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Do “Bad” Dogs Die Young?

By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
March 12, 2019 • 3 min. read
behavior training dogs

Dogs misbehave in all sorts of ways, like chewing on furniture, barking incessantly, or being aggressive toward strangers. These behaviors can not only frustrate pet parents but also jeopardize the health of the dog and the humans with whom it comes into contact. As a last resort, a frustrated pet parent may take their misbehaving dog to an animal shelter.

Unfortunately, this last resort option can be a death sentence for misbehaving dogs. A 2017 report by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stated that, in the United States, approximately 670,000 dogs are euthanized in animal shelters each year. Within this number are dogs surrendered to animal shelters because of bad behavior. Even if misbehaving dogs do not end up in a shelter, a pet parent may ask their veterinarian to euthanize their dog because they can no longer tolerate their dog’s behavior.

These sobering realities indicate that “bad” dogs can indeed die young.

Statistics & Risk Factors

A study recently conducted at the University of London Royal Veterinary College provided evidence that death in young dogs is more frequently associated with bad behavior than health issues. This study analyzed 250,000 dogs who died before they reached 3 years old for a variety of reasons, including undesirable behavior and illness. Some of the study’s findings, highlighted below, indicate that bad behavior is a major risk factor for death in young dogs:

  • Compared with other risk factors, undesirable behavior had the highest risk of death in young dogs.
  • Euthanasia was the most common cause of death (76%) in young dogs with bad behavior.
  • Aggression was the most commonly reported undesirable behavior. Other reported bad behaviors were running away, fighting, and over-excitability.
  • The risk of death due to bad behavior was higher with male dogs, crossbred vs. purebred dogs, neutered vs. intact dogs, and small breed vs. large breed dogs.
  • Only 13% of pet parents with misbehaving dogs sought advice from their veterinarian on correcting the bad behavior.
  • Only 3% of misbehaving dogs received drug therapy to help correct their behavior.

What Can Be Done?

Results of this London study underscore the heartbreaking reality of dogs with bad behaviors. All is not lost, though. The results also bring to light what can be done to prevent bad dogs from dying young:

Education. Education is key to understanding and addressing bad behavior in dogs. First and foremost, it is important to realize that bad behavior in dogs is most often a result of poor training and a lack of socialization in early life, rather than inherent “bad” traits in the dog. Educating pet parents and veterinarians on normal dog behavior and the causes of bad behavior can help prevent dogs from dying young simply because of bad behavior.

Proper training. Dogs need to be trained to demonstrate good behavior and avoid bad behavior. Training that is inconsistent or does not reinforce and reward good behavior leaves the door open for bad behavior. Obedience classes are an excellent way to train dogs early and effectively to obey basic commands and learn good and desirable behavior.

Socialization. Socialization is the gradual process of exposing a puppy to new dogs, people, and situations so that they are comfortable with the world around them and can properly interact with others. Socialization should take place between 4 and 12 weeks of age. If a dog is not socialized within this time frame, they will have a hard time interacting with their environment and adjusting to change, potentially leading to bad behavior.

Regular veterinary visits

Bad behavior can be the outward sign of an underlying health condition. For example, a dog with arthritis may become aggressive and even bite because of their pain and discomfort. An older dog who is experiencing cognitive decline may demonstrate bad behavior simply because their brain isn’t functioning as well as it used to.

If you notice bad behavior in your dog, take them to your veterinarian for a thorough check-up. Your veterinarian will get a detailed history from you and examine your dog to determine if the bad behavior is a behavioral or medical issue. If a behavioral issue is the cause, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist who will evaluate your dog’s behavior and develop a treatment plan to correct the bad behavior. If the cause is medical, your veterinarian will treat or manage the underlying disease.

Bringing it together

It is a sad reality that many dogs with bad behavior die young for no other reason than their behavior. Proper dog training and education of pet parents and veterinarians can help dogs develop the desirable behaviors that will help them lead a long and happy life.

If you love your pets like family, you want to protect them like family. By enrolling in pet insurance, you can save up to 90% on vet bills which means saying “yes” to life-saving treatments, no matter the cost. If you’re not a part of our pack, start by getting a free quote.

joanna pendergrass
By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. After graduating from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine with her veterinary degree, JoAnna completed a 2-year research fellowship in neuroscience at Emory University. During this fellowship, she learned that she could make a career out of combining her loves of science and writing. As a medical writer, JoAnna is passionate about providing pet parents at Healthy Paws with clear, concise, and engaging information about pet care. Through her writing, she strives not only to educate pet parents, but also empower them to make good health decisions for their pets. JoAnna is a member of the American Medical Writers Association and Dog Writers Association of America.

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