I spent a long time debating whether or not to write this post. I got an email earlier this month from an owner whose dog has killed two other small dogs. In many ways, I don’t feel that it’s responsible for me to attempt to deal with such an intense problem in a blog post. At the same time, I feel like this owner – and other owners like her – deserve to have some good information online.
Earlier this month, I got the following “Ask a Behavior Consultant” inquiry to my inbox:
“My dog is aggressive towards any other animal. I’ve got smaller dogs around the house and she’s been aggressive to the point of killing 2 of them. What can I do to get her to not be so aggressive towards other animals?”
Sincerely, Pittie Problems
For more Journey Dog Training resources on aggression, check out these resources:
- Rehabbing Aggressive Dogs E-Book
- My Dog Is REALLY Aggressive to Other Dogs
- High Prey-Drive Dogs and Kittens
- Is My Dog a Red Zone Dog?
- The Best Muzzles for Hard-to-Fit Dogs
This dog is a one-year-old intact female pit bull who spends most of her time indoors/outdoors.
The owner has attempted to curb the problem by putting the dog in her crate after an aggressive episode, but otherwise is feeling lost. There are also kittens on the property that are in danger – it’s not clear whether or not they’ve been killed as well.
I’m not going to sugar-coat this: this is a very bad situation.
While we can certainly make it better (there are a lot of things we can try that the owner hasn’t tried yet), a dog who’s killed other dogs is likely never going to be safe around other dogs.
The fact that this dog is a year old, a breed that’s known for dog aggression, and that the dog isn’t just growling but has actually killed other dogs is all very bad news.
I know and love many pit bulls, but there is a truth to some of the stigma around the breed, especially concerning dog-dog aggression, and especially in certain genetic lineages.
If you’re living with a dog who’s killed other dogs, here’s what you need to do:
- Get help. This is not a training problem for an owner, an obedience trainer, or a K9-handler. This is a job for a very experienced aggression trainer. Look for a Vet Behaviorist, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, or Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.
- Manage the problem. This dog cannot have access to other dogs. Period, end of story, no discussion. You need to have at least two layers of protection between this dog and other dogs at all times. That means muzzle + leash, muzzle + crate, crate + baby gate, leash + fence, or other similar combinations. This dog has killed other dogs – you absolutely have to keep the other dogs safe. Until you get help from a professional, that’s all you should do. You should not attempt actual training on your own with a dog that’s killed other dogs.
- Have a long, hard talk with your behavior consultant. There’s a chance that I’m wrong, and this dog can actually eventually be helped for a “normal” life. But there’s also a chance that this dog will never be safe around other dogs.
- The fact of the matter is that rehoming a dog like this is probably not an option. After attempting counterconditioning, desensitization, redirection, and management training, humane euthanasia might still end up being on the table in order to keep others safe around this dog.
- Focus on keeping your own dog happy. Giving your dog more exercise, structure, or obedience training will not fix this problem. But helping your dog feel happier will improve your dog’s quality of life, and therefore is a worthy cause. Add in tricks training, puzzle toys, and nosework to help keep your dog a bit happier.
If your dog killed someone else’s dog, there’s a chance you’ll end up in court. I am not a lawyer or an expert witness, so I can’t say much about this.
But this is very serious.
Do what you can to support your own dog and keep everyone else’s dogs safe. At the very least, demonstrating that you’re doing everything you can to keep other dogs safe will help.
Above all, seek help from an experienced aggression trainer. Cases like this are not easy and it’s very important not to go to the lowest bidder for training.
You need to get expert help, the best you can get, and fast.
If that is not an option for you for logistical or financial reasons, you need to have a long, hard think about if you can keep the dogs in your area safe from your own dog.
If you can’t and you can’t get help, euthanizing your dog might be the only responsible course of action.
Of course, I cannot suggest euthanizing a dog without a thorough consultation and attempting some behavior modification. But you need to be aware that this is on the table. The dogs around you are in mortal danger.
There are a lot of things to try to help dogs that kill other dogs. But there are no guarantees in the field of behavior, especially when we’re dealing with aggression.
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, and as a private dog trainer. When not working on Journey Dog Training, Kayla works at Working Dogs for Conservation. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her dog Barley.