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Battered spouse syndrome and dangerous dogs – a personal story

German Shepherd

German Shepherd

I have an old friend who is beautiful, witty and fairly successful.  She’s been married to her handsome husband for many years and, by all appearances, leads a happy life.

We used to be very close, sisters almost.  I’d come stay with her and she’d come stay with me, and our husbands would tolerate the closeness because we were such good friends and loved each other a bunch.

That is until her dog bit my daughter in the face for no reason whatsoever.

To this day I get upset when I think of it.

But my upset is not with the dog.  It’s with the owners of the dog.  With my old friend and her husband.

I understand dogs.  I often know what they’re thinking and have, on occasion, provided a voice for them when they had something important to say.

I even understand mean dogs. Mean dogs are usually predictable, they’re mean, and they stay locked up when strangers are around.

Dangerous dogs, on the other hand, I don’t understand.  By dangerous I mean unpredictable.  Nice most of the time until they turn and try and kill you or someone close to you.

I read about them all the time.  The dog who has been a family pet suddenly turning and killing a child, its owner, another pet.

Dangerous German Shepherd

Dangerous German Shepherd

I’ve met only a couple of truly dangerous dogs, ever.  Dogs that I was unable to reach, dogs that I could not train to respect me and not bite others.  Dogs that would hit a point of ‘madness’ where their instinct to attack was so strong that nothing I did would reach through the frenzy.

It’s a frightening moment to realize that your voice is not reaching the dog.

Now this particular dog my old friend owns has a history.  It wasn’t the first time he’d bitten someone  while I was standing there.  Earlier another friend had been attacked by him and bitten to the point of requiring stitches.  After that attack (and the owners being deeply apologetic but really doing nothing effective to handle their dog), I discovered that the dog had bitten before and the county had taken the dog away twice for bites and each time the family paid over $500 to get him back.  The county told them the next time he bit, he’d be put down.

A few months after that incident I came to town for a visit and stayed with my old friend, her husband and the dog.  Daily I’d work with the dog, a big German Shepard, exercising him, handling his aggressive outbursts, keeping him calm, attentive and friendly.

But there were these moments, these episodes, where he’d just be by himself and he’d start growling and looking strange, eyes defocused.  I’d sharply command his attention at these times and he’d stop, look at me, wag his tail and bring a ball over to play.  I was pleased to see the improvements in him and felt he was responding nicely to the work I was doing.

Until he bit my daughter’s face.

Unprovoked he rushed, leaps up and snaps at her face tearing her cheek open.

As I sat in the emergency room watching my distraught daughter getting 80 stitches put into her once perfect cheek, my friend was pleading with us not to report the incident to the authorities.  She promised she’d take the correct action to handle her dog once and for all.

And so I made up a story so the dog would not be taken away from my best friend.

Looking at it now, I realize that the relationship my friend and this dog have is similar to battered spouse syndrome.  Everyone can see the insanity that exists except the battered spouse, who makes excuses and hides the bruises and the bad news from others.

And my friend?  Right after the attack on our daughter, we stopped talking because, despite this newest incident and all my conversations with her, my research on what to do to handle aggression in dogs, it all fell on deaf ears, they did nothing.  To them it was ‘he’s eating the wrong food’, ‘my husband is not exercising him enough’ ‘his thyroid is acting up’, excuse, excuse, etc.

It wasn’t until later I learned he had bitten several other people I knew, some badly, but no one was talking about it.  The county incidents were reports from strangers.  I’m sure there are several other incidents that I don’t know about and probably never will.

Eventually my old friend and I mended our relationship to the point where we talk now, but  we never mention the dog and I’ve not been back to their house since the incident 3 years ago.

And it’s been 18 months since we’ve seen each other because we live in different states now.

German Shepherd (not the dog in the story)

German Shepherd (not the dog in the story)

Recently I heard that her husband was coming for a visit to our city, his flight was booked and his arrival date a few days away.

Abruptly, he canceled his trip.

Then I discovered why.

The reason he could not make the trip was their dog had just bitten the wife’s new best friend horribly and the girl required medical treatment.

I don’t know what has happened to the dog………my friend has stopped taking my calls for now.

I wonder why?

Here is one solution for dangerous dogs and owners who can’t bear to give them up.

It’s called Canine Disarming and, similar to disarming a gunman, these dangerous biting dogs are disarmed of the weapon they are packing, namely their sharp, pointed teeth.

Here is a recent article from the LA Times on the topic, and it deals with Cotton, a dog who, despite the owner doing everything she could think of to cure him of biting, was unsuccessful in her attempts so she was willing to try this new technique.

Weigh in on what you feel about this as a solution for dangerous dogs.  Do you have a different solution?    If so, let us know by commenting at the bottom of this article.

Is Canine Disarming the Solution for Aggressive Dogs?

An aggressive six-year-old American Eskimo dog named Cotton recently underwent a highly controversial dental treatment known as canine disarming to trim and smooth his teeth.

Cotton’s owner Diane Krieger had tried just about everything — puppy training classes, self-help books, and even assistance from “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan — to tame her pup’s dangerous bad habit, but the biting persisted. She even looked into dog rescue groups, but most refused to take pets with a history of biting.

Last month, as an alternative to euthanization, Krieger resorted to the $1,600 treatment. Veterinary dentist Dr. David Nielsen performed the canine disarming procedure in hopes of making Cotton more obedient — or at least, less harmful.According to the LA Times, Nielsen used a laser to shave 4 millimeters off Cotton’s sharp teeth. He then gave the trimmed teeth a soft finish with a human-grade composite. Think of it as doggy caps.

While Krieger felt she had no other option for her fierce 35-pound dog, the American Veterinary Medical Association feels otherwise. The organization is against canine disarming, saying it doesn’t address the behavioral problems that leads to biting. Yet, the American Veterinary Dental College accepts the use of the procedure in “selected cases,” the LA Times reported.

According to Dr. Nielsen, following the disarming procedure and recovery, “most dogs are intelligent enough to understand they are no longer knife-damaging biters, but more like pinchers at best.”

Since undergoing the procedure, Cotton’s bite has weakened, but he still pounces at strangers in the Kreiger’s home. Only time will tell if Cotton will learn that his ferocious fangs have turned into dull dentures.

Source LA Times
Pictoral on the procedure

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18 Responses to “Battered spouse syndrome and dangerous dogs – a personal story”

  1. Jeanne Pfadenhauer says:

    The dog showed prior instances of aggression prior to the incident with you daughter. Why did you even have your daughter in the dog’s presence in the first place? Sometimes there is no behavioral modification remaining for aggression, and the dog should be euthanized for all concerned.

  2. Chelsea says:

    I’m against canine disarming, %100!!!
    I feel as though if your dog is to the point of needing this procedure it should just be put down. A viscious dog is a dangerous dog with or without canines!

  3. While I have no moral objections to this “disarming” procedure, I do think it is a confusing procedure for both the dog, its owners and its potential future victims. I think the dog cannot help but feel altered physically, but i doubt that this will be any more effective than the use of a product such as the “haltie” or “gentle leader.” Furthermore, it might give the owner a false sense of security, allowing them to believe their dog is less dangerous and therefore requires less input from them, thereby exacerbating the original problem. Finally, while the injuries from the subsequent bites this dog might inflict could initially be less serious, they would still be every bit as traumatic for a victim to experience. Over time, the dog might resort to more violent use of his less dangerous weapons, including more aggressive attempts to bite repeatedly or to clamp down harder and shake the victim’s limb, etc. I’m not a fan of the idea.

  4. I realized after submitting my comment that i had neglected to include the fact that I am a practicing veterinarian and am infrequently called upon to perform euthanasia on dogs with behavioral problems. I believe this sheds a slightly different light on how I perceive this dilemma.

  5. Dr. Karen Negrin, DVM says:

    I have dealt with dangerous dogs a good deal of my life. In fact, I owned one that I was able to train to accept family but not strangers. (She initially would bite me and anyone else, but I took the time needed to train her.)

    Two years ago, a dangerous dog came into my practice and bit me while I was attempting to put a muzzle on him. The owner tried to get the dog to let go by striking the dog over the head which only made the dog bite worse. I am also a certified animal control officer and as such, have training on how to get a dog off without getting hurt or hurting the dog in the process. The bite lead to my developing bacterial meningitis, losing my eye site for 4 days and a slow recovery over the past 2 years. I did not give up my career or my love of animals but it made me very cautious of who I entrust to hold animals for me. If any of my technicians show fear of the animal, I remove them from the room.

    The idea of disarming dogs by the dental procedure has been out for years. I have seen a few dogs that have had the teeth disarmed in my practice and could not understand why since the dogs have shown no signs of aggression. Most of those animals have been adopted through shelters or a friend gave them the dog.

    The few that I have encountered that are aggressive and had the procedure done, still attack and bite. Although the bite is lessened, the bruising effect is still there and the emotional scars of the person who was attack does not go away as easily as the bruising. It took some time before I trusted my technicians to hold animals for me again; I often opted to look at the animals alone once I recovered enough to hold animals by myself again.

    This disarming may be a solution for some but the problem I see is that in most cases, the dangerous dog still needs to be watched carefully by the owner. Ultimately, it is the owner that is responsible for what the dog does. If the owner cannot control that dog, the dog should not be brought out in public. If the owner can’t control the dog around his/her own family, then the dog needs to find someone who can control the dog or be euthanized as a last resort. Public safety must come first.

  6. John S. Eden, DVM says:

    I see this situation occasionally in my practice. I am very outspoken about it and PUSH for euthanasia. I have lost clients over it and have no regrets what-so-ever.

    NO dog is worth what you’re daughter endured and no friendship is worth what you failed to do in response. In reality, had you acted responsibly, when it was already clear that the owner wouldn’t, several others would have been spared. If you are, in fact, a trainer, or not, you must bear some of the load for subsequent victims.

    Had this situation involved a toddler, the child could well have been killed before anyone could react.

    None of this forgives the owner for their total lack of concern for the fate of the dog’s victims. If they cared, they would have surrendered the dog. Their only concern was about how THEY felt.

    You asked and said you could handle it. There you have the opinion of one who has seen too many such tragedies and who has little sympathy for the players and a great deal for the victims. Life is hard.

  7. John S. Eden, DVM says:

    By the way, I agree with the AVMA position. If in fact, disarming reduces the severity of physical injury, it does nothing at all for the mental/emotional injury. In my opinion, it is an irresponsible procedure.

  8. Madeline Graham, DVM says:

    How sad for all involved and how preventable. Number one is getting advice on choosing a dog to begin with and knowing its temperment and appropriateness for the particular owner and lifestyle – veterinarians are an untapped resource for pre-adoption/purchase information. Two is appropriate puppy training from a knowledgeable trainer-all training should be via positive reinforcement. Anyone recommending a choke collar, alpha roll, or other negative or controlling methods should be avoided. Three is being smarter than your dog – apparently too often not the case. If a dog is potentially aggressive then it needs to be confined or controlled when potential victims are present. Crates, muzzles, leashes, rooms with closed doors, gates etc all can be used to keep people safe. Aggression is a serious behavioral issue and rather than self-help guides and TV stars a board certified veterinary behaviorist should be consulted – this would be equivalent to seeking psychiatric care for a family member with mental illness. Unfortunately the humans make all the mistakes and the dog often pays for them with his/her life. Having a pet is like having a child – it takes an investment of time and learning to do it right to have a wonderful outcome. Ignoring that responsibility results in pain, sorrow and tragedy for all.

  9. Brenda Stewart, V.M.D. says:

    There is a behavior condition called “Spaniel Rage Syndrome” which no amount of behavior training is going to change. It is some sort of chemical or neurologic imbalance in the dog which was first seen in Springer Spaniels, but it can be seen in other breeds as well. There is no treatment that is “full proof” because the cause of this behavior aggression disease is still unknown and called collectively “idiopathic aggression.” Once identified as this type of aggression, it is recommended to euthanize this dog as the onset of this aggressiveness is unpredictable and cannot be trained out of the dog.

  10. Karen Thompson says:

    I agree with all of the above comments. I’ve seen similar situations in practice over the years. I’m a big fan of behavior treatment (with a veterinary behaviorist AND a good trainer) – I’ve even taken my own fearful rescue dog to one for help. But, even if that dog could have been treated and changed, his history is far too dangerous for him to have been in a home like that. And I don’t understand why the incident wasn’t reported by the attending physician to your daughter, even if you didn’t report it. They are required by law to report dog bites! You do bear some responsibility for not reporting it, knowing he could/would bite again. I’m surprised the owners haven’t been sued yet by someone.

    I inherited a dog from my late mother who had bitten a few times but each time it was someone coming in the house unexpectedly – still not acceptable but more related to territory so understandable. I was very careful with her and everything seemed to be going Ok until one day she was sitting in the living room staring at one of my cats on the sofa, and my 3 yo son walked in front of her. She lunged up and bit him in the face, requiring stitches. I was 3 feet from her when it happened and saw the entire thing. I know it wasn’t really directed at him; she was so fixated on the cat and he got in her line of vision but I wasn’t willing to have that kind of risk any more. I also knew that passing her on to someone else was not responsible (she’d been rehomed 3 times before my mom got her) so I euthanized her.

    I think if someone absolutely insists on keeping a dog who has bitten, especially more than once, teaching the dog to accept and wear a basket muzzle would be far more helpful than filing the teeth down.

  11. Kim says:

    I had a dog like the one you talked about. I saw the signs that I should take him back to the shelter. My vet even said, after as a puppy, he growled at her, take him back! I didn’t. He bit my son, another girl and just had a mean personalty. The last day of his life, he growled another of our dogs, he growled at me, and then he growled at my husband and jumped up to attack him. Like I said, it was his last day.
    There was no other way around it. He had problems. But, I do not agree with putting him down, it was not my choice.
    I wanted to take the time to check into giving him away to be trained as a police dog. Somewhere where his agression could be directed and used for good. That, would have been my solution, had I had a choice.
    Pulling his teeth, does nothing, he is still a feared and dangerous dog.

  12. Patricia Maguire says:

    I do not like the idea of de-teething a dog, since many dog problems are owner problems that can be dealt with. I’m afraid that it would become an overused and “easy” solution where it’s not needed. I would opt for humane euthanizing instead. Like some humans, brain problems can interfere with a normal life – our humans, hopefully, end up in prison or in mental facilities in cases of sociopaths or psychopaths. There are some temporary solutions but these are risky. Muzzling the dog or using gates and fences are not really fool-proof enough. For example, a friend’s Akita was contained in a back yard and a delivery service was instructed to leave a pkg. on the front step of the house, but the message didn’t get from the phone service to the delivery service and the boy opened the back gate and barely got away with his life.

  13. Karin-Susan Breitlauch, DVM says:

    We euthanize animals for untreatable physical illness. Why,then, is untreatable mental illness any different? Dogs with uncontrollable rage are not happy. They cannot be trusted members of the pack. The kindest thing is to let them go peacefully. I, too, suffered a bite to the face from a supposedly friendly dog. I am a professional and it took everything I had to let it go and keep on doing what I always do. When I close my eyes, I can still hear the teeth hitting my cheek. Imagine the scars that a child would have.
    No, it is terribly unkind to humans and animals alike to allow these dogs to suffer and cause suffering.

  14. I agree with the opinions stated by my colleagues. Let me add that there is more potential damage from the carnassial teeth shearing action that is not addressed by “disarming” the canine teeth. A dog like this would not be suitable for police or military work. He might have been usable as a “junkyard dog” kind of guard, but that is an empty and unhappy life.
    The comparison with battered-spouse syndrome is interesting and perhaps has some merits. The base reasons may be common to both, and are in play as early as the selection process for these pets.

  15. Linda says:

    Dear Dr. Grayson,

    Thank you for your reply. I see that grinding a dogs teeth so that it cannot tear if it bites is pretty much not something most veterinary professionals agree with, and in reading the many responses to this article, I see why.

    The underlying situation has not really been addressed, so a vicious dog remains vicious and can cause emotional harm to the person or animal being attacked, just not do as much damage. And from what I’ve seen, and all I’ve read, it is tough to overcome the emotional damage caused to pet and person when they’ve been attacked by a dangerous dog.

    It is up to each individual pet owner to decide what to do when they discover their dog is a dangerous dog. I hope that some of them will find these comments as they are trying to decide, and can use everyone’s input to help them do the right thing in their situation.


  16. Bill says:

    Thanks for posting this information. I agree with your point on battered spouses and how some dangerous dog owners cover for the pets. It’s BAD

  17. Chris says:

    Thank you for this article and thanks to all who responded. Although the thread is old, others will probably find it the way I did (Google: my friend has a dangerous dog) I’m in a very similar situation right now. What makes it worse is the friend who owns the dog has terminal cancer. Her dog just killed another dog on the block about six weeks ago and everyone was avoiding confronting her; they know she loves this pit-mix dog, which was a rescue, but which she can’t control.

    I finally emailed her yesterday asking her if what I had heard was true and what did she plan to do about it. She sent the “f*** you” reply I was expecting. She has carefully avoided telling people about these incidents (11+ human bites; 2 dog attacks, one fatal). She throws money at the bitten people or pays their vet bills. I just found out recently; victims are finally coming forward with the truth.

    I have lost a friend and don’t care any more. Next move involve the local precinct.

  18. Chris says:

    And by the way, canine disarming probably wouldn’t have helped the little dog that the pit-mix grabbed in his jaws and shook. It was taken to the emergency vet and released the same day; my friend drove its owner there and told the intake person “This dog was attacked by another dog”–never mentioning that it was her dog that did the attacking. Then, when they asked for pay up front, my friend pulled out HER OWN credit card.

    The little dog who was shaken in the pit-mix’s jaws died the next day, either from internal bleeding or shock or fear or all three.

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