What if Your Newly Adopted Dog Bites?

What’s the right thing to do if you adopt a dog and he turns out to have a behavior problem? Should you return him to the shelter?

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #148

This week, a listener question. Carrie writes about her newly adopted 11-month-old Husky, let’s call him Hugo, who she says loves being in the car but doesn’t voluntarily get in. Twice, when Carrie’s boyfriend tried to lift Hugo in, Hugo bit him. Fortunately, he didn’t draw blood, but both times he delivered  “a darn good nip.” What to do?

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Carrie’s question raises a host of issues, from how rescue groups place dogs to what workarounds we can use when a dog with behavioral difficulties can’t be kept out of a problem situation.

The first two things Carrie should do are (1) call the shelter from which she adopted Hugo, and (2) think long and hard. Conscientious animal shelters and rescue groups try to evaluate the behavior of the dogs they place, and will generally not adopt out dogs who show signs of aggression. Behavior evaluations are a much better basis than cuteness for placement decisions, but they’re not remotely infallible.

If your newly adopted dog has a serious behavior problem, the shelter or rescue group should willingly help you out.

The Shelter Should Offer Support and Help

Carrie adopted Hugo just 4 days before she wrote to me, and already he’s bitten her boyfriend twice. The shelter that placed him needs to know this. And here’s how they should respond: by offering Carrie and her boyfriend qualified professional help to change Hugo’s behavior, or the option of returning him. Hugo should also have a vet check, preferably paid for by the shelter, to make sure that he’s not in any pain. This is a long shot, because Huskies are not prone to dysplasia (often painful joint malformations). However, other health problems can cause discomfort, too.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).