4369463906_762bcdc9d9_zShe sobbed in front of me, not able to contain her tears as she emotionally recalled the events of the past week.

She had been bitten by her dog, and as a result, she had landed herself in the ER with a serious wound. Now she was left to deal with her complete lack of trust in the dog she shared her home with.

Her physical wounds would heal. But the emotional scars ran deep.

As terribly challenging as her situation was, her story is not an uncommon one. In fact, she is just one of the dozens upon dozens I meet each year who come to me with a similar narrative.

The story usually sounds something like this:

There is a tormented owner who really loved their pet, and who gave their dog everything. The dog enjoyed a peaceful existence and wanted for nothing. But still, something had gone very wrong.

Out of the blue, the dog had unleashed on their owner, biting down with force over something seemingly benign. Moving a dog bed perhaps. Or rolling over in bed. Maybe the dog was lounging comfortably on the doting owners lap and was startled from sleep when the owner stood. Or perhaps the owner simply wanted to vacuum.

The aggression isn’t limited to owners, although that tends to be the most emotionally painful. Maybe the dog was lounging lazily near a house guest when the owner decided it was time to lead the dog outside. Perhaps the owner grabbed the dog’s collar and triggered something he didn’t even know existed, causing the dog to unload on the unsuspecting guest. Perhaps owners were having a BBQ and they dropped food, the begging dog rushing to claim it, putting someone in the hospital in its wake. Or perhaps a friend was snuggling a dog she’s met a thousand times, kissing his head as she always had. But this time her affection is not returned. This time, it’s met with teeth.

Whatever the story, the results are the same. I am faced with a baffled owner with nothing but love in their heart, who now feels betrayed and nervous. And in their sadness and feelings of betrayal, they begin questioning themselves.

“What could I have done differently?”

“Why did this happen?”

“I thought my dog loved me. Why would she bite me?”

While they have given nothing but love, warm beds to sleep on, a lovely home to live in, and meals and treats in plenty, they have still suffered an inexplicable betrayal. They are left feeling broken, baffled, and confused.

I’ll often hear things like:

“I’ve never hit her.” or “I don’t even punish her!” or “I’ve never abused him.” or “He gets whatever he wants.”

The answers seem unattainable, but one thing is for sure – this feels personal. And as the emotional spiral continues and confusion wells up, the pain of it all can be crippling.

I’ve been there

As I hear these stories week after week, my thoughts return to Koby, my first dog way back when I was a biologist and knew nothing about dogs except that I loved them. I can relate to these stories because I’ve got one of my own. The why’s and how’s once filled my head as I tried desperately to understand how my cherished dog could have bitten someone in the face. The feelings of hopelessness and anxiety haunting me long after the fact.

As I look at these troubled owners in tears, struggling in sheer bewilderment, I see my younger self. A naive dog owner that was absolutely convinced that “Love is all you need.”

Here’s the honest truth

I am committed to supporting dog owners. I am here to offer guidance, to help them work through their problems, and to give them an unbiased opinion about the events and challenges they are facing with their dog. But in my head, I’m always recalling my past. I remember what I went through and think about the fact that I hired 12 different trainers and spent thousands of dollars attempting to resolve Koby’s problems. That I tried everything I knew to try. That my dog was a liability until the day he died. And while I loved him more than anything, his aggression had an impact on me for the rest of his life.

Here is what I want to say to every dog owner who is dealing with this kind of predicament:

  1. This isn’t your fault – Overzealous dog trainers and owners often want to make this about you. They love dogs and, while they may have managed things differently, you can’t be expected to understand behavior at their level. If you’re like me, you rescued a dog with an unknown background. If you’re like me, you did your research. And if you’re like me, you did do everything right….  at least everything you could have possibly known to do right. But no one ever told you the honest to goodness truth about the breed and background of the dog you adopted and the potential for behavioral issues that you could face. People providing information gloss over things like aggression, because, let’s face it, you probably wouldn’t have brought the dog home if you had all the facts.  But you did bring the dog home, and now you’re having a difficult time managing the situation – and believe it or not, that’s okay.
  2. This isn’t personal – A bite to you or a bite to one of your friends isn’t a personal attack. I know it feels incredibly personal. I know you’ve lost trust. And I know it hurts. But your dog doesn’t perceive the world and relationships in the same way you do. Aggression is a normal part of dog communication. And although it feels personal to you, because you’ve given your dog everything and now they’ve betrayed you, your dog isn’t being deliberately malicious.
  3. Love isn’t all you need – I see about 2-3 severely aggressive dogs every week. And I see dog owner after dog owner do everything by the book. The dog has an incredible home with them – a warm bed, meals and treats like crazy, and experiences nothing but love from their human family. But all of the love in the world isn’t going to change aggression. Aggression isn’t about abuse or lack of love. Aggression comes from reinforcement history. It is a tool in a dog’s tool box, used to get what he wants. Perhaps he wants people to go away. Perhaps he is fearful. Perhaps he wants people to stay away from his bowl. Whatever the desired goal, more often than not, aggression persists because, plainly stated, it works. And whether you believe it or not, aggression, or better yet, the propensity for aggression, can be a genetically inherited trait. Place a dog with a genetic predisposition for aggression into a home with love to give, but where the behavior isn’t understood or is mismanaged, and you’ll quickly have a perfect storm.

Rebuilding isn’t easy

IMG_4741For those owners who have either been bitten by their dog or have witnessed their dog biting someone else, I’ll be honest – your confidence, whether you’ll admit it or not, has been affected. And regardless of what other trainers might tell you, if you can’t trust your dog, you can’t help your dog.

Sure, this is a rebuilding process, but I can tell you first hand from my own experiences with rehabilitating hundreds of aggressive dogs – trust is the hardest thing to redeem. Although most dog owners in this situation are able to train their dog, often they themselves never fully recover from the trust that was broken. And if you’re not able to trust your dog, it’s not possible for the relationship to be fully restored. You’ll need to instead trust yourself and your ability to read and manage your dog… and I can say without a doubt, that is easier said than done.

There’s no way around it – working through serious aggression is extremely hard. It requires you to be consistent, to take great precaution, and to simultaneously let go of fear. And sometimes your best intentions to rehabilitate your dog and to remain committed to the grueling process just aren’t enough.

I won’t judge you

I won’t judge you for making a very hard decision about your dog. It’s okay to say, “I can’t do this anymore”, and it’s okay to put your safety and the safety of your loved ones first. I love dogs more than most, and I want nothing more than for them to be happy and cared for. That being said, it’s not fair to let your emotions, whether love or guilt, get in the way of doing what is best for your home.

If you can’t follow through with rehabilitation training, it is not alright for your dog to live “managed” in a crate. And it isn’t okay for you to put other people at risk. If you need to make a tough decision, I will support you. Because your safety and because the happiness of your dog are my top priorities.

I’m frustrated

Every time I see a dog owner broken down into tears in front of me, I vow to myself to quit dogs. I think, “I just can’t take the heartache anymore,” and I feel frustrated.

Of course, I’m frustrated for the dogs. I never want to see a dog uncomfortable in its surroundings or suffering from fear and anxiety. And I’m frustrated because I’m afraid you won’t follow through when things get hard.

But more than anything, I’m frustrated at the way overzealous dog lovers repeatedly treat owners who are faced with these very difficult behaviors.

I’m frustrated because the people that are passing along these aggressive dogs, are regularly pulling the wool over new dog owners’ eyes and putting the dog’s needs in front of the safety and well being of their new owners.

I’m frustrated that dog lovers are quick to blame the owner, becoming judgmental and at times, downright mean. “You should have done this…,” or “If you’d only done that…,” or “This is your fault…,” But in actuality, dealing with aggression is hard – sometimes unresolvable. Maybe an owner didn’t do everything right,  but perhaps they simply didn’t know any better. And perhaps, this dog isn’t suited for them.

And I’m frustrated with trainers. I’m frustrated with big promises and no results. I’m frustrated with doggy bootcamps that bundle what should take months to train into two short weeks, returning a push button dog that only listens because he is forced with training collars and intimidation. And I’m frustrated with uneducated trainers taking people’s money because they can get mild mannered dogs to do flashy obedience. Rehabilitating aggression requires a very in depth understanding of dog behavior and can’t be fixed with basic sits, stays, and downs.

And as I look upon my customers, sitting in front of me in tears, I tell them the truth. It’s the only thing I know how to do.

Love isn’t all you need when it comes to finding a solution regarding your aggressive dog. In fact, it’s only a very small fraction in a very large equation. You’ll need an expert you trust – someone who is going to get to the root of your problem, not cover it up with basic commands. You need resilience, strength, perseverance, and courage. You must separate your emotions from the work you are about to do, and you must stop anthropomorphizing your dog’s behavior. You need time and energy as this won’t be fixed in a 30 minute training session once per week. And you need a willingness to change your lifestyle, change the way you interact with your dog daily, and change your management techniques. And most importantly, you need to listen to and do what your behaviorist says. Get consistent, buckle down, and prepare for a tough journey as this will regularly test your willpower. Because you can’t love aggression out of your dog. But with enough determination, and the right expert, you can get through it.

Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    40 replies to "When Trust is Broken – How to Respond to Your Aggressive Dog"

    • Alix Mitchell

      Wow. I am SO GLAD to have found your blog and this website. I’m so impressed by everything you’ve writing and everything you’ve created and are doing in the dog training industry. I also work with single purpose explosive detection canines. I happen to have the exact opposite at home – a 32lb smushy face dog, who proves to be one of the most difficult dogs I’ve worked with, ironically. He is very reactive and all-around just difficult and quite honestly unstable, but as we always say, I love him. This is by far one of the best articles I’ve read on this topic. Wonderfully written and so true. I will absolutely being sharing this post on my blog and social media. I think even people who were lucky enough to not get bitten by their dog but have difficult can relate to this. I look forward to following you along! It’s so refreshing to see someone in the same industry with such a positive and real outlook on things.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thank you so much for the kind words!!! Best of luck with your pup and keep up the awesome work with the detection dogs!

    • Celeste

      Thank you. In the end, we were unable to save our Dempsey, but this article helped reinforce what my brains knows, but my heart has yet to accept; we did everything we possibly could to rehabilitate our dog. It’s been over six months since we said goodbye and I’m still overcome with waves of anger, guilt, and sadness, but reading about other’s experiences provide comfort because I know I’m not alone.
      This is easily the best article on the subject, for many reasons…and I think I’ve read most of them.
      When I hit your “I won’t judge you” section the tears started flowing. We have encountered so much cruelty from people who are well intentioned (at least for my dog) but simply have no idea what they’re talking about and have no idea what we’ve done for our dog.
      I have read and reread this article (and ultimately others you have written) numerous times over the last week and finally had to share with you how much it meant to me.
      You are a fantastic writer and seem to have an innate wisdom of dogs that can’t be taught. I hope your blog reaches many. I can’t be the only one who needs to hear what you have to say.
      Thank you again.

    • Casey

      I’m reading this with tears flowing as my rescue dog sleeps curled up on his bed next to the couch. Two nights ago he bit my husband twice after growling at him when he was on a spare bed and my husband tried to pat him. The scariest part is that my husband backed away and the dog went after him. He then showed fear toward my husband later that night and the following morning. We are doing the best we can to keep them mostly separated in the house until we can meet with the trainer and behavior specialist, but we are also overwhelmed. We love this dog and the thought of giving him up is almost more than either of us can bear, but we also want to feel safe and we want the dog to feel safe. We want to try to fix it but I’m nervous we won’t be able to, or we won’t ever really regain trust, and what it all means going forward for our lives and his. Our dog is around 18 months old. We’ve done obedience class, we make him follow rules but we do not punish, but I’m also sure we’ve made mistakes. We are truly struggling right now.

      • Meagan Karnes

        I am so sorry. I can honestly say that I’ve been there and the position you are in is a tremendously stressful one. I think that its only natural to make mistakes. Your dog shouldn’t bite you – ever. And when it happens, it can feel like the ultimate betrayal and can absolutely leave us feeling like we’ve done something wrong. Take precautions and keep yourself safe first and foremost. You need an in person behaviorist to help you make a thorough assessment for sure. But I want to assure you that, while the behavior you saw seemed terrifying, going after a retreating perceived threat is really quite common symptom of a very fearful dog. So I’m hopeful that your trainer can get to the bottom of the insecurities and you can start seeing positive change. In the meantime, don’t beat yourself up too much (easier said than done I know). And remember, your dog is following his instincts – it isn’t emotional for him like it is for us. Best of luck to you and please keep me posted.

    • Michelle

      Lovely site. My rescue bit a friend badly while he was trying to take away something my dog took “illegally”. I still have my furbaby despite people telling me to put him down or give him away. I have instead tried to correct his behaviour when he takes something he should not have by distracting him with something else and only when I have my object back do I show it to him and say that was naughty but I have not got to the stage yet where I have the confidence to just take an item away from him without a distraction. We will get there. Lots of love

    • Kimberley

      As someone who owns a reactive dog with redirected aggression this article was a great read. I have been bitten by my 3.5 year old female rescue mal a few times and now know what triggers her to bite and can manage the situation but I remember the first and probably the most serious bite I got from her on my thigh and very clearly remember the feelings that lingered for months afterward. The physical scar remains but I now feel confident and comfortable enough to continue to deal with her issues.

    • Christine

      Thank you for this wonderful, compassionate article. People who have only had easy or loving dogs have NO idea – and I say that as someone who was one of those people.

      Breeds matter, temperament matters, past training matters. I have had a rehome now for almost one year – and it really feels like seven dog years! I should give him up but I am not yet at that point – and he is already 9 and a large breed. I am basically waiting for him to die – so I can go back to having the loving/bonded/trusting and trustworthy dogs I have previously had. I would never get another rescue/rehome EVER.

      This is a labour. Unlike others here, I don’t “love him so much”. I can’t love him because I can’t trust him – but I walk him daily (something I have always loved to do but is a misery with him because he won’t respond to recall command so has to be on lead and yet pulls and pulls on it – not fun or relaxing) and feed him well and he has a great big comfy bed, which he loves BUT

      It is like living with a very unpleasant flatmate or worse – he bullies by barking, he is surly and rude (I know that sounds odd but until you experience it, you wouldn’t know) and demanding – he doesn’t bond – I am always nervous if there are strangers and would never have him near children (supervised or not).

      There is nothing positive. That’s the truth. No loving eyes, no bouncy wagging back-half and tail; no implicit trust; no exuberant joy (although he does love his walks); no fun walks; no cuddles or connection.

      I thought it would improve but after nine months or so it is the same as after nine days. He wants to be fed and walked (by anyone) and if anything is not to his liking, he will bark or be aggressive. No positivity. It is sad but HE is not unhappy I don’t think – just me. He enjoys the walks – I don’t. He loves his bed and the warmth – just doesn’t like to be stroked or interacted with. He likes the garden. He just doesn’t like me or any human too much. It is soul-destroying when you are used to having loving/trusting dogs … it feels personal – rude, rejecting, offensive, obnoxious, disrespectful, intimidating and bullying – even if you want to convince yourself it is not.

      UNLESS you have been through it – you have no idea. I really mean that. Not that I expect people to understand because I couldn’t have understood until I had personally experienced it.

      Sometimes, rarely, you come across people who get it and I think this site is one – and it just is such a relief.

      • Christine

        Just to add – although I have no intention of putting my dog to sleep … I found this site very helpful and non-judgmental too: http://www.vin.com/vetzinsight/default.aspx?pid=756&catId=5861&Id=5912453

      • Kathy

        Thank you for this excellent article. I cannot imagine the grief & pain everyone has suffered here. I have rescued 9 dogs over the past 48 years & have been so fortunate to have never experience an aggressive one. Most I had no history on but they all had been dumped, neglected, abused & were last chance dogs. My latest rescue is a pure bred bloodhound who spent her young life in a puppy mill, living in a cage under the worst of circumstances. She had no socialization, she was beaten & she was dying with final stage of heartworm. We have had her 3 years now & she is very loving, docile & gentle with other dogs & people. She is afraid of sticks (cowers & welps) and will hide in her crate. I am just thankful all my rescues have been good experiences with lots of love, hugs & trust. My heart breaks for all of you that had to give up your furbabies & all the time & expense in trying to help them. Just know you did your best & are commended in trying so hard.

    • Anne

      Thank you for such a considered article. The emotions are overwhelming when dealing with our loved dogs, especially a special needs dog.

    • JoAnn

      Thank you for this article. I just returned my rescue to the adoption center a few days ago after a year and a half of working with her to become a good fit. Her aggression was directed toward other dogs and while I stepped up to the become the “Cesar” in the pack for a year or so, it was not at all what I had wanted for my canine companion. I too spent our walks on alert and fearful if another dog came into sight. It finally became clear that she will never feel safe enough with me and other dogs and our anxiety fed on each other. Some great insight came to quickly return her so she has the optimum opportunity to find a perfect for her situation. The longer I tried and could only half-heartedly meet her need for a dominant male presence (I’m a petite female), the more I contributed to her unbalanced behavior.

      But there’s the emotional side of returning her. She is a sweet, funny and quirky girl in so many ways–I miss her personality and presence in my home really bad. I find it reassuring to hear everyone’s stories. I’m particularly feeling right now that I betrayed her by sending her back to the shelter. What a complex and messy set of circumstances right now–caught between the logic of wanting the best for us both and what that looks like and the pain of separation and loneliness. Thanks for this post!

      • Natakie

        I’m in the exact same boat as you currently. It’s the middle of the night, my rescue dog Cooper is curled up in his comfy dog bed beside me, and I’ve spent the past three days in tears filled with stress and grief. My fiancé and I decided tonight after a very, very long discussion that we have to take him back to the rescue group we got him from. After a little over a year and a half, he never feels safe with me, his aggression towards other dogs and strangers continues to get worse only when I’m around. And, three nights ago he turned on me and had me cornered in the bathroom when John was away for work. It was horrifying and heart breaking and ever since I cannot trust him. He’s still only 2 /2.5 years old and I love him so much and want him to have a good life. I’ve educated myself extensively over the past two years, met with behaviorist and obsessed over doing the right thing by him. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe in my heart our relationship will ever be right. We want to have kids one day and I don’t think Cooper would thrive in that environment at all, especially with me there. It kills me but I know it’s right to give him a chance at a new home now, before this gets worse. I feel like a failure, though.

        • Meagan Karnes

          I am so sorry that you are going through this. It’s is so very devastating.

    • Kathy

      The rescue homes have a lot to answer for pairing known aggressive dogs with unprepared owners. I gave my rescue 7 years before admitting defeat after he bit my throat. Never again. I miss him every day but it was a complex relationship.

    • Natalie

      Hello. I just went through this on Friday and had to make the gut wrenching and life changing decision to put my precious rescue dog to sleep after months and years of stress, dead ends and fear. It will never feel right. But I know it was right. I miss him so much, but I couldnt even hug him in his last days because he wouldn’t let me. I’m not sure if this will ever stop hurting. But reading your article today helped. Thank you.

      • Meagan Karnes

        I’m so very sorry. It is so painful. I’ll keep you in my thoughts.

    • Stephanie Palladino

      This article was amazing. We purchased a pure bread German Shepherd from a very reputable breeder. At 81/2 weeks took him home. At 3 months he began to show signs of aggression, barking with hair up when a friend came into the house. We didn’t realize at the time what was happening. We did the obedience training at 4 months (which was a joke). He already knew how to sit stay down and all that. Told the trainer over and over about his biting… if I heard one more time that he was teething or give him a toy I was going to scream. I tried every single thing out there for the biting. It NEVER stopped. It was mostly playful but as he got bigger the more it hurt. By 6 months no one and I mean no one could come near me not my husband or even my kids…god forbid it was a stranger!! He never bit to be mean, but boy would he bark! At 6 months we took him to be trained by the “best”. After almost $4,000, and 5 1/2 weeks away from home, we had the “perfect dog”. NO we didn’t. He was great around strangers and great with commands when on a leash I could take him anywhere. Except in my house. He growled at my husband every time he said goodnight to me barked and growled at my kids at night. Only at night it was the strangest thing. It never got better, his mouth was always open the biting NEVER STOPPED. It was mostly playful but it shouldn’t happen. At 9 months and 90 pounds,
      after all this training with us and on his own, he bit my 10 year old daughter. All she did was hug him… 5 stitches under her eye. I shudder at the thought of if it was 1/2 inch up, it would have been her eye! The trust was never there… ever. I was always so afraid anytime my kids had friends over any time my husband and I had friends over. After he got my daughter we decided it was enough. We literally tried everything. I trained with him 5 times a day at home 2x a week at the trainer. There was no more I could do. With a broken heart we gave him back to the breeder. They now have him on the farm with the rest of his family. I have cried every day for the past 2 weeks. I miss him terribly but I couldn’t trust him and I don’t think I ever truly would.
      It was a horrible decision that we didn’t make lightly on top of loving him to death we were also into him about $10,000 when all was said and done. I wish things could have been different some dogs are just not meant to be house pets and need to be free to roam a farm. That was him. I have a broken heart, but I believe this was the best and only option for my family and for him…. I thank you for allowing me to tell my story and read your article that truly helped me more than anything I’ve read or heard in the last few weeks. Ironically my boy was Koby too. Which made it hit home even more. Thank you.

    • Dan

      This is the best article on dogs I have seen on the Internet, yet. I was bitten by my adopted golden retriever today (completely unknown background, rescued him from the street), after giving him everything he could possibly need for almost a year. Hundreds of visits to the vet, months of training, and he bites me over a chew toy that he never used to guard in the past. It sucks, I’m unbelievably upset with him, it feels like I lost a best friend. I tried to do everything right, and it wasn’t enough. I’m not sure that there’s a solution – I’m just glad that I’m not the only one and that I don’t have to torture myself with guilt. Thanks, Meagan.

    • Isadora

      Thank you for this article. My dog is a pit mix rescued at age 2 from a shelter with no background, we’ve had her for about a year and a half now. At first she did great, but there was an incident with my horrible stepbrother getting in her face when she was clearly scared and barking at him. She nipped him in the face and has been apprehensive of people ever since which meant vet visits went from being agreeable to needing her to be muzzled and handed off…at her most recent visit she had to be fully sedated to examine her ears, but the moment that changed everything for me came the next day when she twice nipped at the face of my roommate (her co-owner) when he tried to administer ear drops for her ear infection. I know her ears hurt and she’s so scared (she was shaking when we tried to administer the drops together, she growled a bit before I gave up and we called the vet for help), but it’s startling and scary for a dog we’ve loved and worked with extensively to display that sort of behavior. We’re reaching out to a behaviorist but I fear what we may have to do if her behavior escalates. I feel like such a failure to her.

    • Brett

      Help !
      Can someone email me please I’m besides myself with worry

    • Jean O'Neil

      I rescued a young male pit bull. I took him to puppy classes and training. I took him for many walks a day to make sure he was socialized. Suddenly at the 1 1/2 he became dog aggressive and immediately upon seeing a dog would react and redirect on me and yes the bites caused open wounds. I then avoided all dogs and other possible triggers “like seeing deer” to keep the dog I loved more than life itself. 95% of the time he was loving, happy, and I could control the situations that caused his reactivity BUT then he attacked me in the house for no obvious reason and again on a walk with no visible trigger. All these times and more caused bite wounds. I gave up.

    • Clare

      Thank you for your article. We are going through a very difficult time with our puppy right now and my husband and I are agonising over the right thing to do. He is not a rescue dog, and we have had him since he was 8 weeks old, so he has never been hurt or abused. He has always been a little posessive and it has increased as he got older – he has snapped at us and our 11 year old several times, and on a couple of occasions has put his teenth on us, but never bitten down so it hurts. We have asked for help on several occasions, but never really felt that it was taken very seriously. Because we wanted to stop it progressing we arranged for a behavourist to come to our house to help us. He bit her twice, properly biting down hard the second time, and continuing to lunge and jump at her agressively – we have never seen him like that or show anywhere near that level of agression. We were advised to go to a different training/behaviour centre where we have now been to and they have given us a huge list of exercises and advice which to be honest is a bit overwhelming. But to be honest, one of the biggest problems is having seen how agressive he can be we just can’t help but feel differently about him. I am constantly anxious when my family are near him or even moving round him. He knows it and it puts him on edge which makes me even more anxious. We can’t help but wonder if we really can help him – the guidance we have been given is going to take a long time, and I just don’t know if I can risk him being around my 11 year old while we try to “fix” the problem. We purposely chose not to get a rescue dog because we didn’t want to bring a dog that may be agressive into the house when we have a child. We can’t help but wonder if we’re just putting off the inevitable and should rehome him now while he’s still young (he’s just one). On the other hand, he has never actually tried to bite any of us, and it seems so unfair on him (and our son who loves him so much) to give up on him without really trying, when he has never hurt us. I just feel overwhelmed by the situation and constantly feel sick with the stress and worry fo what to do. If we keep him our son could get hurt, if we don’t keep him he will be completely heartbroken. The crazy thing is that before we saw the behaviourist we weren’t considering rehoming him. I just don’t know if I can ever really trust him again – I’ve always been a bit wary of him but at the moment it’s way more than wary. I am hoping that if I put the effort into training with him (not just the stuff from the trainers but some fun stuff too), and walking him etc, then the bond will mend a little and that the more I relax the more he will relax, but I just don’t know if I can ever feel comfortable with him again.

    • Edward Wood

      Please help me… Edward.

    • kris

      Thank you. I am so grateful to read this blog. I had a Patterdale Terrier from a rescue centre. I knew a bit about his past, but not alot. I had Patterdales before, and I knew they could be a challenge but I was up for it. My first Patterdale never showed any real aggression. She was the most loving dog I have ever owned, and she was a rescue. I was very naive, and thought this would all be fine because I loved dogs, and had a Patti before. At first, there were no problems but he turned to guarding. At first it was me. No one could get near me. Then food. Then toys. Then I went to put a collar on him and he was not in the mood….All through this process my trust was going. I see this now. I could love him fiercely, but I could not trust him. 2 weeks ago, I returned him to the no-kill rescue he came from. I was frightened in my own home and my dog was suffering. He was anxious and fearful too. My fear fed his fear then his fear fed my fear. . I told the rescue the full truth of what had happened- I wanted them to be aware of the issues.. I miss him every day. I still love him. I know I made some mistakes, but I did not know what I did not know. I saw pictures of him in a foster care home for the weekend. He seemed relaxed and happy. In my heart, I know I did what I had to do for both of our sakes but it still hurts. I am really shaken up and wonder if I can ever trust a dog again. Given time, I think I will recover. There is a bed here waiting for another dog- not now but when the time is right. You are right, the scars to the human can run very deep. Thank you for allowing me to speak my truth, and for the compassion.

    • Jayme Smith

      I am so glad I stumbled upon this. Its been a week and she is gone. She had aggressively bit my husband twice one bite a few stitches, then a year later last week it was me. No warning. Just a touch then attacked. I’m The one closest to her and it landed me in the ER w three shots a clean up hand wrapped and butterfly stitches. Still black and blue and sore. I miss her so much. The unexplainble feeligs i have over this is consuming my every thought. The what ifs. What if I had a better trainer? What if I was more of a strict pack leader ETC….once the county got word of my bite it was all over. Animal control was at my door in 24 hours. She was however a major liability. Dog aggressive who knows about kids. Hated going for walks or car rides. Trainer basically gave up.
      What I gained the most out of what I read was its not my fault. I will keep telling myself that. Its so hard. How do you miss something that hurts you so severely?? Takes time to heal mentally more than physically I guess. Thank you again.
      RIP my brindle Pit bull Greyhound mix Lucy~ girl.

      • Casey Wood

        I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

    • Allison Posner

      I have a pure bred Shih Tzu who we purchased at 8 weeks from a reputable breeder. My 5 year old and 9 year old did not listen to us and would get in his face, take toys when he was playing, startle him etc. In June my daughter throughout the day bugged him (I was away) and he bit her bad enough for me to take him to the doctor. He does not liked to be touched in his sleep and startles and bites when woken up. I tried to get a sticker from his ear hair and he got upset. Sometimes he is fine with me touching his ears, feet etc and sometimes it just upsets him. Much of this is my fault as not putting my foot down with my kids and they are much better now but damage is done. He is a wonderful dog. We understand that his behavior is reactionary. He has never bitten me, I am his alpha. He does seek out my daughter, she has changed her behavior and he has not bitten her in months except when she accidently stepped on him. He was laying on my daughters bed sound asleep last night in a pitch black room. My son comes in the room, goes to kiss him on the head and the dog snapped and gave him a warning lunge. We know this is my sons fault for startling him, its a natural reaction. How do we get him to trust the kids again. He wont play fetch etc. Next month we are adopting his mom from the breeder. She is being retired and we thought if we were going to bring him a companion it could not get better than his mother. We are hoping he calms a bit when she gets settled in. Any advice?

      • Allison Posner

        Sorry, the dog is now 2 years old and he bit my daughter on the face and arm. We noticed he is extra sensitive when he does not feel well but how do we build back his trust?

      • Casey Wood

        Hi Allison,
        I would recommend searching for an in-person dog behaviorist to work with you.

    • JB

      We have a 15 month old golden who is about 80 lbs, and very strong. She has been a difficult dog to train but improving. A couple of weeks ago playing in the backyard she ran full speed into the side of my knee. Its fractures, the cartilage is torn and its sprained. I’m looking at knee surgery, physical therapy and weeks on crutches. But in addition to that I am now terrified of our dog. I’m strong and healthy but vulnerable on crutches and I’m worried she’s going to reinjure me or hurt one of our kids with her mindless clumsy energy. My family doesn’t understand and of course they love her, but I’m wondering if I’ll ever feel safe and comfortable around her again. If she barreled into me once, what’s to keep her from doing it again? (Its actually the 2nd time, the first time I didnt get hurt). I don’t know how to train this out of a dog.

    • Sherri Bronson

      This was such a great article. I had to put my 18 year old pom down and she was my love. My new 15 week old pom loves my husband but has attacked me 3 times. I was so good to the puppy. But now the trust has been broken and I’m not interested any more. I would love to get another one i could give all of my love too. I’m not sure if I’m wrong or what. It’s sad to me because i don’t think this puppy will ever love me.

      • NOREENE

        My heart hurts for you! Just posted my own story, and took some solace from the blog and replies. Good luck!


      Your post helps and hurts tonight. My recent rescue, an IG, bit me two days ago. He qwas tired and overstimulated after a trip to the dog park. I should have let him keep his coat on, but made a big mistake. H had a traumatic year before we took him, and I was warned he is a fear biter. I should have let the clothed dog lie.

      While biting me he had one hand and then the other….it was terrifying. I had to see the doc, get patched up, and can barely type now with swollen balloon hands and pain.

      The worst pain is that he is afraid of me now, does not trust me. He avoided me after the incident, and I thought it was guilt. Nope! This sweet, loving dog who trusted me implicitly is now afraid of me, and I was the one hurt.

      I miss the dog I knew, and hope that he will resume our loving relationship in time. My other dog is very lovey, but the affection of two was so sweet. He will take a treat from me, and I was able to put on his slip leash, but I cannot touch him without growling.

      My fear I can reason away; his fear is breaking my heart.

      I will keep trying and be available, but he needs to learn to trust me again. Hurts more than the dozen plus puncture wounds. 🙁

    • Mercedez

      Thank you for this article. I just want somewhere i can vent with other dog owners who have experienced this grief. I got my dog 4 months ago and could tell he had a very hard life. He was given to me with his spine sticking out of his back and open bite wounds on his neck. I kept my child away from him and gave him his space until he decided to come to me. I then took him to a vet who told me he was super aggresive and should be put down. I cried and decided i wouldnt give up. Vets treated his wounds and i got him up to weight. Once he was physically healthy he warmed up. I soon learned this dog could open doors, would speak to you, could fetch. Sit. And our relationship started to really strengthen. We did walks and i taught him not to pull on the leash. And to wait for my command to eat from his bowl. I noticed little things that gave me insight into his abused backround. He would be afraid to walk into doors past me.. Like someone had kicked him before. He was afraid of brooms.. (He had really old huge scars like someone beat him with a pole. ) And when my son would play in the living room the dog would get hyper and push his weight around to play. When he got toys, he growled at everyone but me who got close. Once he felt safe.. He started gaurding home and barking aggressive ly at anyone who walked past my windows just paasing by. One time he got so aggresive towards the mail man, he broke my window to try to get to him. Not once but twice. He starting tearing out trash when i would work, and get picky about his food. Behaviors which i managed. But towards the end his aggression got too over whelming for me. Neighbors are terrified of him. One time he took my sons food and when i yelled a little and tried to correct him.. He snapped at me. This is a very dominant dog who over compensates and would also try to bully you by barking. I had to be very firm, bold and show my leadership with him. I could tell he was the dog that picked and choose who he could bully and who he couldnt. I wasnt perfect. Sometimes i yelled too loud. Sometimes i was too tired from work and didnt take him on walks. But i promise you i tried my best. When my son went into the backyard.. He would jump up and try to push him down and make semi aggresive growls. He started pissing on everything in my house… Chewing things up, chewing out my gates and constantly getting out. He was such a cuddler and could be so caring at times… But other times. . a bully… Purposely not obeying and growling at any guest or sometimes at my sons friends (these kids are young.. 5-10 range) . i still had hope. But it seems he only got more aggresive the more comfortable he got. I know this home is not for him. He needs a single owner and lots of confidence training. Today he pissed on my christmas presents that are still under the tree. and i lost it. He didnt even ask to go out. Cry .. Go towards the door nothing. He just walked up and pissed. I yelled and firmly grasped his collar saying no! He snapped at me. Then he had a chance to walk away but he lounged at me. 2 hours later .. He growled at my son for getting to close and that was the final straw. Ive been up all night and cant sleep.. I keep asking myself if i had only done this different would things be different. But i dont know this dogs backround and for having nothing iam proud i got this far with him. He has clearly been through hell. But no amount of training… Toys… Walks… Can change his past. And im mentally breaking down… Heart aching.. Because tomorrow morning (in 4 hours) i will be surrendering him. My heart is just broken. I keep asking myself what i did wrong to make him snap and lounge or make him willfully disobey.. Piss everywhere when he has training. Break windows when hes smart enough to open doors. Or growl at my neighbors when he gets out and they try to put him back in the gate. Growl at my son. Bark and bully. I know that all this is before me… But im at my breaking point. Especially because hes so intelligent and wants to learn and love. If all the owners before me hadnt of put those wounds on him… Im sure he wouldnt be this aggresive. But the trust is gone and i just cant take my chances anymore. I know that the next bite he will break skin… And i dont want it to be on my 5 year old son. Your article has made my heart a little lighter and im glad im not alone. God bless. Thank you.

      • Casey Wood

        Mercedez, if you’re wanting help finding an in-person trainer in your area to help we would be happy to put our feelers out and see what referrals we can send you. You can email us at info@collared-scholar.com if you are interested. 🙂

    • ashley

      I’m dealing with this now. My four year old mastiff was a good dog..I trusted him with other people, dogs and kids..now I won’t let anyone in my backyard but me. I don’t take him four walks because I’m scared he will hurt someone else.

      The issues started from a vet vistit where the stupid lady decided to try and sedate him..bent the needle in his leg while she had multiple I’m guessing students surrounding him..three needles later they sedated him..worst experience in my life. I said I’d never go back to that and I still haven’t! Not long after that I took him for a walk where a you girl thought she’d pat him after I said no because he gets to excited. She did anyway but stood over him and he bit her. I feel like I have absolutely faid my dog. I don’t trust him and I think that vet visit made him lose his trust in me. I’m not sure what to do. I love my boy. :’,(

    • Caroline

      My husband and I put our rescue dog Mojo down yesterday. It was the most heartbreaking experience. We had him for 2 months and he starting to show serious separation anxiety immediately and aggression on day 3 when I was bit for the first time. We brought in a trainer who deals with aggressive rescue dogs specifically immediately. We worked with them for 4-5 hours per week for the last 7 weeks. Mojo was on Trazadone for the last 3 weeks to try to reduce his anxiety and aggression while we focused on trust building and just preventing any situations that could elicit an aggressive response. We worked from home for 2 month because we could not leave him alone at all. We tried doing desensitization training for this but it was difficult with the anxiety combined with aggression and destructive tendencies. I was bit 8 times with broken skin, bleeding and serious bruising and my husband twice, once with a puncture wound. We could not have anyone come to our door or in our home. We could not use doggy daycare or help from anyone else because of the risks and liability issues. Mojo was a different dog when off leash in the forest – he wouldn’t approach people aggressively although he was still a biting bully with dogs. So we took him as often as we could, sometimes every day, knowing getting his a lot of exercise would help with his anxiety. But on leash and especially in the home, he was unpredictable and dangerous. We kept a leash on him at home for control and safety. Actions that Mojo would be okay with for weeks, like putting on a rain coat, would one day elicit a bite response with little to no warning. We were keeping all rescue agencies (the one in Canada and the one in India) up to date on what we were going through. We suggested rehoming a few weeks in to this knowing that we could not be successful with him because of the fear we had developed. But we could not find a home that would take him with the full disclosure of his issues. We reflected on his original posting and realized how misleading it was. Mojo was clearly seriously abused in the past – it was very evident the way he reacted to things – and was taken from an outdoor shelter with over 300 dogs in it and had never actually lived in a home before, flown to a different country and entered our home. This morning the rescue agency in India sent us messages that we were murderers and should have sent him back to India (even after they suggested that he had none of these issues before and they were all caused by the trauma of his travel to Canada). I am sharing this because in case anyone is going through what we have, it is not your fault and no one can judge from the outside. The rescuers in India take no responsibility in contributing to this outcome and are clearly only thinking about their feelings in all of this, not the actual impacts on the dog or the reality of the situation. I hope no one else has to go through this and I would like Mojo’s death to be for nothing. We loved him tremendously and are emotional wrecks at the moment but feel the need to share our experience for us and others. We did everything we could but had to think about the safety of everyone involved and the reality of what Mojo’s future would look like – even if we did find a foster, he would bite again. We knew this. And he would likely end up being surrendered to the shelter and euthanized alone. We chose to have the best last day with him in the forest where he was happiest and be there for him, the only loving home he had ever known, when he was put down. It would have been easier to surrender and not be part of the euthanasia, but we loved him and didn’t want to him to die alone. I would like to call attention to the realities of rescue operations and the need for more measures in place to avoid these situations. More behavioural assessments and professional inputs are needed along the way (and less self-righteous bleeding hearts) before people and dogs are put in these situations.

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