Is re-homing a dog a fair option?

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  • 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?

  • Its not something I could give you a definitive answer to. I have had many aggressive dogs (guard dogs) most of them I have controlled. One was a rescue and the damage was done long before I took it on. I would mussel that dog when in public. However, the dogs hatred of kids grew stronger. I even took the dog to the vets to put the animal down. Sat in the vets reception, I thought its not my dogs fault and I live well out the way in fields. The dog can be kept away from Jo public there. I bottled out of killing the animal and went outside to have a fag with the dog on a lead and mussel. A young girl got out of her mums car when they were bringing some small animal to the vets. My dog just went for her. Wrapping its front legs around the girls waist and trying to bite her. I put out my cigaret and took the dog back in to the vets to have it put to sleep. It was heart breaking. But you can't be responsible for the physical or mental damage a dig can do to a human. To this day, though I feel sad about my dog, it was the very best thing I could do. If I had returned it to the rescue center, I would have had to be honest (as they had been) They would have had no other choice but to destroy the dog.

  • Re-homing is definitely a fair option for the dog it sounds like he might be a bit stressed where he is though as you said he can`t be trusted with small children any more so it would need to be a child free environment. It`s significant that the dog has made it to almost ten years old with no other incidents so i don`t think it would be fair to jump straight to euthanasia.

    If it were me i`d get the dog assessed by a vet to rule out physical pain/discomfort then a dog behaviourist for the psychological side of things and take it from there..

  • Perhaps re homeing is a good way to start - at least allowing the dog owner to consider an option - you do see dog re home charities sometime advise a specific dog is not used to young children -

    Perhaps its a weigh up of the owner or those caring for the dog being aware of how the dog is. My neighbours have 3 dogs and one we all know is never left with youngsters.

    It would be difficult to know and recognise any triggers to the dogs action. I would agree with emmadilemma.

  • Thanks very much for your helpful suggestions. People are being cautious re the dog and the children at the moment although no one seems to be demanding the dog is put down. Clearly, though, they are all anxious for something to be done to ensure future safety. I shall try and weave your thoughts into a conversation I expect I shall be having at some point over the next couple of days. I think the owner is actually quite sensitive to the dog's temperament and mood and she does care about the animal. Circumstances are just skewing some priorities at the moment it would seem.

  • It's hard to give you a definitive answer without having been there and seen the incident. What I will say though is that one, no dog bites/nips for no reason, there is always a reason even if it isn't obvious to us at the time, and two, if the dog had been intending to cause serious injury, it would have done so before anyone had time to react or pull it away. It sounds like this was a warning nip, rather than a full on attack. That doesn't make it ok, obviously, and i'm sure it was shocking for everyone who witnessed it, but, there's a world of difference between a dog who snapped, and a dog who attacks. Has the dog been socialised with children on a regular basis? We often expect dogs to automatically know how to behave, but they don't, they need to be taught, and dogs view children differently from the way they view adults. Children can be scary to dogs, they're high pitched, their movements are clumsy and they can often hurt or frighten dogs without realising it. A lot of dogs can be wary of children. If the dog felt cornered or that it's warnings weren't being heeded (not all dogs growl ... turning their head/body away, lip licking and showing the whites of their eyes are also signs of fear/discomfort) it may be that he felt he had no other option but to snap. That doesn't make it alright and it certainly isn't worth taking the risk of it happening again, but it also doesn't sound like the dog is a dangerous dog who is likely to cause serious injury.

    If they wanted to keep the dog and try and work through the problems, there's no reason why this can't be safely done. Management is key. From what I understand, the dog doesn't live with children, it was just visiting someone and the child was there, so it's presumably possible in future to leave the dog at home, or to leave it in the garden/shut in another room/behind a stairgate where it can't come into contact with the child. Rather than muzzling the dog for hours at a time (which can cause more stress to the dog, and as you said, doesn't stop him still lunging at a child), it would be better just not to allow the dog contact with children in the first place. If he is properly managed, not allowed to come into contact with children in the home, walked at times of the day where there aren't many kids about (or muzzled on walks), and not left in situations where he could be approached by children (ie left tied outside shops) there's no reason why he couldn't stay living with his current owner :)

    What would worry me more than the nipping is that you said the dogs are left at home a lot and are noisy when left. This would suggest they either have seperation anxiety - where they've never been taught to be left alone and don't know how to settle, or are just bored. How often are they getting walked, do they have short training sessions to keep their mind stimulated, do they have toys such as hollow rubber kongs with food in, to keep them occupied when they're left alone? A bored, understimulated dog will be a frustrated dog, and a frustrated dog, like humans, is more likely to be short tempered and act in ways they wouldn't normally. It's quite easy to improve this with a good routine and a bit of dedication, but if the owner feels they don't have enough time for the dog anymore (or can't safely manage it around children as per the above paragraph) then that may be a reason to consider rehoming.

    If they did want to go down the rehoming route, most good rescues will take a dog who has bitten - it doesn't have to mean a death sentence for the dog. There are plenty of good homes out there where dogs won't be living with children or coming into contact with them. Dogs who have nipped/bitten ARE harder to find a home for than dogs who are good with children, it sometimes takes longer to rehome them, but there are homes out there for them. A good rescue will properly assess the dog, work with them to try and improve any issues, and will only let the dog go to a suitable home (in this case without any children), so the owners wouldn't have to feel guilty/worried about passing the problem on to someone else. Many rescues also use foster homes for their dogs, which means he wouldn't have to spend any time in kennels. If they do want to go down that route, message me with their location, and i'll send you a list of good rescues in their area :)

    Personally, if they wanted to rehome the dog, I would advise going down the rescue route as mentioned above, rather than trying to find a new home for the dog themselves. People aren't always honest about their circumstances and may lie to get a dog, and you may find the dog is bought by idiots who will let it get into a dangerous situation, like having it around their children, or will sell it on for profit and not mention it's previous history to potential new owners. Decent rescues do several levels of assessments, homechecks, and offer lifetime backup, where they will take the dog back at any point during it's life if there are problems, so you will be ensured the safety of the dog (and anyone he comes into contact with in future) will be the priority :)

    Hope that helps.

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    The post was edited 1 time, last by Twister ().

  • Thank you for taking the time and the trouble to answer.

    It looks like no one in the family is calling for the dog to be put down. The latest plan seems to be that the dog will move back to the owner's mother's house where her brother will be around most days at the moment. The owner will then come back home every weekend. It may not be ideal, but at least there will be consistency and no neighbours near enough to be worried while the animal re-learns to settle down. When children come to visit the dog can be kept away from them.

  • In some circumstances I think rehoming a dog is the right thing to do, especially when its welfare is at risk, or unstable.
    I believe " A dog is for life, not just for Christmas "

  • if your going to suggest rehoming id advise you to stay well away from bigger rescues, rspca, dogs trust etc. These rescues will pts any dog with a colourful past. believe me!!! i can put you in touch of small none destruct rescues who can help. but everywhere is full at the moment. it took me 4 days to sort out a foster placement for a ddb x sbt who was high risk of being killed. luckily my magic worked but i had to pull in alot of favours! good luck tho

  • Hello Marshlander, I have just re -read your initial post, and think given the circumstances it should be rehomed, but as somebody else said, avoid rspca, pdsa etc and try to find somebody on their own, perhaps a pensioner or couple, that way they can be 1 to 1 with the dog, and their is the avoidance of young children? Just my thoughts ... hope your well.