"Covid puppies" have helped many of us get through long, dreary weeks of lockdown and pet ownership has skyrocketed with the pandemic.
The number of people opting to adopt pets, rather than buying through breeders has also increased, meaning rescue dogs are more likely to end up in a happy home rather than the pound.
However, unfortunately for some people, introducing a dog into the home doesn’t always end happily.
New York-based journalist, Madeline Bilis wrote in a piece for Slate Magazine, last week, about the “heartbreaking decision” she made to euthanise her six-year-old beagle, Bonnie, she adopted during the lockdown.
When Madeline brought Bonnie into her home six months ago, the beagle began demonstrating aggressive behaviour, resulting in some serious biting incidents, involving her boyfriend and a passerby when she took Bonnie out walking.
Madeline describes how, after “six months of failed behavioural training and daily dog anxiety meds” she felt she had no option.
Her article has generated passionate debate amongst dog owners, with some praising Madeline for her "compassion" but many others condemning her decision as cruel and selfish.
Dogs, like humans, experience a range of emotions, including fear and anxiety and their behaviour can be influenced by a range of factors, including gender, breed and past experiences.
This may result in dogs displaying aggressive and anti-social behaviour, turning on people and, in rare cases, causing serious injury or death.
Since 2000, there have been twenty-five deaths attributable to dog attacks in Australia.
Anxiety, fear lies beneath dog aggression
Doctor Kate Mornement, an Applied Animal Behaviourist and consultant to "pet parents", zoos and local government, works with aggressive dogs all the time.
She admits not all owners have the skills and ability to manage their dog’s aggression and that, although rare, sadly in some cases, behavioural euthanasia is the only option.
According to Dr Mornement, there is generally a reason why dogs become aggressive towards people and that most of this behaviour is a symptom of underlying fear or anxiety about something - a certain place, person, other dogs, or a fear something they value will be taken from them.
Any breed of dog can show aggression in response to a person, or a situation.
Successfully resolving this aggression involves understanding the triggers and working with the dog to change its emotional response to it, from a positive, rather than a negative one.
“Once the dog no longer feels afraid or anxious there’s no longer a need to show aggression," Dr Mornement said.
Can aggressive dogs be retrained successfully?
So, is it possible to retrain an aggressive dog with serious behavioural issues, like Madeline’s unfortunate beagle, Bonnie and what’s the likely success rate?
Dr Mornement believes: “it’s absolutely possible, however, each case is different, including the severity of the issue, the dog’s behavioural and health history and the owner’s ability to manage their dog and keep the community safe and whether they’re prepared to follow through with management and training recommendations”.
The good news for dog owners who find themselves dealing with difficult behaviour, depending on the severity of the issues and how closely and consistently they follow training recommendations, the success rate is pretty good.
“Typically, in my experience with committed owners, improvements can be seen within days or weeks, sometimes months,” Dr Mornement said.
RSPCA data suggests untreatable behavioural issues are rare
The RSPCA’s most recent national statistics from the 2019-2020 financial year, support Dr Mornement’s experience.
Of the 28,072 dogs the RSPCA received over this period, even though 12.5 per cent had to be euthanised, mainly due to severe, untreatable behavioural issues, this figure was down 20 per cent from the previous reporting period.
Of the remaining dogs, over 72 per cent were reunited with their owners or rehomed.
Like their human owners, each dog is unique, as is each person or family that welcomes them a pet into their home.
Before taking on the responsibility, it’s important to understand your dog’s background and temperament, as well as be aware of any emotional triggers that may lead to anti-social behaviour.
If you’re concerned about your dog’s behaviour and having trouble managing it, be sure to talk to the experts, including your vet.
They will be able to assess your dog’s behaviour and recommend the best way to manage and modify it.
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