It’s always upsetting to have a dog with behavioural issues; these can range from minor gripes like an unreliable recall to dangerous issues such as aggression towards dogs and people. With dog bite attack statistics on the rise and new laws in the UK adding XL bullies to the dangerous dogs act, euthanasia for behavioural problems has been under discussion among pet owners and within the veterinary industry.

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What is a behavioural problem and why do they happen?

A behavioural problem is any undesirable behaviour your dog is carrying out. Common behavioural problems include excessive barking, jumping up at people, inappropriate urination or defecation and aggression. Separation anxiety is also a common behavioural issue. This is when a pet gets very distressed when left alone or when separated from a particular person. This can lead to highly destructive behaviours such as chewing and general destruction. 

These types of behaviours can occur for a variety of reasons, and it’s important to remember it is not always the fault of the owner. It’s well accepted that both genetics and environment influence a dog’s behaviour, the environment of a puppy during the socialisation period is particularly crucial. Other factors that can lead to behavioural problems include fear and pain. A more in-depth look at causes for dog aggression can be found here.

What steps can be taken to address behavioural issues and what support is available?

If you are concerned your dog is exhibiting behavioural issues your first stop should be at your vet. Looking at aggressive behavioural issues in particular, pain and fear can be significant underlying factors, both of which a thorough clinical exam and discussion of clinical signs with your vet can help to unpick. Things your vet can prescribe are pain medications if discomfort is suspected and in an anxious dog that is becoming aggressive due to fear, anxiolytic medications along with behavioural modification training can address this. These kinds of drugs can also be utilised in cases of separation anxiety. If other factors are ruled out, the next steps for addressing behavioural issues would be to look at seeking help from an accredited behaviourist. Other things that can be done at home to aid with this is to muzzle train for safety; a guide for doing this can be found below.

Why would someone consider euthanising their dog for behavioural reasons?

The obvious cause for considering euthanasia for a dog due to behavioural reasons is a bite history, making that animal unsafe. However, euthanasia may be considered for any behaviour that makes the pet unmanageable and is causing the owner and animal undue distress. For example, in cases of severe separation anxiety where all other routes have been explored (such as behavioural modification training and prescription medications) euthanasia is a valid option. This is because that behaviour means that there is a welfare issue to the pet themselves to become that distressed any time their owner leaves the room. 

It is also worth considering that while rehoming a pet is always an option, contrary to common opinion it is not always the kindest thing for them compared to euthanasia

Re-homing includes leaving their home and often entering a kennel environment; which may not be in that animal’s best interest due to the distress it would cause. Many charities are also at or close to maximum capacity. If an animal has complex behavioural needs there may be a waiting list for space at a charity that can provide that type of care. If you are considering giving up a dog or euthanasia, consider discussing the case with a dog rescue charity, such as the Dogs Trust or the RSPCA

Euthanasia for behavioural reasons is a highly emotional subject to many people 

It is the opinion of this author however that if all other alternative routes have been explored, it should be considered as an option. Human and animal safety should be paramount. If this cannot be guaranteed by behaviour training or protective items such as muzzles, euthanasia should be considered. Equally the veterinary mantra of “no animal should suffer” extends to psychological suffering also, which is often overlooked. If a pet is experiencing high levels of stress that manifests as a behaviour issue which cannot be controlled by interventions as above, euthanasia is also a fair thing to consider. It is never an easy choice to make, but one that should come with a lot of consideration and compassion.

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