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Help Me Please! What Is The Right Thing To Do?

Okay, this is going to be VERY long, and I am sorry for that. I just hope that someone can help me, give me some advice. Tell me what I need to do.

I have a 3 year old pitbull-boxer mix. Until 6 months ago, he "belonged" to a family member. He was a backyard dog. Always fed, had water and shelter - but little-to-no attention and training. He was never socialized and spent his entire life in that yard.

This family member was preparing to move from the house she was renting and was talking about calling animal control to remove this unruly animal - as he had never been trained to walk on a leash or ride in a car - she knew she would be unable to get him out of the yard. I have known this dog since he was a puppy, so unlike most people, he was pretty comfortable with me. I agreed to work with him and take over his care. I lived with him at the rental from November - March 1st, when the lease was up.

I worked with him several times a day - getting him used to being touched, played with. Teaching him to wear a collar, then walk on a leash. To get into a car. Everything was new to this dog and I knew I had a long road, but was willing to do the work. We bonded. I moved him at the beginning of March, to our new house. He is allowed in doors, listens pretty well unless distracted - he's making some progress.

My concern is his aggression. He is not aggressive with me - quite the opposite. I have earned his trust and love and he seems pretty content with me. However, he is aggressive with EVERYONE else, except for the two other people he's known since he was a puppy. He barks and growls and snarls anytime a stranger approaches the fenced yard. It's a very serious, threatening bark too - not a "come-play-with-me" bark. He lunges at the chain link, smashes his face into like he wants to bite whoever it is. Even with people I have given him time to get used to (15-20 visits), like my family members. He doesn't show the same aggression - but he won't allow them to touch him. Sometimes he sits 10 feet away and stares, growling low and quiet.

So, I can't have people at my house because I am afraid this dog may hurt someone. I could almost live with that. Except, since we moved he has developed a raging case of separation anxiety. I am afraid to leave him. He has chewed through the door to the sunroom, two layers of tough vinyl lattice and can break out of his kennel without much effort at all. Lately, I have been leaving him in the fenced yard when I need to run to the store or take the trash to the dump - but I am afraid to leave for more than 30-45 minutes for fear he will escape from the yard and hurt someone. So, no one can come here, and, I can't leave my house. My dog is holding me hostage. There isn't a room in the house I could close him up in, and after seeing the damage he did to the sunroom - I'm pretty sure he could chew through the floor in a couple of hours. I am always afraid he is going to hurt himself because he gets so worked up when I leave. He has cut up his tongue, broken a tooth, broken a nail and suffered some other small injuries in his attempts to escape.

He has not seen a vet in years, and I know he needs to, but I don't know how to get him to allow a vet to examine him. And, I'm afraid I won't be able to get him in the door! He walks on a leash really well when he WANTS to go somewhere, but, if he's scared or distracted he plants his butt on the ground and there isn't much I can do. He is very strong.

I have had more than one person suggest I euthanize this dog because he is, honestly, ruining my life. I need to go back to work, I'm supposed to return to school in the fall. Right now, I can't even go to the store or visit a friend. I would be more than happy to pay a dog walker or even take him to doggy-day-care to keep him from getting lonely when I'm away, but I don't see these being options. He can be animal aggressive too.

Is euthanizing him the right thing to do? I just don't know if I could live with myself. He loves me. I have earned his trust and I now feel responsible for his well-being. Just the thought makes me cry. I will not take him to a shelter and abandon him, as that seems more cruel to me. He would be terrified and alone for 72 hours, and then euthanized anyway. I know he won't pass an aggression test with anyone other than me.

I am crying as I type this because I feel so guilty. I have tried so hard, but, I feel like I have failed this dog. I really thought I could help him, but now, I'm not so sure. He is so sweet with me and I adore him when it's just the two of us - but, I can't spend 24 hours a day with this dog and never allow anyone else into my life or home.

I need honest opinions - DOG LOVERS ONLY! What would you do? What should I do? I have read every book and watched every video I can find trying to help him overcome this fear-aggression, but I feel like I am getting nowhere. I'll try anything, I swear I will!

I do know that despite truly loving this dog, I am starting to resent him and I am so stressed out, I feel miserable most of the time. I feel like a prisoner. Even when I do leave the house I'm constantly worrying he has escaped. I moved 7 weeks ago, and I still haven't been able to buy furniture because that would take more than an hour.

I just don't know what to do. I don't know what the RIGHT thing is to do. I took on the responsibility of this dog, does that mean I should deal with and live with whatever issues he has - forever? I feel like it's my responsibility. If so, how? I am uncertain whether he is truly a danger to people - he acts pretty dangerous sometimes. He has never actually bit or nipped anyone, but he's also never really had the chance. Do I wait until he has bitten someone to make this decision? I think the guilt of that would kill me too. I do not believe this dog is a danger to ME, he's seems to trust me implicitly, and he is protective of me.

What do I do? What should I do? Do I protect my neighbors and friends from this dog who is potentially dangerous - but hasn't actually committed the crime? Or do I protect this dog? Help me… I don't know, what is the right thing to do? I truly love this dog and want so much to help him and fix him, but, I'm not sure if I can anymore.
Athingwithfeathers Athingwithfeathers 26-30, F 13 Responses Apr 17, 2012

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I actually ordered him a Thundershirt from amazon a few days back. Should be here next week, so we are going to try that. Along with a muzzle to make sure the trip to the vet is a safe one for everyone involved. One of the nice basket-kind so he can still pants and drink.<br />
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I have gotten a reference for an dog trainer in my area. I live in a very rural community, so must things are done by word-of-mouth. No one has web pages or anything. But, apparently, this guy is some kind of doggy-magician. <br />
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My next step is a vet. I want to be sure there isn't some kind of underlying medical cause for his aggression, he is intact as well. I know I shouldn't have put it off for so long, but, I was hoping I could get this dog to a place where I wouldn't have to tranquilize him to have him examined. At this point, I'm willing to do what I have to though.

- Learn the root of the aggression. Is his tail between his legs, is he cowering? Or is his tail up at "alert" and "wagging" with his hair standing up?<br />
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- If need be, try using the "Thundercoat" for dogs. Something like that. It's a doggy jacket that you wrap around them, and it applies pressure to pressure points and relaxes them. It may be useful for vet visits, as long as you don't have to take it off. Otherwise, you may have to medicate your pooch to get him to the vet.<br />
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- The average consultation with a behaviorist is $100-$200. Find one who works with aggressive dogs. It's not just your life the aggression is affecting, it's your dogs life. To constantly live on the edge is not pleasant. <br />
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If you can't afford a behaviorist to help you teach your dog through positive reinforcement and trust techniques, you may want to gradually expose him to people. He may never be OK with everyone, but you can make it so that he doesn't want to bark at people or eat strangers. He might always be distrustful of people- but dogs have come back from the depths of worse. The Michael Vick's dogs, for example, only 2-3 dogs out of 51 had to be euthanized, the rest were rehabilitated. One dog had to be put down for medical reasons, the other was bred so aggressively that she didn't trust a soul. <br />
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Have hope, and try little by little to get him to trust. If he isn't neutered, that may be part of it, as adrenaline levels decrease with the drop in hormones. Fight or flight goes down. I would make it your goal to get him to the vet, to make sure the aggression isn't of a medical nature.

Hi look up "Emily Larlham" on "YouTube". She has some amazing videos on dog training all for free. The one thing I see no-one has mentioned is "The yawn" whenever a dog is stressed a noisy yawn is a way of saying to a dog, "I'm very calm and it doesn't frighten me" Also lip licking watch dogs try and understand THEIR language instead of them expecting to understand ours.<br />
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We have 3 dogs all from the pound (shelter) some take a lot of work. Understand that some dogs NEED a very STRONG alpha figure. You HAVE to be the boss.<br />
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There is no way on this earth I would hurt an animal but please understand I think you dog needs a very strong and confident leader. Some simple rules NEVER let your dog eat before you. NEVER let you dog go through a door before you. If when walking you dog, he/she is infront of of you immediatly about turn, THEN the dog is behind you where he should be. It's all about the dogs language NOT yours.<br />
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I sincerly hope this helps to some degree, I have tried to learn the language of dogs not people. <br />
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Cheers Pete and his wonderful friend Jack

I have seen that yawning and lip licking can be a sign of stress, but I didn't know it was a way of coping with stress. I will have to look into these youtube videos. I actually just ordered a book on "speaking dog"
I do not allow him to eat before me, or enter doors before me. I also me him "do something for me" before he gets any food or treats. It was the "Nothing in Life is Free" method I read about somewhere, that's helps to establish dominance. Nothing major, just make him sit or lie down before handing over the food or treats or toys. I know I could never be physically dominant with this dog or any other, as some people in my life have suggested. I have had more than one person tell me I need to beat the crap out of this dog - but that is one thing I will not try.
I am trying to learn to be a stronger leader for this dog and I need all the help I can get. I am in over my head here, and I know it. Every tip helps. Thank you.

oh good gracious, if you beat the crap out of your animals, they will gain more problems that will be harder to fix. I'm glad that you said no to that.
Just remember that not 'alphas' have to be aggressive. It is possible to show dominance without pain.
With dog language, there are other things to look for, especially in the ears. The ears are one of the most expressive parts on a dogs body. Maybe that will help you when you don't know how he'll act.

I agree.
And his ears always go back when he's stressed, flat against his head. It's actually a weird command we have adopted, when I see him start to panic, I say "Frank, get your ears up". For some reason, it can help calm him down.

Have you tried benadryl? It's not only used for allergic reactions, but because it makes your little one drowsy, it is used a lot by professional trainers as a stress reliever. I give my dog a child dose and she just kind of mellows out. <br />
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There could also be an underlining medical condition causing all this acting out. The vet would know what to do, what to look for. I know you're worried about him biting people, even the vet. But they do their best to comfort the animal and treat them. <br />
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It's not my decision, but I would recommend working more, change some of your strategies, because he doesn't deserve to be given up on. Often times the best remedy for stress is affection and love, and it sounds to me like you adore this dog, just worried about him hurting someone. <br />
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Please promise that you won't make any decision until you've thought about and considered all your options so that you can give him what is best.

I haven't tried benadryl - but I always have a good stock here because I am (HAH!) allergic to dogs. I'm not giving up yet, and a vet is my next stop. Crazy nervous about that, but I'm going to go talk to the local vet first and see how/if she wants to handle him. I will try the benadryl the next time I know he's going to be stressed - which is often. I bought some "doggy-calmers" at the pet store, but they didn't seem to have much of an effect.
My comment below elaborates a bit more on the decision I came to this morning - after calming myself down... I don't want to get rid of this dog, I want to fix him. I am adjusting my training and have a lead on a local behaviorist.

I'm glad you have a lead, that's a relief on your part I bet. I just hope it all works out for you and your dog. Please keep us posted :)

Hi everyone! I just wanted to thank you all for your help and comments. After a particularly bad incident yesterday involving a guy I had hired to cut down some trees in my yard - I had a bit of a doggie-meltdown. I had never seen this dog get THIS aggressive with anyone and it scared the crap out of me. I am SO SCARED of this dog hurting someone.<br />
After a good nights sleep, I've resolved that I can't do this yet. I have put in 6 months of hard work with this dog, and I'm not ready to give up. I have ordered him a muzzle (he needs to see a vet more quickly than I think I will be able to resolve this, and a muzzle seems like the safe way to go for everyone involved). My search for behaviorists thus far has come up pretty empty, but I'm going to start harassing the local vets and humane societies to see if they can recommend someone to me.<br />
--- I knew this post would draw some "less-than-helpful" comments. I have trained this dog. I have done nothing but train this dog. Before me, he had never even had a collar on his neck! I'm not some doggie-expert. Had there been any indication when I took over his care that this dog needed professional-help, I probably would have reconsidered before taking him on - for his benefit. But, he's here now and I'm doing my absolute best. <br />
I have decided I haven't exhausted all of my options, most of them, but not all... so we are going to keep trying. I am going to try to find someone to give him a professional evaluation and tell me whether or not he is "savable". Until then, I will continue controlling his environment and interactions, continue our daily walks and training sessions - and add in some of the tips you guys have left me here. <br />
I really LOVE the EP community. I had thrown my arms up in the air yesterday, I was really afraid I could do no more! I was fed up, exhausted and feeling really defeated. You guys have given me a second wind and I am very greatful for that. So is Frank - who looks about as dangerous as a kitten sleeping on my living room floor right now.

Good luck with everything and please keep us posted!

thank you, and I will. Believe me, your concerns have not gone unheard. I know my heart is bigger than my brain most of the time - but, if I don't try, I don't know if I'll ever forgive myself

Your best is THE best! You sound like an amazing person, and I'm sure no matter what hapens that Frank will be thankful for running into someone like you :) Best of luck with everything!

Hire an animal behaviorist, this is different than a dog trainer. Your dog diserves to be given the chance to change, it doesn't seem like your equpped to do it but someone out there is.

Do you have the number of your local animal shelter? They should know of a few behaviorists in your area. Also do a search for local pitbull or boxer dog rescues and call them they may have a behaviorlist that will take your dog. Shoot if you have to go to the dog whisperer webpage and call them or email them.

I am currently trying to find a behaviorist in my area without much luck. This is really what I would like to try next. I am no doggie-professional

Someone else had suggested Mr. Dog Whisperer too, I have actually already sent an email... but I think I will start trying the local humane societies to see if anyone can point me in the direction of some reputable help

Not that Cesar Milan isn't reputable - but I'm sure he's a busy man, so I'm not holding my breathe

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train your dog

Oh wow, why didn't I think of this... geez, so helpful, thank you... I've worked with this dog daily for 6 months. I have done nothing but train this dog

sorry i dont know that u have already trained your dog
sorry once again

That's okay. Sorry, that was a really snotty reply. It's been a stressful couple of days, my patience is wearing thin.

You need to get a professional dog trainer who is experienced in dealing with aggression, to help you. You can't do this by yourself. Ask around at the vet or the animal shelter, or anyone who is an animal lover, or has had similar problems, to get a few names. The trainer will need to come by the assess the situation and will recommend whether this might be overcome, ba<x>sed on the dog's behavior, and your commitment to what would need to be done, as well as other constraints that impact the situation.<br />
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You also need to face the possibility that even if everyone did their best, it still might not be sufficient.<br />
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If you have done all that was possible and practical, you have discharged your responsibility. You also have a responsibility to those whom he might harm. Euthanasia is the right thing to do, in certain circumstances, and is often the final act of love, for a responsible pet owner.

A Pro is definitely my next course of action. I need someone to show me what I am doing wrong or tell me there is no hope.

Do you take him for walks every day? I have a feeling the separation anxiety would be helped if he was more worn out. If he does go on walks, its important that he sees you as the leader. (Dog next to you or behind you, following, not out in front.) That will give you access to help him with his aggression, and he will get the message that aggressive behavior isn't acceptable to you. Make sure you don't pet him when he is aggressive to calm him down. That encourages their mind that aggression is good and that you agree. :/<br />
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What do you do when the dog gets aggressive? How do you react? I don't think love is your problem. I think he needs serious exercise and discipline to be rehabilitated. Your love is the key, but love is also helping him with the above two ways too. <br />
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Also I noticed that you said he is protective of you... that isn't good. If he is acting like the pack leader, he OWNS you in his mind and he is keeping everyone else away from you, because he can, and he doesn't know whats ok or not. And someone can get hurt. Its very important that you let this dog know, through being calm and telling him what behavior you want, that him protecting you that way isn't wanted. That will help him to calm down. Its important that he relax, so he can know that nothing is wrong.<br />
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When someone comes over its important that they ignore the dog. Nobody needs to be touching him or looking at him until the dog comes over and shows that he wants to be touched. Looking at a dog can be taken as a challenge and can make him nervous. Dogs are curious. But the fact that he is sitting in a corner growling is him saying he doesn't like the situation. Its important that you tell him no, and let him know that growling at YOUR guests is not ok, and disagree with his behavior. Don't feel bad. You know that nobody is out to hurt you. Thats why its important that you be in charge. Don't pet him to calm him down there either. That is very bad. He needs to know that you are in charge, and if you see him staring or growling, get his attention and tell him no.<br />
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I totally think that you can fix your dog. It might take a lot of work, but the advice above should help a bit if your able to do it. And if there are people or friends that you can practice the stuff above with then that would help too. Good luck, and if you want to run some stuff by me let me know. I am willing to listen and see if I can help. Good luck, to you and your dog. :)

Thank you. that is helpful. We walk twice a day, and he's usually pretty good until we pass someone (which doesn't happen often, I live on a quiet country road). I keep him next to me.
I know I get tense when he starts barking and lunging at people, and that's part of the problem - I've been working on keeping myself calm to keep him calm.
I need to be harder with him, I know I do. I am not a "dominant" personality and sometimes I wonder if he knows I'm "faking-it" He's not stupid.

hehe. Those walks sound good, and it sounds like your really in touch with whats going on and working on it. :) Thats great!! I'm pretty sure he knows your faking it. hehe My dog knows before I know I'm faking it lol. But the more you keep trying the better you'll get. In a way your confronting your fears too.

I have that a lot with my dog. My problem is that when someone else is around I feel embarrassed about disciplining my dog. But I don't always realize it. So when someone comes over or walks by and I want something from her, She knows that I dont mean it and I'm feeling nervous, and she's like "Nope! Your nervous, and that means I'm going to check out this situation myself!" And she doesn't listen. Its tough... But I've started to take that as almost her helping me be more confident in myself. Its not always that easy, sometimes I get so totaly frustrated too! hehe. But hopefully afterwards I realize something like "Wait, why didn't she just listen?" and then I go, "Oh yeah, I was totally feeling bad in front of those people!" And I try to be more confident the next time. So its always learning. But if you know your faking it, then you should probably know he's not going to listen, and maybe take a deep breath or something. Dogs are pretty amazing teachers :)

So your definitely not alone in this one. and maybe your both there to help each other in some way too. :)

Some days, I wonder if this dog is training me! I am a very shy and anxious person, untrusting of people - I have been this way for most of my life. I think that's why I have gotten so attatched to him... he's a lot like me. I just hope I don't have to see a therapist in order to rehabilitate this dog :) He has shown me just how much patience I really have - everyone around me thinks I'm crazy. I have basically given up my entire life to help this dog.

I am very shy and anxious too. And my dog is aggressive too. I've been working on it for a while and I think I'm a better person for it. My friend comes over calls my dog 'the little master' out of respect for how amazing she is. It really sounds like he is so much like you. I learn every day that mine is like me. Anxious and nervous, and lashes out at people when I get nervous. Its so hard, but because of her I keep working on it because it helps me in my life. Your dog sounds SO amazing. I wouldn't know if a therapist would be good or not for you, I think dogs (nature) can be amazing therapists themselves! hehe. But honestly I think because you are even willing to work on it, and you know how you are and what your issue is that your dog is also having problems with, you will get somewhere. :) I think thats the biggest step!

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you need Ceasar....i know it would be almost impossible to get him to evaluate your dog but i'd try if i were you and the amount of time and love you have for this dog..i'd take a professional of his stature to evaluate him , as heartbreaking as it is..even Ceasar has said some dogs can't be saved/ sounds like you want to exhaust all your options, please do ....i hope there is a chance for you both.. i have 2 pits that i'd do anything for. my youngest, if we had not been his first owner very well would have had his aggression brought out...we work diligently with him God bless you both...

I agree - I need someone with serious credentials. I don't think I can just give up yet. I know I'm letting my emotions make my decisions in this, but, before this I never believed in an "un-fixable" dog - just a dog that hadn't been loved enough.

As sad as I am to admit it I think Pen has the right idea. <br />
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We had a German Shepherd that we'd had from a friend that no longer wanted him. He settled in quickly. Slept in our beds. But he developed fear aggression. He wouldn't let non-family members into the house. We shut him in the back room when we had visitors but it made him worse. In the end we stopped people from coming over. He broke out of the garden once and bit one of our neighbours. Luckily no damage was caused so we upped the security. He developed a lick granuloma (self harming where they lick and chew at their own leg) and then colitis (inflammation of the colon) both caused by stress. The dog was so stressed out trying to keep us safe he'd made himself ill. We had to have him put to sleep at 6 years old due to bad health. We had no life and looking back it was no life for him either. He was really ill for longer than I care to admit. <br />
We'd taken him to 3 different classes and got advice from 2 different dog behaviourists. One of which made him worse by squirting water in his face for barking. Stupid cow had no idea how to treat fear aggression. <br />
Sorry for the long ramble but I hope this helps.

Damn, this was my next move, too. I was going to try out the only behaviorist in town that will actually "come to you". But, they do "alpha" training and I am so afraid it will make things worse - or he will hurt the trainer.

If the trainer comes to you it's his look out if he gets hurt. Dealing with aggression he should be able to read the dog and know what to do. Just because our attempts failed doesn't mean your attempt will. Always worth one last chance right?

I want to try... I figure, if it makes him worse, the end result will be the same. I guess it can't really hurt.

My only concern is that you can't be home all the time. You little guy has serious anxieties about being left alone....

Fear aggression and the anxieties are all linked. It's all about him being confused about being pack leader. He thinks he is but he's not strong enough to protect her. That's why he gets anxious when she leaves, he can't protect her if she's not there. And any intruder isn't safe. He barks, they leave, he's won. I knew all the theory from university but couldn't help. Sometimes all the will in the world won't make a difference.

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I am a dog lover. I promise you that I am. I've had 2 dogs in my life and my wife has had many more.<br />
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I believe there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. You are not the bad owner, but the previous owner was. But, it is time for you to do the responsible thing for you are sitting on a time bomb.<br />
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This dog will hurt someone soon. You know it. You do not have the resources to provide this dog what he needs, which is constant supervision. You must either find him a new home (on a farm? In a junkyard?) immediately or you must euthanize him.<br />
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You will have a lifetime of regret if he hurts someone.

There are not many rescue groups in my area, and the only one who will accept pitbulls of any temperment is full - I called. I hate the thought of abandoning this dog as much as I hate the thought of putting him down. His biggest fear is very clearly, me leaving him. I feel so guilty, I wish there was something I could do.

And this feeling of guilt I have in my stomach makes me think that having him put down isn't the right choice... but I am out of ideas and at the end of my rope.

You can love this dog by doing the right thing. He doesn't understand. He's confused by what he learned when he was a puppy. His life is a mess. He's convinced that you are abandoning him every time you leave the house. If euthanasia is the only option available to you, the you can love him. *I'm crying as a write this.... * Some vets are very good at this, comforting the dog. I'm sorry that you have this burden. This is a terrible position to be in.

Putting him to sleep is like killing a friend. I was almost teary-eyed when I read this too, because I love dogs, and I know they're so loyal and all. Why not just try to tie him up on a leash when you're not around or when people visit you? isn't that possible?

I tried to put him on a line in the fenced yard when I wasn't home. He had a complete meltdown. Total panick, almost hung himself. I'm terrified if I leave him on a line outside when I'm not home, I'll return to find a dead dog. If I tie him out with nothing around him to tangle on he has no shelter, and we live in a very hot climate. I'm also afraid he will try to climb under the fence on the line and get hurt or tied up. He also has this unique ability to back out of his collar no matter how tight I put it on him.

how about a dog cage?

Caging him will make it worse. He needs freedom, not restrictions.

He has broke through every inclosure I have put him in, anyway. He will happily sleep in the kennel, but if I put him in and walk out the door, he can break through before I get to the car

that's awfully one tough dog and one big difficult situation

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