Behavioral Euthanasia: When it’s the Only Option Left

In this post, I am not going to tell anyone if they should or should not euthanize their dog for aggression issues. I am going to share the story of my hound dog, Cooper, who I had to euthanize due to his aggression toward members of my family. I hope this post will help someone else facing this difficult decision.

Cooper’s Story:

Ever since I was a child, I loved hound dogs. I love pretty much every type of dog, whether it be a mutt or a purebred, but I was always strongly drawn to the hound group when the conformation shows would come on the TV on Animal Planet. I would watch all the dog shows on Saturday mornings, first with my dog Lady, and then with Lady and Raina. When the hound group would run around the ring, I was continually enthralled. I know they might not seem special to some, but I just love the floppy ears and jowls on hound dogs, their silly baying sound, and their desire to forever have their nose to the ground.

When I was 13, I remember seeing a large stray hound running through our yard, and I remember secretly hoping I could keep him. Now, growing up loose dogs often would come through the neighborhood, but they rarely stayed long. I already had 2 dogs, but I couldn’t help but want this one too. As the months rolled by, he started to hang about the neighborhood more and more, and it became obvious he didn’t have an owner looking for him. It just so happened that when I would take Lady and Raina on their daily walks, he started to follow along, and he eventually let me pet him.

As the time went by, this dog, who I named Cooper, began to stay in our yard or the neighbor’s yard and wait for me to come outside. We started putting food out for him beyond the normal scraps my parents would toss out for the critters. My parents really didn’t want another dog, as we already had a couple along with several house and outdoor cats. Then one day, after months of Cooper following me, Lady, and Raina around, Cooper bolted in our house when he heard a firework go off… Cooper was scared of loud noises, as we discovered that day. After that, Cooper became one of our official dogs. We got him a license, he walked with me on a leash, and he slept in our kitchen on a large white comforter.

For the first several months, Cooper was a good dog. He was pretty quiet for a hound, he never tried to bolt outdoors, and he was housetrained relatively quickly. He walked well on leash, he was super chill at the vet’s office, and he left our cats alone. He got along well with our other dogs… well, Raina didn’t like him, but she is picky about who she likes. The worst thing he did was stealing and destroying shoes, but putting those away was an easy fix. Also, he loved to counter surf, but putting food away stopped this. Overall, he was a good boy, and I was very excited to have another dog.

Slowly, traits of Cooper’s personality began to show that we were not originally aware of. He began to growl at certain visitors. This was easily fixed, though, as we simply put him outside when company came over. This went on for quite a while, until one day Cooper began growling at my mother. As the months went by, he also began growling at my brother. These instances came out of nowhere; my family wasn’t mean to Cooper, and he almost seemed to be in a trance when aggressive. Eventually, he lunged at my brother, and we had him humanely euthanized nearly 3 years after he joined our house.

What We Did:

Prior to making the hard decision to put Cooper to sleep, we tried to work on Cooper’s issues. We would have my mom give Cooper his meals and special treats. We took him to obedience school, hoping the trainer would have some advice, which he really didn’t. I tried making sure we had clear rules, so Cooper would know we were the leaders in the house. He was never aggressive with me. I could take away his favorite bone or toy, put my hands in his bowl while he ate, and pretty much do anything to him, and he would simply wag his tail at me and wiggle about like a puppy. When he would growl at others and I would scold him, he would seem confused, like he didn’t know why he was acting out in the first place. Knowing when Cooper was going to become aggressive was impossible, as the incidents were random. Sometimes, he was perfectly fine, and other times it was like he just switched into a different dog. My mom would say he was like having Jekyll and Hyde in the house.

Cooper and his pal, Oscar.

What Caused Cooper’s Issues?

I will never know the answer to this question. Perhaps he was abused, or maybe he was just born with an unstable temperament. He did come to us with shotgun pellets under his skin, a piece missing from he ear, arthritis in his elbow, and he was blind in one eye, so I have always speculated that he was mistreated prior to joining our house. Whatever the cause was, there was no clear way to modify his behavior and make him into a trustworthy dog.

Making Hard Decisions:

The choice to euthanize a dog for aggression issues is not an easy one. While it might seem like a clear-cut decision from the outside, it is incredibly difficult to put an animal down, especially an animal that is physically sound. Cooper was approximately 6 years old when we put him down, and he didn’t have any major health concerns, but emotionally he wasn’t stable.

Despite Cooper growling at my mom, even she felt bad about having to euthanize him. When he was calm and well-behaved, which was most of the time, she would just say, “Why can’t he always be like this?” For anyone who has/had a dog with random aggressive outbursts, this is the question, but we can’t talk to dogs and ask them why they do what they do, and frankly, I think that dogs with this type of random aggression don’t know why they act out. Some dogs have specific fears, such as men with beards or hats, or strangers. But what causes a dog to go after people he lives with day in and day out who are never mean to him?

Many people who we talked to about the situation had opinions on what we should do. Some people said my brother should find his own place after Cooper lunged at him. So, apparently to some people, kids should be kicked out of the house when a dog is going after them even though the person didn’t do anything to warrant the dog’s aggression. Also, apparently the growling at my mother was a non-issue to these individuals as well. One person in particular thought we should take him to the dog pound or a shelter instead of euthanizing him, as this person believed a dog should never be put to sleep for non-medical reasons. This to me seems much crueler, as this would put someone else in the position to adopt and grow to love Cooper, only for his aggressive tendencies to surface after the bond had been formed.

No one we spoke with suggested euthanizing him. Every book and article I could find said that “any dog can be trained.” Concluding that euthanasia was the only option was extremely difficult, and I felt like a complete failure to my dog, and that I was betraying his trust. That is why I am making this post. Hopefully, someone in my same position will read about Cooper, and find some comfort in the fact that they are not alone, that euthanizing a pet for aggression does not make them a bad person, and that sometimes training, love, and structure isn’t enough. If your or your loved ones’ safety is at risk, hard decisions need to be made to keep you and your family safe, and sometimes that means euthanizing a dog who becomes aggressive for no reason.

Guilt:

I will not sugar-coat this: the guilt after putting Cooper down was terrible. It was hard to even properly grieve losing him, because I felt I didn’t have the right to grieve since I was the one who made the decision to put Cooper down. I had nightmares for a long time after euthanizing Cooper. Possibly worst of all, is that I felt guilty about being relieved that I didn’t have to worry about him hurting my mom or my brother. I felt guilty that I was more relaxed without the tension in the house of Cooper making life hell for my family.

Regrets:

Yes, I regret that my wonderful dog needed to be euthanized for aggression, but I do not regret my decision, as it was the right one. I am so thankful I didn’t dump him in a shelter and not disclose his aggressive tendencies for someone else to go through the same hurt I did. It was incredibly painful to be there when Cooper was put to sleep by our vet, but I am thankful I was there with him in his final moments. I am thankful that Cooper never actually bit anyone. I do regret not euthanizing him sooner, as it was wrong for my mom and brother to have to live for over a year with a dog that would randomly growl at them for simply walking about in their own home. It also wasn’t fair to Cooper, as he had to be in a crate whenever I wasn’t around to make sure he didn’t follow up his growling by biting someone. I regret that I couldn’t change his behavior, but I also don’t think anyone could have helped him. For reasons I will never know, Cooper was mentally broken, and sometimes, training can’t solve the problem.

I still miss Cooper and will always be thankful for my time with him. Like all my wonderful dogs, I learned so much about love, loyalty, and devotion from him. Unlike my other dogs, from his life I learned the painful lesson that some issues cannot be fixed, and the right thing to do is often the hardest. I hope his story can help someone else facing the decision to euthanize their aggressive dog. While nothing takes away the pain of losing a devoted pet, hopefully Cooper’s story can ease someone’s guilt who has to part with their dog for the same reasons.

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