Program Director, Target Zero

What is your approach to the challenges associated with dogs who have a bite history? 

  • Do you accept these dogs in your shelter/rescue?
  • Do you have methods of evaluating the degree/severity of a previous bite?
  • Are dogs with bite histories ever offered for adoption?
  • Are dogs with bite histories transferred to rescues?
  • How do you communicate issues to potential adopters?

Of course, these are just a few questions the come up around this topic. As shelters have started to take on more challenging behavior cases, many of us struggle with what to do about those dogs who have bitten in the past. Please share your approach, and feel free to add questions to this list.

  • Sheila.darpino   Maddie's Fund Staff  November 27, 2018 at 12:28 PM

    Hi Mike,    

    I don't currently work in a shelter, but at the shelters i've worked at in the past...

    1. Yes, we accept dogs with bite histories.  Aggression is communication- while it can be rarely be very dangerous, the vast majority of aggressive incidents aren’t serious. They are a dog’s way of telling us that they’re uncomfortable with something, because they can’t talk to us.   I’ve lived with a number of dogs over the years who have bite histories. The majority of them bit once and then never again.  A much smaller number of them displayed what I would call ‘serious aggression’.
    2. Methods for evaluating: Yes, I look at the severity of the bite, the dog’s personality, the dog’s history,  the predictability of the behavior, the environment where the bite occurred, the triggers for that behavior occurring, etc.  Lots of different factors. Not something that is answerable here – at least I can’t do it brieflyJ
    3. Yes, I have found homes for many dogs with bite histories over they years. Fingers crossed, nothing horrible has ever happened after adoption. Some have been returned because the dog wasn’t a good fit, which was a good thing, and then adopted out again (unless we learned something that made the dog unsafe to rehome)
    4. Transfer to rescues- this is not something that we did super frequently. As a veterinary behaviorist who works with shelters, it was tough to find orgs with more background and experience to be able to manage and safely rehome the pet. But we  would transfer them to other shelters or rescues who we had good relationships with and trusted.  Sometimes we traded (e.g., dogs who were aggressive toward other dogs didn’t do well in urban Boston, but did well when transferred to a rural setting… and then we took their separation anxiety dogs in exchange), other times we didn’t. Remember, aggression is ‘simply’ communication and not something evil and horrible in the vast majority of situations.  It shouldn’t always be a death sentence.   Cos a lot of us would then be dead if an act of aggression resulted in death. My sister bit me a lot when we were kids. But guess what, she learned better ways to communicate as she got older and turned into a wonderful human being. Euthanasia wasn’t even considered ;)    I make light of it…. But its really important to evaluate the dog and not just assume that a bite means that the dog is always a serious risk.
    5. Communication with adopters- get to know them, allow them to get to know the dog.  I explain why the dog is behaving aggressively and what we do to manage/prevent it. I demonstrate the behavior (if safe and possible), talk to them about the behavior, have them read everything we know about the dog and sign that they read it.   And educate about the 3-5 things they need to do to promote a happy and healthy relationship with the dog when they take it home.   I form a relationship with them... make sure they know I care about them and the dog, and then follow up with them once the dog goes home.  Some of these people have become people that I’m
  • MarylinPointers    November 16, 2018 at 06:38 PM

    OK, now I'm just cranky.  This is the second time I've spent 1/2 hour typing in a very detailed response only to have it vaporize before I could finish.  This is the last time I'll be on this forum.

    • SusanRSM    November 17, 2018 at 04:06 AM

      This has happened to me too--more than once [so I just gave up]--Maddie's folks PLEASE help--I would REALLY like to participate and particular follow this topic!!

      • Maddie's Pet Forum Admin   Maddie's Fund Staff  November 19, 2018 at 06:32 PM

        We apologize for the frustration! We're sending you both a private message to get more information so we can get address the issue right away.



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