Dear UKH friends,
I find myself in a situation of being asked for advice from a close family member and I don't know what to say. I am sure some people here will have some informed insight and I would welcome some observations.
A young woman, now in her late-20s, was in a live-in relationship nine years ago when her partner bought her a puppy (a predominately labrador crossbreed). The relationship ended and she fought hard to get her dog back. Since then she has been though a number of domestic situations (different houses, places, sharing with different people including family members and so on), but has always managed to keep the dog. At times the dog has been left with her mother (who works full-time) and her brother who only begrudgingly tolerates the dog. She has put her life on hold because she took seriously the responsibility of having the dog. However, she recently took the plunge and decided to start a university course, which meant yet more change. She moved into a one-bedroomed flat with her cousin who also has a dog, a chihuahua by the same name confusingly. When her cousin is at work and the young woman in question is at university the dogs are left in the flat and to their own devices. Neighbours have complained about the noise when the dogs are left unattended. I know she is not at college all day every day, but there are significant periods of separation. Sorry, this pre-amble is a bit long-winded, but it is a context.
This weekend she was visiting her mother along with her sister and 3 year-old niece. For whatever reason the dog lunged at the child causing bruising on the child's forehead and red marks where the dog's teeth hit the child's face on the forehead and around the nose. Everyone was suitably shocked, but no skin was broken. Obviously the situation could have been so much worse. While I am only aware of this incident at second hand I now find out that it is the second time this has happened in the family with this dog.
My first instinct was the knee-jerk one that the dog must be put down. It clearly cannot be trusted with small children, even when the owner and several other adults are present. However much the dog's owner has felt she had the interests of the dog at heart something has clearly gone wrong and the unstable life of the dog has taken some toll. I have always found this dog to be playful, of bouncy temperament and good fun, if exhausting, to be with. I cannot offer the dog a home myself, because my own circumstances do not conform to any regular patterns.
Does a nine year-old dog lose patience with children as it gets older? It has apparently developed this nipping action as a response to the over-zealous attention of the chihuahua, but I think the first "attack" took place before she moved in with the other dog.
Obviously the dog-owner is upset with the way events have happened and is turning to family members for some help with sorting out the decision she clearly has to be seen to be making. Personally, I would hate to see an animal destroyed, particularly when the dog is a victim of its circumstances to some extent, but clearly the safety of children and of other people's children must come above above and before everything else. I don't know anything about dog behaviour, but it seems to me that these attacks were warnings rather than meant to cause any serious harm. However, the dog cannot now be trusted with children.
Can destroying the dog be avoided and is re-homing an option? If so, can anyone suggest the least traumatic way to go about it? Is a muzzle a sensible option? I don't see how this would necessarily stop the dog lungeing and still hurting children. Does anyone see another way through this?