Zen and the Art of Dog

Why We Kept Our Dog After He Attacked Us

We had Denver for about 2 years before deciding to adopt a second dog. We were volunteering at a shelter at the time and had our hearts set on adopting a dog that had been there for a few months. Unfortunately, she was fearful of other dogs and did not do well when meeting Denver.

One weekend, we met the weirdest looking dog named Nelson who had a long barrel body, short chunky legs, and giant puppy paws. He had been found on the side of a highway and had been at the shelter for about a month as he recovered from some minor injuries. We brought Denver to meet him and they got along swimmingly. We put in our application and a few days later, we brought him home and gave him a new name–Benji.


We were living in the city of Denver at the time and there is about a 1-to-1 dog to people ratio in Denver. There were dogs everywhere– at the parks, on the trails, and seemingly in every unit of our 10 story apartment building. We quickly found out that Denver was actually one of the few dogs that Benji got along with. Our first encounter with a neighbor’s husky was disastrous and Benji had to be dragged away, barking his head off.

Leash/dog aggression became an ongoing issue with Benji. He would bark and struggle against the leash. He would nip at the leash and snap at us. We had to change our schedule to avoid taking the elevator during busy times. We tried taking the stairs but we lived on the 10th floor and that wasn’t practical. Taking the dogs outside became fraught with anxiety.

Benji Attacks My Wife

Then about 2 weeks after we adopted him, Benji attacked my wife while she was walking him by herself. He saw another dog across the park and lost it. He clamped his jaws around her arm and even though she was wearing a puffer jacket, he broke skin. It wasn’t serious enough to need stitches but it was still rattling none-the-less. She had to wrestle him off her arm and barely managed to get him back to the apartment. 

Prior to this incident, we were flying from the seat of our pants when it came to training Benji. We were walking our dogs on slip leads and tried to avoid other dogs as much as possible including waking up at 5AM to take them outside. We dreaded every time we had to leave the apartment with Benji. 

After the attack, we weighed our options regarding keeping or returning Benji. If we returned Benji after a bite incident it would be a lot harder to find him a new home or worse–he would be put to sleep for being aggressive. It was upsetting to think that he could turn on us like that but we didn’t want to potentially sentence him to death over it. So we decided to give him a second chance and really ramp up our efforts in training him. We went out and purchased a prong collar for him and that started our journey in training our dogs with prong collars.

The prong collar helped Benji immensely along with e-collar training. Benji is still not perfectly behaved around other dogs. But, he is much more manageable. He has not turned his aggression on us again and is great with our kids. In May, it will be 5 years since we adopted him.

4 thoughts on “Why We Kept Our Dog After He Attacked Us”

  1. I just wanted to leave a comment asking for some advice. I have had plenty of dogs in the past, all being rescues and two of the ones I have currently are amazing; however, the recent guy we have brought back is quite the challenge. We brought him home about 2 weeks ago. The shelter claimed he is a boxer and Great Dane but I am thinking boxer and husky because he is a very vocal dramatic guy. My days are full of his sighs and other dramatic doggy noises. He is also incredibly stubborn: for example from day one we have set boundaries like only getting on the couch when invited and only entering my husband and I’s bedroom when invited in, as well as only passing a door after us.

    I have been told that I have an inclination to naturally be able to train dogs better than the average person (probably just because I do tons of research and have loved animals since I was young). Anyway, I have a VERY vocal and dramatic 65 pound dog. He doesn’t mind having guests over, loves everyone. At the shelter we were told he was dog friendly, and we seemed to agree, but once he is on leash outside and sees another dog, it appears that he doesn’t have enough self control and gets so frustrated that I won’t let him approach and play with every dog in the universe which causes him to squeal and cause a pretty big scene.He could win an Oscar with his acting.

    I am trying to discover the exact root of his reaction, so we can fix it in the most direct way possible. What are some things you would recommend in order to discover if it is simply his lack of self control?

    Additionally for some reason whenever I am gone, he likes to test my husband. For example trying to get on the couch often and when he tells him to get down he refuses for longer than when I tell him. The dog even lunged at him once and tried to bite him. The shelter told us that he was surrendered because he was a wifes dog but she died and the husband didn’t want him, so I think maybe his old male owner didn’t like him or was possibly rough with him, would you come to a similar conclusion?

    And are any of your rescues more receptive to your wife than you?

    Any feedback or information is helpful! I am trying to find the best training method/tools for him because he is not highly motivated by food or toys for longer than 5 minutes indoors.

    • Hi Kapri!

      I’m happy to help you as much as I can.

      First of all, this behavior all sounds completely normal. We had similar behaviors in one form or another in all three of our dogs.

      Since you said you’re the trainer in the house I’m going to assume that your husband isn’t as active in the training. We have this exact situation in our house except reversed (dogs respect me because I’m the disciplinarian, wife gives them more license so they don’t give her the same degree of respect). If this is the case I would have your husband start participating in the training regime.

      Also, have you considered crate training? You might try it; then if the dog is having a hard time with your husband, your husband can put doggy into crate for a little while.

      Reactivity outside is probably the most common issue with rescues. Your pup probably just wants to play so badly and you physically won’t let them. 2 suggestions here: I would introduce a prong collar and I would start training your new pup outside of a dog park. If the pup is good with sits, stays, downs at home then I would work on sits, stays, downs with the commotion of dogs playing nearby. I would start with short increments and build up their attention span.

      Remember, I’m not a trainer but have a lot of experience with our dogs and volunteering at a bunch of shelters. Obviously I can’t know your dog personally so your mileage may vary with my suggestions.

      Please give us an update and let me know if I can give you any additional help!

      • Thank you for the quick response!

        I have been crate training him since the first night he got back, and feed him in it as well as have him fetch toys from his crate. He has been getting better, still whines a little when we put him in his crate at night, but I’ve already seen an improvement in his training.

        I’m glad to hear that you reccomend prong collar training because I have actually been training with a prong collar on walks(thats how I found your page actually).

        I’ll keep you updated on his training! This morning we trained with half of his breakfast on his walk and that seemed to be really successful since he only wants food when he’s hungry it was a great time for training that I didn’t think about before.


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