The decision to euthanize a beloved pet is one of the hardest decisions a pet guardian can make. Vets and animal professionals more commonly broach this topic with progressive decline in physical health, severe injury, and associated quality of life. Behavioral euthanasia, or the decision to euthanize due to behavioral concerns, occurs when the severity of a dog’s behavior negatively impacts their quality of life, the safety of the pet guardians, or poses too much risk to the public.
If you are considering behavioral euthanasia, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There are a variety of resources available to you to help process the decision. Veterinarians, Veterinary Behaviorists, and licensed Behavior Consultants can also provide guidance about available options and the prognosis of your case.
It is rare that a behavioral euthanasia decision is clear. Behavior is complex. It can be modified and managed and there are MANY GREY AREAS in terms of safety, risk, and continued training.
At the end of the day, the decision to euthanize is up to YOU.
What Are My Options?
Ruling Out Medical Concerns
Physical health and nutrition can have a HUGE impact on a dog’s behavior. Pain and irritability impact your dog’s emotions just as they impact ours. An initial veterinary screening to rule out any physical injury or illness is the first step when facing any behavioral challenges.
- Article: Are Medical Issues Contributing to My Dog’s Behavior?
- Article: Potential Medical Issues Causing Behavioral Change in Your Dog
- Article: The Veterinary Relationship: Discussing Your Dog’s Behavior with Your Vet
Veterinary Behaviorist and Behavioral Medication
Behavior can often be a product of severe anxiety, pain/illness, or neurological disorders. In these cases, behavioral medication can greatly improve the dog’s ability to cope in the environment and help facilitate behavioral modification plans.
A veterinary behaviorist is specialized in behavioral health and behavioral diagnoses. They will be able to consult in-depth on risk factors, management, and training options, and prescribe behavioral medication as needed.
They are also well-versed in other underlying medical concerns that could be contributing.
**PLEASE NOTE behavioral medications administered may take between 4 to 8 weeks (about 2 months) to take full cumulative effect. It is important to monitor side effects and dosages may need to be tweaked through time before finding the right combination for your dog. This process could take anywhere from 3 months to a year. It is important to be patient and communicative with the supervising veterinarian and behavioral consultant regarding the progress of behavior.
Management, Training, and Behavioral Modification
A licensed behavioral consultant can help develop management and behavior modification plans to reduce risk, train alternative behaviors, and counter-condition/desensitize your dog to triggers.
Success in training is dependent on NUMEROUS factors and behavior modification plans take a significant amount of commitment, time, and effort. Just like any skill, you need consistent practice. In many cases a dog’s behavior is not completely ‘cured’ but rather the environment is modified, and alternative behaviors are learned to greatly improve the pet guardian and dog’s ability to cope in stressful situations. It is important to set realistic expectations for the dog’s progress.
At Our Companions, we follow the Least-Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) Humane Hierarchy for behavior modification as set by the CCPDT. This means that we support licensed trainers, consultants, and training programs that account for the needs of each individual dog, where both safety and counter-control over the environment are highly valued and management, force-free, and positive reinforcement methods are prioritized.
The use of positive punishment or aversives introduces a high level of risk and this method of training should only be used where all other methods of lasting behavior change are exhausted. In some cases, the choice to resort to positive punishment can damage the dog’s relationship with the pet guardian and cause additional trauma to both parties with no guarantee of improved behavior.
If you are unsure what training program is best for you and your dog, please contact a CERTIFIED behavior consultant to discuss your options.
- If you are local to Central Connecticut, you can contact our Helpline to schedule a FREE initial behavior consultation with a certified canine behavior consultant.
- Visit our Positive Professionals page for additional licensed trainers and consultants
Rehoming and Surrendering
Rehoming can be a suitable and advisable decision in situations where:
- The dog’s triggers are predictable
- You know what causes the behavior and the extent of escalation in fear/aggression that occurs when these triggers are encountered
- The dog’s triggers can be removed/managed in a new environment
- Examples include a dog who is displaying aggression towards another pet, a dog displaying fear/aggression around children in the home, immense fear/reactivity around city noises or a local fire department, etc.
Behavior cases where the dog is displaying owner-directed aggression, has sustained higher-level bites, or has several unavoidable triggers are very UNLIKELY to successfully be placed in a new home.
Without significant behavioral modification and/or medical treatment, the behavior you are seeing in your home WILL show up in the next home. In the first two-to-three weeks of moving, a dog will also show heightened levels of fear, anxiety, and stress which may lead to worsened behavior and increased rates of returns/failed placements.
Rescues and shelters across the country are currently limited in their capacity to accept new dogs into their programs. Behavioral concerns may pose high risk to organizations and wait-lists are dependent on adoption rates. Dogs with any behavioral history may take several months to years to find a suitable home and, in some severe cases, the dog may never be placeable.
- If you are local to Central Connecticut and unsure if your dog qualifies for rehoming, please contact our Helpline to discuss your options with our Canine Behavior Manager.
Making the Choice to Euthanize
If you have exhausted the options within your means, and the intensity of the behavior continues to pose a high level of risk to you, your family, the public, or the dog’s quality of life, the choice is up to you to move forward with behavioral euthanasia.
Should you make this decision, your veterinary relationship will be very important. Ensure they are fully aware of the behavior you are experiencing and forward any associated behavioral and training reports.
No vet wants to euthanize a physically healthy dog, but communicating your experience and the steps taken in addressing the behavior will make the process easier for everyone.
Remember, You are NOT Alone
- Losing Lulu: Behavioral Euthanasia Support Group on Facebook
- Pet Loss Support Group at Our Companions
- Bitey End of the Dog Podcast Episode: When Love Means Letting Go
- Animal Training Academy Podcast Episode: Forgiving Yourself for Not Walking on Water
- AKC Article: When to Consider Behavioral Euthanasia
- k9 of Mine Article: When Should an Aggressive Dog be Euthanized
- k9 of Mine Article: Euthanizing an Aggressive Dog: How to Move Forward