Death by Naughtiness: Euthanasia of Dogs with Behavioral Problems

Recently it has come to my attention that euthanasia for behavioral problems in dogs seems to be on the rise in my area. However, when I looked into who was making the call, I was disappointed and alarmed. It appears that trainers have taken to recommending euthanasia over the phone for dogs they haven’t seen in person – and people are following their advice.

Many of these dogs sadly could have been helped or worse, might have been displaying behaviors that were normal and were wrongly “diagnosed” over the phone.

There are many reasons that I find this behavior unethical on the part of the trainers. However, no regulations are stopping them from sending a dog they have never seen or trained to its death.

If I believe a case is outside of my ability, my first move is to refer the person out to a vet behaviorist or trainer who is more equipped for the job. Sometimes putting your pride aside and getting the owner and dog the help they need is most ethical and appropriate choice you can make as a professional trainer. Suggesting euthanasia because a dog is outside of your skill level isn’t okay.

Owners should be receiving recommendations from their vet and vet behaviorist, if possible, on whether or not peaceful euthanasia is the kindest option. Our job as trainers is to recommend that discussion with a vet or vet behaviorist once we have decided it is outside of the scope of training in our professional opinion.

Training doesn’t fix every reason for behavioral problems in dogs. Sometimes medication or medical treatment will be required for the dog to improve and trainers don’t have the education or ability to make that call.

So, I beg owners that are considering euthanasia at the suggestion of a trainer, whether it be the “best” trainer in your area or not, seek a second opinion from someone with a higher education. Another opinion is of particular importance if the trainer has never seen your dog in person. Owner descriptions of behavioral problems can be misleading, and videos only show us a snippet of the problem. There is simply no way to make an educated decision on whether a dog should or should not be euthanized based on such little information.

Some statistics claim out of 2,493 dogs, 23.6% were euthanized for behavior problems (Mikkelsen, J. & J.D. Lund, 1999). Another group of statistics stating 29.7% out of 290 dogs (Malm, K., 2001) were also euthanized for behavior problems. It makes me wonder out of that nearly 30%, how many of those dogs could be helped if trainers followed more ethical protocols before suggesting euthanasia?


Mikkelsen, J. & J.D. Lund (1999): Euthanasia of dogs because of behavioural problems. An epidemiological study on euthanasia of dogs in Denmark – with particular reference to aggression problems. Dansk Veterinærtidsskrift 82: pp.474-479

Malm, K. (2001): Problembeteende hos hundar – en inventering. Forskningsrapport. Djursjukhuset i Skara, SLU, Sweden