A survey of the management of inter-dog aggression by animal shelters in Canada

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Identification and management of inter-dog aggression is important for animal rescue shelters to reduce the incidence of euthanasia and ensure the safe re-homing of animals. Forty-three shelters responded to a questionnaire which collected information about the management of dogs with inter-dog aggression in rescue shelters. Most shelters (33; 76.7%) admitted dogs reported by relinquishing owners as aggressive to other dogs. Most shelters reported inter-dog aggression as a common problem, affecting either 20–49 percent of dogs received (25 shelters; 58.1%) or 50 percent or more (7 shelters; 16.3%). Twenty-nine shelters reported that less than ten percent of adopted dogs are returned for inter-dog aggression, but some indicated much higher levels. Shelter employees generally reported that after admission, a dog’s level of aggression toward other dogs remains stable over time in the shelter. Management of aggressive dogs included humane destruction (37 shelters; 86%) and rehabilitation (20 shelters; 46.5%). Rehabilitation methods for inter-dog aggression included socialization, stress reduction, desensitization and distraction. Respondents expressed varied levels of confidence over the success of their programs. Rehabilitation techniques based on positive reinforcement were viewed as practical, affordable and effective for reducing interdog aggression, while less support was given for punishment-based methods. Factors preventing rehabilitation included financial constraints and lack of time, but shelters may be more likely to provide rehabilitation if a practical, scientifically validated program were available. Such a program could potentially increase both the welfare of aggressive dogs and the safety of the public.