Downeast Dog News

Dangerous Dogs – Part 2

Responsibilities of Shelters/Rescues, Prospective Dog Owners, and Dog Owners
By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | Jun 01, 2017

Last month I discussed the definition of a dangerous dog as defined by Maine state law. I also described the bite scale developed my Dr. Ian Dunbar. I use the Dunbar bite scale when assessing the severity of a bite as do other canine behavior consultant and attorneys. As I indicated last month, per Maine law and Dr. Dunbar’s bite scale, a dog that merely threatens can be considered dangerous and can be regarded as a biter.


I appreciate the effort made by shelters and rescues to find homeless and wonderful dogs a new forever home; however, I believe that first and foremost, shelters and rescues have a responsibility to act in the best interest of their local community. That means:

1. Management and all employees and volunteers responsible for adoptions have been trained on Dr. Dunbar’s bite levels as well as Maine state law covering dangerous dogs.

2. You have, and you follow, detailed written policies on the adoption of dogs with a bite history that indicate when and why you will adopt and when and why you will not adopt.

3. You provide full disclosure of any bite history or behavioral issues with any dog you adopt. You NEVER fail to disclose information, such as a bite history, in an attempt to make a dog more adoptable.

4. If a dog in your care has bitten at level 3 or greater, you will not make that dog available for adoption until you have the dog evaluated by a veterinarian with behavioral experience who is independent of your organization. Additionally, you will consider having these dogs evaluated by a dog behavior consultant credentialed by: the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), or the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB).

5. If you do adopt dogs with a Level 3 or higher bite, you will counsel the adopters before the adoption and provide them with all the information necessary to keep them, their family, and the community safe. This includes making sure that the adopter understands his legal liability for keeping a dangerous dog.

6. You have a written return policy which clearly indicates that an adopter can return a dog at any time, for any reason, with no questions asked.

Potential Dog Owners & Dog Owners

Most people who are looking for a dog to bring into their family are looking for a well-mannered companion. They are not looking for a dog that could be a potential threat to their family or their neighbors. That is why adopting a dog or keeping a dog with a known bite history requires careful consideration. It is not a decision that should be made lightly because living with such a dog will require a great deal of work and also involves some level of risk.

Potential Dog Owners

If you are thinking about adopting a dog with a bite history or other significant behavioral issues, I suggest that before you commit to the adoption/purchase that you do the following:

1. Consult with your veterinarian and get his advice and input on how well he believes this dog will fit into your family and environment. If you do not have a veterinarian because this is your first dog or the first dog in a long time, keep looking for a dog without a bite history or behavioral baggage. There are many dogs looking for homes that are not biters and that do not have behavioral issues; being patient and taking the time to find a better fit, makes sense.

1. Consult with a dog behavior consultant credentialed by: the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), or the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB). Bite issues and most behavioral problems do not resolve on their own or through training. Taking the time to seek advice from a professional canine behavior consultant before you commit to an adoption is like taking a used car to an independent mechanic for an evaluation before you purchase the car. Taking this step may save you a great deal of time, money, and grief.

2. If you have kids or other animals in the home and on your property, keep looking; a dog with a bite history is not the dog for you.

3. Make sure all the adults in the home support the decision to get this dog. No one should be forced to live in a home where he or she is afraid of the dog and is concerned about being bitten.

4. Make sure that you have a written document from the shelter/rescue that states that you can return a dog at any time, for any reason, with no questions asked.

Dog Owners

If you already have a dangerous dog, read my April column “Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?” –


My Story with Aggression & a Serious Bite

By definition, I have owned and lived with a “dangerous dog,” Shortly after our Golden Retriever Tikken turned three, she began to show aggression towards other dogs. In the summer of 2000, she attacked and severely injured our Pekinese, Crystal. We immediately sought veterinary advice and began treating Tikken. Over the next three years, we worked with our local veterinarian, the veterinary behavior team at Tufts University, applied behaviorist Patricia McConnell, and with homeopathic veterinarian Dr. Judy Herman. We eventually helped Tikken through this ordeal, but it was only after extensive treatment and three plus years of close supervision. We had ten wonderful years together after Tikken’s full recovery, but that came after three very tense and stressful years. While living with a dog with a severe bite history can be done, it requires a level of financial and emotional commitment that is not something everyone will be able to undertake. FMI –



Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog: He is committed to pet care and pet training that is free of pain, force, and fear.