those once-in-a-lifetime heart dogs. As he aged, I began to dread the day I would lose him, convinced I wouldn't be able to get through it. Six months later, when my vet and I let him go, peacefully, with his head in my lap, as sad as it was, it was bearable and in its own way, beautiful. But I will never get over the memory of the day my Gordon Setter died, at four years old, in the prime of his life.
So Nancy, I understand what a horrible experience it was losing Tito, but please don’t blame yourself. You did the absolute best you could do, and in the long run, saved other dogs, and even Ruby herself, from future tragedy.

Posted by: GiftofGalway | June 23, 2017 3:01 PM    Report this comment

If we are going to recognize dogs as sentient beings, then we should consider the possibility that, very rarely, individuals are either born, or become evil - for lack of a better word. Barbara Woodhouse wasn't right. There are bad dogs. We had one. I knew better. I was wrong. We must, very rarely, accept that reality. And try to forgive ourselves and the dog. The latter is much easier than the former.

Posted by: Linda Furney | June 23, 2017 2:47 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing your story. I admire your ability to share such a painful experience. The loss of Tito in such a manner will always weigh heavily on your heart. And you will always be sad about Ruby. But we all make mistakes, and I'm not sure if most of us would have done anything different. I will look forward to reading the article in the July issue. Thank you again.

Posted by: abigalecat@yahoo.com | June 23, 2017 2:03 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing. It nearly broke my heart as I read your story. As a volunteer for a shelter, I started out being optimistic and felt like I could help most of the dogs. It didn't take long before I realized how much stress the dogs experienced in that environment. I lost count of the number of dogs who shut down because they were no longer able to handle the excessive stimulation, of the other dogs barking and having to be locked in a run for weeks on end. It became obvious that it was in the dogs best interest to be humanely euthanized. I was in constant contact with the staff as I walked and interacted with each dog. I watched as they no longer used tried to use their noses on the walks. When the dog shut everything out, I realized it was time. Yes, I shed a lot of tears when they were euthanized. In my heart, I knew that they were no longer in mental and emotional pain as they passed away.

Posted by: Jeri | June 23, 2017 2:01 PM    Report this comment

Aloha Nancy,
Thank you for having the courage to share your story. You have likely saved my cat's life! After watching my new poodle puppy vigorously shake one of his toys (like how you described Ruby shaking Tito), I knew I needed to watch him carefully around my cat. I now realize that even though he responds immediately to my calling him if his body gets stiff when he is looking at the cat, it is possible that he may try to "play" with her without giving those cues.

Posted by: Dawn T. | June 23, 2017 12:44 PM    Report this comment

I agree with you. Even if such dogs CAN be rehabilitated, the cost, trauma and potential harm to other dogs and people is too great. There are so many dogs that need care and do not require such investment of time and money and are not so risky. Yep, you made a mistake (it probably won't be your last), but you are doing a world of good by passing your mistake on to others. Forgive yourself. I'm sure Tito has and tears are running down my face.

Posted by: maquignon | June 23, 2017 12:26 PM    Report this comment

We had a similar situation with a foster dog we took in. We had two dogs (female and male) and the foster was a pitbull/straffordshire. I grew attached to her from volunteering for a rescue and walking her at the kennel. At first things were fine and the dogs seemed ok but one night she attacked my female beagle mix without any warning. I was home alone and I still am not sure how I got them separated. I thought it was an isolated incident so I I kept her separated from my female thinking that maybe it was because they were both females and she was trying to be the dominant dog. It was disappointing because the rescue group did not help me with my vet bill or try to assess if she was dangerous and should not be fostered. A short time later I was at work when my son called me frantic that the foster dog once again had attacked but this time it was my male dog. She came into the room where my son and the dog were and without any warning attacked him. He was lucky to have survived. She was returned back to the rescue group and continued to be put up for adoption. I saw on their website that she was eventually adopted and I pray that it was a home without other dogs. Dog fights are the most frightening things to experience and are very dangerous. I can totally understand why you felt the way you did and made the decision you did. It is very difficult to get to the bottom of why dogs are aggressive and fix the problem.

Posted by: Dorsecar | June 23, 2017 12:16 PM    Report this comment

We adopted an adult mini poodle mix from rescue and soon learned that he was large breed dog aggressive. We already had a trainer involved because within a day or two of bringing him home he was air snapping at me when I left home and tried to keep him from following me out the door. (She dx separation anxiety which we successfully treated with a year long desensitization training program.)

We lived in Chicago in a very densley populated area and did not have our own yard so Andy was walked in the neighborhood 4 x daily. Every walk he would see a large breed dog, even if across the street, and go off. We avoided all large breed dogs (thankfully all dogs were on leash) and never had any actual fights break out. We never took him to any off leash dog areas and we did socialize him with many other small dogs via a small dog playgroup that we hosted in our church gym during the cooler months of the year.

I worked with him quite a bit trying to desensitize and counter condition his response to this particular stimuli (large breed dogs of a certain body type with short hair) without success. I bought tubes to load with wet dog food (my boy is extremely food motivated) as the training treat because licking is supposed to be calming. Followed training protocol but did not make much progress.

Several years later when we moved out of state, bought a home with a fenced yard and did not see large breed dogs daily he is a totally different guy. His brain is no longer constantly being flooded with fight or flight adrenaline and cortisol (stress response hormone). He can now walk right alongside a fence with a golden retriever running the fence line and barking and not react at all.

It does have a lot to do with the physiological stress and cortisone level in the dogs brain. As the writer stated, it can take several days to recover from one incidence of stress and for cotisol levels to return to normal. When a dog is being regularly exposed to the stimulus, the brain cannot recover.

I would not let him loose with large breed dogs to this day so as not to borrow trouble but thankfully its easy for him and us to have a happy life in this setting without any safety risks. I board small non shedding dogs in my home and he has never been aggressive to any of them. For him it was a certain type of dog.

I agree with the author's decision based on her rationale.


Posted by: FurkidBoarding | June 23, 2017 12:07 PM    Report this comment

I am crying as I write this. I am so sorry for what you, Tito and Ruby have gone through. I know it's a big hurt. I went through a similar situation but after much work, and 2 years, it had a happy ending. A well known breeder of Jack Russells was in bad health and was closing down her kennel. I already had 3 dogs from her kennel. Bean was my 1st one. We fell in love. A couple of months later, I got Daisy. A few weeks later, I was given Sizzler, who was never properly socialized and didn't behave like a Jack Russell. She was afraid of everything. She had been born days before Shirley's quadruple by-pass. Those 3 dogs won in racing, agility, conformation and became therapy dogs. Fast forward 2 years. Shirley's health was bad. She was closing her kennel. Pixie, Bean's 8 yr. old mama was going to be put down. She was a hard dog to handle and Shirley didn't feel there were many people who could handle her. My (now ex) husband talked me into taking her. All was fine for a few months. Then I started seeing signs of aggression towards the other dogs. I'd get her, then Bean out of the kennels and bring them in together. She showed signs of aggression. Bean would avoid her. I thought it was a dominance thing so I got Bean out first, then his mom. That worked a couple of times, then signs of aggression from Pixie. She downright attacked Sizzler. Then a couple of days later, she went after Daisy, who wasn't going to take her crap. They had been best buds! Then Elmo, who was nowhere near her, on the other side of the room, busily getting a ball from under the desk. I had a complete thyroid panel done on Pixie. Sudden aggression in dogs can be a sign of the thyroid being out of kilter. It was normal. So, while loose in the house with the others, she wore a muzzle. Outside in her kennel, no muzzle.
I was able to walk her with the boys without a muzzle. She walked on my left, the others were on my right. I let her know I had the muzzle with me. It turns out she wanted no other dogs near me. She didn't want to share. I spent 2 years and countless hours of adjusting her attitude. Her big "Aha" moment came when we were at Nationals, with about 1500 other Jack Russells. I was there by myself with 8 dogs. I walked them in 2 flights, the girls together, and Pixie, with the boys. I didn't want to chance her going after anyone's dog so I muzzled her for our walks. She absolutely hated that. I simply explained the questioning looks with, "She wants to be my problem child and I don't want any problems". Shortly after the start of our 2nd walk, she really fought to get the muzzle off.
I sat down, looked her in the eye and told her I'd take the muzzle off but if she dared to even think about going after ANY dog, the muzzle would go back on and stay on unless she was eating, drinking or in her crate. From that day forward she behaved like any normal Jack Russell. She could even be loose in the house with the others, and no muzzle. She lived another 8 years, and would do anything for me. My only regret is that I didn't get her as a pup. She would have been an agility champ.

Posted by: Cindie M | June 23, 2017 11:53 AM    Report this comment

I'm so sorry this happened to you all. The loss of a beloved dog is so painful, and to lose one to trauma is devastating. Please stop blaming yourself: you did your absolute best with all of the knowledge you had at the time, and surely we can ask no more from anyone. I will miss your Tito stories, and I have learned from them. It is so brave of you to expose so much so that we can learn. I will remember.

Posted by: Alice R. | June 23, 2017 11:39 AM    Report this comment

I believe Ruby clearly told you who she was on numerous occasions. It is sad to hear that this elderly Chihuahua met such a brutal end.

Posted by: MollyzMom | June 23, 2017 11:38 AM    Report this comment

I was barely able to read your brave and compassionate and heartbreaking article .. I am tears as I write this. Crying for Ruby, crying for Tito, and mostly crying for you. You took Ruby on because you are such a compassionate and empathetic person. You seem to understand most dogs as if you were part dog yourself. You do what you do out of lobe, as someone else stated. But Nancy, you are human, not God. Don't be so hard on yourself. I believe most of us feel that you go far beyond what many of us do for the four-legged beings among us, and we applaud you, pray for you, and send love to you. Those are the messages you should read, not the ones from self-righteous, cold hearted folks.

Posted by: 3grrrs | June 23, 2017 11:31 AM    Report this comment

I am sitting here sobbing after I read this article. I just can't believe that Tito is gone and the pain you must have in your heart. I am so, so sorry.

Posted by: Sportschick | June 23, 2017 11:08 AM    Report this comment

Nancy thank you so much for the courage and wisdom to share this. Peace to you and yours.

Posted by: Sarahj | June 23, 2017 10:59 AM    Report this comment

Nancy, your experience brought back some terrible memories for me too. I discovered, too late, that this particular poor dog had suffered SRMA (meningitis) for far too long, and it had obviously affected his brain. He was a beautiful loving dog, who would attack humans and dogs without the slightest reason or warning. Stressful situations we managed successfully, but the sudden attacks that could not possibly be foreseen were something else entirely, and we had no choice but to put him to sleep...we rescued him from a situation where he was kept in a back garden, never walked and no human interaction other than to feedo him. He had fur balls the size of tennis balls when we got him. He seemed to settle in so well. I took him to training classes which he loved, and then bang, he attacked my husband as he was taking him out for a walk. We made excuses thinking he might have eyesight problems. I took him to Newmarket to be tested and they said he had the start of cataracts, but nothing to worry about yet. The next human attack was when he launched himself at my friend, who only the previous week had been cradling his head on her lap, and he was loving it. He had also turned back a couple of times on walks in the forest, deliberately to attack another dog for no reason at all...we discovered he'd attacked his owner and his friends dog, hence he was confined to the back garden, never, ever allowed in the house again. The owner apparently loved the dog too much to be able to part with him, till I offered him a home. I just wish the owner had been honest with me from the outset. It would have saved an awful lot of heartache...

Posted by: Whisper | June 23, 2017 10:57 AM    Report this comment

Nancy, Ive followed your writing for a while. Im sorry to read the story about Ruby..R.I.P. Ruby and little Tito. You did the right thing..and you certainly are dog behaviors savvy.. Despite the other post saying more could/should have been done. I wouldnt agree. You were spot on!

Posted by: Twodogmom | June 23, 2017 10:43 AM    Report this comment

We submitted a story and it was published in the Whole Dog Journal. Sassy was a golden retriever rescue with "baggage". When the story was published, we had accomplished the amazing. Jasmine, our golden retriever that was getting attacked by Sassy, was no longer getting attacked. Then it happened again. She was blocked by my husband when she tried to kill Jasmine. The attack was brought on by Jasmine vomiting. Sassy wanted the barf. Jasmine said no way. Jasmine was sliced open and so was my husband. Blood everywhere. Maybe at that point we should've said enough is enough. But we decided that management would work. Sassy got along great with our other golden, Daisy. So we fenced off part of the yard for Sassy for when they were outside. If we had children in the house, it would not have been an option. Well we worked it out. Sassy lived to be 14. Jasmine lived to be 13. Sassy also was a wonderful big sister to our golden retriever puppy, Rosebud. No attacks and really loved Rosebud. But then along came Karma. Not as smart at reading doggie body language. She was bitten on the snout by Sassy. It did all work out in the end. It can work to manage a dog like this, but you must be diligent. Sassy had a great life. They could all go on walks together on leash with no problems. We loved Sassy and did not want to give up on her. We knew she would not make it in another home. We are glad we took the effort to manage the situation. But it was not easy.

Posted by: dogmom13 | June 23, 2017 10:28 AM    Report this comment

There is no way I would judge you. I think you did everything from the heart and it's so sad it ended this way. I would absolutely do what you did - I just do not understand why there is such a stigma to having dogs put to sleep (as long as it is done in a humane way and with someone who cares present). So much more preferable than being handed from pillar to post in the hopes that the dog might improve and change in a different environment. Sadly, as you say, there are so many dogs that are put down with nothing remotely wrong with them - just because no-one wants to take them on. When there is something inherently wrong, which could be a danger to other dogs and people, it actually is kinder to have the dog euthanised. I can't begin to imagine what you have gone though and it is brave and wonderful of you to share it all, I hope in some ways it's been cathartic for you. You are a lovely person and my heart goes out to you.

Posted by: JaneO | June 23, 2017 10:24 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for this. I'm sure it was painful to write about. I think you given thoughtful dog people a great deal of wisdom and truth to consider. I pray it helps others--both people and dogs.

Posted by: Ldbruno | June 23, 2017 10:23 AM    Report this comment

Dear dear Nancy...my heart breaks for youđź’”...but please find comfort in remembering that you did everything out of LOVE...may the power of that LOVE heal your heart. đź’“

Posted by: Surfdoggies | June 23, 2017 10:18 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing. It took a lot of courage. I am so sorry for your loss. We all make mistakes, or wish we could have done something differenlty, but we do the best we can. That's all we can ask of ourselves. Your sharing will help others --
thank you.

Posted by: PSF | June 23, 2017 10:15 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for posting this. I was in tears for all of you as I read it. Last year I had to put down my 4 yr old Sheltie for aggression - after working with several trainers and veterinarians and medications. It was supremely hard. And I had several friends & family & rescue groups harassing me over my decision. But I also had support as well. And my vet also agreed and was truly helpful. I did everything I could have. Still doesn't help my guilt and feelings that I failed him. But I have to hold on to the fact that I really did do all I could - I spent thousands of dollars and countless hours. It's a very hard and heartbreaking situation. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to the article.

Posted by: JulieT | June 23, 2017 10:11 AM    Report this comment

I am so sorry for your loss of Tito and for this all-around traumatic experience you've had. Thank you so much for sharing. You have highlighted a difficult and complex topic that needs much more discussion in the animal welfare community.

Posted by: llf | June 23, 2017 10:10 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing in such detail. It was like watching a video in my mind and I knew EXACTly what you were saying. I have lived with 2 aggressive dogs. One was my heart, my everything, but after a hip injury at age 2, she turned instantly aggressive. No warning, no indications, she suddenly would turn on any dog getting within 2 feet of her and viciously try to kill, going for the neck, and the jugular. After the first attack, I started to watch her, and learned that she would stiffen as soon as a dog got too close, but no growl, just her eyes opened wide and she would get rigid for a second. During the second attack my disabled husband tried to help me separate the dogs, and Kady turned and bit him in the thigh. After it was over, and I took the other dog to the vet, I informed the vet that I would bring Kady to be put down. The vet informed me that since she had bitten a human, I had to keep her in isolation for 10 days to check for rabies. I could have taken her to the pound and requested to isolate her there, but she was my heart, my Boo, my sidekick, and I could not do that to her. So I kept her separate in my office, taking her outside on the leash, which she enjoyed immensely. After the tenth day, she went to the vet one last time. RIP Kady.
The other dog was a little pitbull I rescued from a bad situation of abuse and neglect. She was a love. April was about 1.5 years old and FUN. A tiny little pit bull mix who loved people and animals and LIFE. Moving in with us was heaven for her. Everybody enjoyed playing with her, dogs and humans alike, she loved my daycare dog that I was watching for a soldier during the day, she loved car rides, she loved food... April was the ultimate dog.
Except for when she slept. After 2 months with us, we all woke up from a scream. April had latched onto one of my dogs' ear and was shaking it violently. I called her name and she backed off instantly, looking very confused. I isolated her for the night and deal with it in the morning. My dog was no worse for wear, no blood, no visible injury.
We had two more attacks like that where I was in a separate room with all dogs taking a nap, to be startled by screams, with April latched on to one of the dogs. My dogs did not fight back in any instance, which really was odd. Long story short, April may have had nightmares and sleepwalked, or had seizures in her sleep. I consider myself experienced with animals, but I was not about to turn April over to the pound or someone else where she could possibly hurt a human, or be given away to flipper or as a bait dog. Our area is very heavily saturated with dog fighting elements and "crazy" pit bulls are a highly desirable target for these people.
With a heavy heart, I took her to my vet, and he agreed that she was too unpredictable, and it would cost a pretty penny to have her brain scanned, test ran to figure out the real cause. She loved life so much, she had such a big heart when awake... but killing her seemed the only viable solution at the time.

Posted by: Polly's Mom | June 23, 2017 10:02 AM    Report this comment

I am so sorry to hear about Tito and Ruby.
I had a dog that was similar to Ruby. She was a standard dachshund mix. We adopted her from the shelter with a beagle puppy. They were good together.
Later, after my other dachshund passed, we adopted 2 other mini dachshunds from the same shelter.
Things were fine for a little while but then the bigger dachshund started being aggressive to the much smaller mini doxie. I could never figure out why and didn't notice any particular indicators. One incident required a vet visit for puncture wounds to the chest.
We had to return the bigger dog to the shelter. :(

Posted by: joandmar | June 23, 2017 9:59 AM    Report this comment

This is so sad on so many levels. I, too, am sobbing for your loss and for Tito's suffering. I can only imagine the depth of your pain. Bless you for giving your all to help Ruby and for easing her passing with kindness and comfort.

Posted by: rspamp | June 23, 2017 9:49 AM    Report this comment

The rescue poodle that I mentioned in my other comment does the freeze thing with our older cat. She turns rigid and just stares at the cat, waiting for her moment to harass the cat. She doesn't bite her though. Our other cat, who is now only 1, can do no wrong in the dog's mind. Then again Macie the dog adopted Piper the young cat as her own. Our older cat finally wised up and holds her ground, essentially ignoring Macie. Macie just stops and returns back to me. I can break her stare if I notice it, sometimes. Other times if I try to break it by saying her name or touching her, it just causes her to react. (Although since she doesn't actually DO anything, it isn't a serious issue.)

Posted by: KimberlyO | June 23, 2017 9:49 AM    Report this comment

I am so very sorry for the unexpected (and tragic) loss of Tito. I am just so sorry...

Reading about this has brought back my feelings of guilt for having to put down a wonderful (to me) malteese/poodle mix that we had adopted from a poodle rescue. No one knew his back story as he was found roaming on his own, very skinny beneath all of his matted fur. When he was at the rescue place, he did get snappy with one of the people but they attributed this to having a standard poodle they were boarding at the time. Once that poodle went home, Charlie was his normal self.

However, when my husband met the rescue person to bring Charlie home, he snapped at the hubs. I wasn't able to go due to a recent surgery. I want to state that he never ever even growled at me, let alone snap. Never. However he drew blood when he bite our vet. He would let people pet him, but he'd snap/bite when they were bringing their hand back. He went after a large Chesapeake dog and drew blood on that dog's neck. And.. the hubs was petting him while we were all laying on the bed. All of a sudden, he bit the hubs. Out of the blue. Charlie never even gave signals of distress. He was fine with our other little dog and our cat. Another thing is that he marked everything. We have an electric doggy door so that the dogs have access to our big fenced yard 24/7. He pottied outside normally. The peeing in the house was for marking only. Everything. I once used a UV light and it looked like the living room looked like a horribly violent murder had occurred... at the bottom of everything.

Biting the hubs was the last straw.. well and the smell of dog urine. (And six months living with us now.) I wouldn't let people come over and I didn't want to take him outside. I was constantly on guard. I called the rescue group. They'd take him back but he would have to be put down because they wouldn't be able to adopt him out. Charlie already had an appointment at the vet office for shots. We walked there because I thought he'd enjoy that and it gave me time to think. When we got there, I told them that instead of the vaccines, I'd like to have him euthanized. This little guy loved me! I loved him right back, but dang... I stayed with him. He fought it the whole way. I still feel guilty and this has been about three years now. I think I feel guilty because I also felt relief. My life would be able to return to how it was. We did adopt a beautiful 5 year old mini poodle from another rescue group. No problems with her at all. She figured out the dog door thing the first time she walked up to it. :)

The house has taken awhile to no longer stink. We've replaced some of the furniture. (No one even took the recliner from the berm, thank goodness.)

Posted by: KimberlyO | June 23, 2017 9:45 AM    Report this comment

Very sorry to hear your heart wrenching tale Nancy. I read recently from Dr Karen Becker's newsletter that spaying/neutering can sometimes lead to hormonal imbalances that lead to aggressivity, among other behavioural issues in dogs. Hormonal replacement is sometimes useful I understand.

Posted by: Nickyboy | June 23, 2017 9:38 AM    Report this comment

There are many aspects of this post that upset me. As a person whom has worked with dog and resolved aggression I see not enough was done to train this dog. Eletronic collar? Nope. This dog paid the ultimate prise together with the other for human mistakes. Euthanising dogs is the easy way. I am sorry but from the accounts I can see lots of doors still available and not explored.

Posted by: Dr Gabriele Marranci | June 23, 2017 9:29 AM    Report this comment

I'm so sorry about Tito and that you all had to go through this. You gave Ruby every chance and even though it was difficult, I really believe you made the right decision. Please try not to let this take so much of your peace and I hope you will once again be able to do the wonderful things that you do with a lighter heart.

Posted by: Jayne | June 23, 2017 9:28 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for this courageous post. Your point about the effects of good stress is under-recognized and very important.

Posted by: WendyK | June 23, 2017 9:27 AM    Report this comment

This is a very moving story. Thank you for your honesty! I am not trying to criticize your decision or make any judgement. Something was going on in Ruby's head that no one will ever know. Her behavior was unpredictable. My one question is: Had you ever considered using a muzzle? I know there is a social stigma with the muzzle however I have heard that in some communities all dogs are muzzled in certain situations.

Posted by: Audrey Claire | June 23, 2017 9:20 AM    Report this comment

Nancy, I could barely finish your post because my eyes were so blurred from tears. It's very easy to judge, but none of us was there. I can't imagine how difficult it was to write this. No matter what I think, I truly, deeply feel for your pain. If you're anything like me, replaying things over and over, analyzing until there isn't anything left to analyze, then doing it all over again, is par for the course. I hope you can break the cycle and keep focusing on the good you're doing for the rest of your family.

Posted by: jennifaerie | June 23, 2017 9:07 AM    Report this comment

she loved you though but she did not like other dogs at all. sorry of what you went through and maybe in due time ruby will come back as a better dog when she is reborn again,

Posted by: samoy2e | June 23, 2017 9:07 AM    Report this comment

Nancy, you are so courageous for sharing this horrible incident. You made several important points that I, and I'm sure other readers, will take to heart. Take care and know you did your best with the knowledge you had at that time. So very sorry for the tragic loss of Tito. Sending hugs and wags.
Carolyn with Esmé

Posted by: Carolyn M | June 22, 2017 5:11 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for your bravery for sharing. We all need to remember that play is to teach a puppy the skills to hunt an animal for dinner, protect territory and canine teeth are sharp. A dog I co-owned and loved, died from a similar situation. It took longer but it was a bite to the neck that eventually killed him several months later. I placed another dog so she would not get injured from a dog who "HATED" her, yes I believe dogs can hate.

Posted by: Imajes47 | June 21, 2017 8:17 PM    Report this comment

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