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Euthanizing an Aggressive Dog and Dealing with the Guilt: How to Move Forward

Dog Loss By Meg Marrs 8 min read September 22, 2021

feeling guilty after euthanizing aggressive dog

There’s no debating it: Euthanasia is the most difficult decision we may face as dog owners.

Behavioral euthanasia? Even more difficult and traumatic.

No one wants to have to consider behavioral euthanasia, and it’s natural to feel guilty or depressed when confronted with such a situation, no matter how dangerous or aggressive a dog may be. 

After all, even an extremely aggressive and dangerous dog is still your precious pet. And of course, we know even the most aggressive dogs aren’t horror shows 24/7 – they can be absolute angels in certain settings.

Euthanizing an aggressive dog isn’t an easy subject to discuss, but we’ll tackle it with you below. We’ll discuss why it is sometimes necessary and share ways you can cope with this agonizing decision. 

Euthanizing a Dog and Dealing with the Guilt: Key Takeaways

  • In some cases, euthanasia is the best decision for owners dealing with aggressive dogs. Making the decision about whether or not to euthanize an aggressive dog depends on many factors, including safety risks as well as the dog’s quality of life.
  • If you have to euthanize an aggressive dog, allow yourself to grieve and try to make peace with your decision. Remind yourself that you’ve done everything you could and that you’ve made the best decision you can on behalf of you and your pet. Owners who haven’t dealt with aggressive behaviors won’t understand the agony of your decision. Do not let others shame you for your choice.

Is Behavioral Euthanasia Warranted for Aggressive Dogs?

Behavioral euthanasia (BE) refers specifically to euthanizing an animal due to behavior reasons (rather than medical issues or as a hospice option).

Behavioral euthanasia is a very contentious topic, as some parties may argue that behavior-based euthanasia should never be an option.

But make no mistake, behavioral euthanasia is – in some cases – truly the best option for everyone.

It’s important to remember that every case of dog aggression is unique and should be treated as such, since there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment for it. 

Aggression can be caused by any number of factors, including:

  • Traumatic experiences
  • Genetics
  • Poor socialization
  • Extreme fear
  • Other factors that aren’t always under your control. 

Ultimately, some cases can be treated, while others cannot.

Behavioral euthanasia is generally reserved for the most extreme cases of aggression in dogs, meaning that the dog is a severe risk to you, other people, other animals, or even themselves. 

Euthanasia Should Be a Last Resort

Behavioral euthanasia shouldn’t be considered until every alternative avenue has been explored, and only after a thorough vet check and a consultation with a certified dog behavior consultant (NOT just a standard dog trainer).

Make sure to read our full guide on how to decide when an aggressive dog should be euthanized to ensure you’ve explored all alternatives and have done what’s required to help your dog as best you can.

All owners of aggressive dogs have to come to the best decision possible for their specific situation.

You Had to Euthanize Your Aggressive Dog: Coping with the Decision

Euthanasia is never an easy decision, and it may weigh heavily on you long after the event passes. 

Just remember that no outside party really knows your situation with your dog.

Ignore Any Critics – They’ll Never Know the Pain You’ve Gone Through

Ultimately, unless someone has owned a dog with serious behavior issues before, outside parties simply can’t understand the physical and emotional toll living with an aggressive dog can take.

It’s very easy for owners of “normal” dogs to point fingers. Unfortunately, you may hear from critics who will claim you should have tried harder, been more patient, and done more.

Let me be clear here, no one is in a place to judge you.

No one else has seen the tears, the sleepless hours, and the money spent on behaviorists. No one else knows the pain and agony you’ve gone through. No one else knows the tremendous work and effort you’ve put into trying to help your dog, and the emotional torture you’ve navigated coming to this decision.

Whether or not other have witnessed it, you’ve likely explored a long list of alternatives to behavioral euthanasia (and if this is still a decision you are grappling with, make sure to check out our full guide to how to decide when an aggressive dog should be euthanized).

Even for owners who have had problem dogs before, every situation in unique. Experiences vary tremendously, and every dog is unique. Just because one owner was able to make a situation work with their aggressive dog does not mean that you could have with your own dog.

Let Yourself Mourn

Don’t forget to let yourself mourn for your pet who has passed.

I think for some people, mourning a pet you’ve chosen to put down can feel like an odd emotional juxtaposition. If you chose to put the pet down, why should you feel sad, since this was your choice?

It’s normal to feel sad. To feel heartbroken. No matter how the result came about, you’ve still lost a beloved family member and dear friend. You have as much a right to mourn as anyone who has had to put down a dog for illness or disease.

grieving dog

So, go ahead and mourn. Get a piece of pet memorial jewelry made, create a digital canine memorial page, or make a photo book celebrating the good times with your dog. Let yourself grieve.

If you’re struggling with grief, consider reaching out to a counselor. Voice what you’re feeling and work through your struggles for as long as it may take. Your feelings are valid and deserve time and attention to process, too. 

Losing a dog is always hard, and you’re allowed to grieve. Your situation is nothing to be ashamed of, and this result is not the sign of you being a failure as a pet owner. If anything, you’re incredibly strong and responsible in protecting your dog and others from further harm and suffering.

It’s OK to Feel Relieved

Many owners who have had to put down dogs due to behavioral euthanasia may find themselves struggling with an additional, difference sense of guilt; guilt for the feeling of relief they’ve experienced.

Do not be ashamed of this.

No one can deny that living with an aggressive dog is enormously stressful. It can have a huge impact on your quality of life and can exacerbate anxiety and depression. Living with and managing a difficult dog is a ton of work, physically and emotionally. It’s natural and normal to feel some degree of relief once this hardship is released.

These feelings of relief do not mean you don’t love or miss your dog who has passed. It just means you’re a normal human with varying and complex emotions.

Trust Your Decision

There may be some days where you find yourself second-guessing your decision. But ultimately, exercises in ruminating on the “what-if’s” will not be fruitful. Remember that you have gone through all your options, and you’ve tried all management and behavior modification techniques that were at your disposal.

Behavioral euthanasia was your last option, and it had to be done.

Trust that the choice was the best one for all parties involved

behavioral euthanasia loss

Imagine if your dog had gone on to seriously injure (or perhaps even kill) someone. The guilt from that would be far worse than the guilt you feel from euthanizing your dog. And that doesn’t even include the potential ramifications you may suffer, like a lawsuit or criminal charges.

While the dog’s life was meaningful and valuable, so is yours.

So are the lives of those who were at risk from your dog. 

Part of responsible dog ownership is ensuring your dog doesn’t hurt others, and if this isn’t possible, euthanasia is the best solution. Many times, aggressive dogs spend years bouncing from home to home or alone in a kennel. That’s a cruel existence that does no favors for the dog.  

Also keep in mind that each pet owner’s situation can vary throughout their life.

It’s possible that – years later – you do obtain the financial resources that would have allowed more thorough and ongoing work with a certified dog behavior expert, or you end up living in a household situation that would have been more conducive to your problem dog. In the end, you did not have these options when you had to consider euthanasia, so they end up irrelevant. Don’t beat yourself up for factors outside of your control.

Consider Finding a Support Group

You aren’t the first owner that’s had to cope with the gut-wrenching decision to euthanize your dog, and you don’t have to go through this alone.

In fact, there are several helpful support groups and similar resources available to owners going through these kinds of difficult situations.

Some of the most notable include:

Also, please understand that dog loss is a subject very close to our hearts here at K9 of Mine, and we’ve tried to provide a number of resources for owners dealing with this kind of pain.

For example, you may find it helpful to memorialize your pet or read about how I coped with the loss of a beloved family pet.

We also encourage readers to share any other resources they may have found in the comments below.

My Experience Owning an Aggressive Dog

My rescue dog Remy has a lot of behavioral issues involving reactivity and aggression. We’re at a place now where his behavior is manageable – but it wasn’t always like this.

For the first six months I had Remy, living with him was absolute torture. And I really don’t consider that an exaggeration. He would bite, bark, and nip at me several times a day, every day, and I couldn’t figure out why. It was physically painful but – even more – emotionally scarring. I felt abused and betrayed by this dog I was trying to help and had opened my home to.

As I read every article I could find relating to Remy’s problems, and even as I brought in professional trainers to help us, I was in agony. I started drinking and crying every night, I had to double my anxiety medication dosage, and couldn’t leave my bed at all some days.

Eventually Remy and I got through it, and his behavior has gotten much better as a result of a ton of hard work and focused effort.

But I often think about those days where I did have to at least consider behavioral euthanasia. I knew I could not continue to live my life in that state. If I hadn’t begun to see improvements in Remy’s behavior, euthanasia would have been a possibility I would have had to really contend with.

That period when Remy was at his worst was the hardest time of my life. I say that while also acknowledging I had the financial resources, emotional support, time, and interest to basically make working with Remy my full-time job.

I honestly think there are very few people who could have made the situation I was in with Remy work. And I am sure there are many other dogs out there like him.

Despite being in a good situation with Remy now, I’ve sworn to never judge anyone who has had to go through the kind of agony I went through with Remy. There is no easy way out of a situation like that, and every decision is a hard one.

Please know you are not a bad person if you had to put down your dog for behavior issues. You did not “fail” your dog. You did not make the decision lightly. You did your best with a dog whose genetics and/or past trauma made it very difficult for them to lead a normal, happy life. You gave them all the love and support they could ask for. Sadly, sometimes that’s just not enough.

For all those who had to make this excruciating choice – we support you. You are not alone.

***

Dog aggression is an incredibly complicated issue, and many of the variables at play are out of our hands. 

Some dogs, due to genetics, may have aggression and imbalances ingrained in them. While some can be rehabilitated using hours of hard, consistent work and training over several years, that isn’t always the case. 

Attempting to do so requires managing a dangerous animal all the while, which takes an extreme amount of time, money, risk, and patience. It’s reasonable to not feel emotionally or physically up for committing years of your life to fix or manage a dog with serious issues when in extreme cases, the behavior never improves, and everyone suffers.

We’re so sorry that this is even a topic that must be discussed, but we hope you find peace in your decision, whatever it may be. Euthanizing an aggressive dog is never easy. Please share your experience in the comments if you think it may benefit others going through this difficult time. 

dog growling at me
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Written by

Meg Marrs

Meg Marrs is the Founder and Director of Marketing at K9 of Mine. She is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! She loves iced coffee, hammocks, and puppy-cuddling!

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