Five years ago, a UK survey estimated that 64,000 dogs are killed every year and over 44,000 suffer severe injuries due to dog-on-dog attacks. As many as 15 percent of UK pawrents had seen their pet attacked by another dog during a 12-month period. In fact, back in 2021, THE PACK’s very own Blossom the Cavapoo was attacked by an off-lead dog and had to have a serious operation to save her eyesight. Thankfully she’s okay now but it was 50/50 whether she would be able to keep her eye. The mental trauma of the attack took even longer to recover from, so this is a topic very close to our hearts!
Below we’ve shared our top tips on avoiding the sort of confrontation that can lead to attacks like this, as well as what to do if your pup does find themselves on the receiving end of a dog attack.
Keeping Your Friendly Dog Out Of Harm’s Way
When our four-legged pal just wants to say ‘hi’ to other dogs, it’s easy to assume that those dogs will respond in the same way, with a friendly play bow, a butt sniff or a harmless game of chase. But not all dogs are sociable: some will be scared by your pup’s bouncy enthusiasm, or will be protective of their pawrents, or may have had a traumatic past experience with a dog who looks like yours. Sometimes a dog who’s friendly off the lead will feel restricted when leashed and, their ‘flight’ option taken away, may snap at your dog to say “keep your distance!”
More often than not, there are signs we can look out for that another dog might not be open to social contact. When we see any one of these signs, it’s essential that we recall our hound immediately, put him or her on the lead and keep a safe distance.
- The other dog is on a lead. It’s just good etiquette to leash your dog in the presence of another leashed dog so that one dog isn’t at a disadvantage and won’t feel threatened.
- A dog is wearing a bright yellow harness, often with a ‘warning’ on it like Nervous or Stop! Do not pet written across it.
- The dog’s pawrent has moved to the side of the road or path and is trying to distract their dog with treats or training.
- The dog is wearing a muzzle.
- The dog is showing aggressive or fearful body language: panting, yawning, lunging, ears pinned back, growling, barking… We delve into reading canine signals in our blog post here.
Controlling Your Reactive Dog
For those of us with reactive or so-called ‘aggressive’ dogs, a simple walk can be a nerve-wracking experience, fraught with potential triggers that might set back our dog’s training and progress. Often, we know that our dog is more likely to react aggressively towards another dog when we have them on the lead. No matter - until you know for certain that your dog will play nicely with others, it’s not worth taking the risk of letting them loose! Even if your furry friend is all bark and no bite, another dog may be traumatised by a snapping hound lunging at them; they may be a puppy, whose training will be irreparably set back by your dog, or another reactive dog whose road to recovery has just been made a lot longer.
If your dog is at all unpredictable in their behaviour towards other four-legged companions, there are precautions you can take to keep all parties safe and sound.
- If your dog is likely to bite, or has bitten in the past, train them to comfortably wear a muzzle when out in public, especially when you’re likely to be letting them off the lead.
- Recall your dog and keep them on the lead when another dog appears in the distance. A quarter of pawrents whose dog had been attacked said it happened because the other dog was off the lead and provoked their dog.
- If possible, take an alternative route as soon as you see another dog, to avoid confrontation.
- Use visual signals to show other pawrents that your dog isn’t up for making friends: make sure your dog is wearing a bright yellow warning harness, move them off the main path of the walk or cross to the other side of the road, or simply shout “My dog isn’t friendly!”
- Distract your dog using high value treats or a training routine you know will keep their attention on you. You can scatter treats in the grass or undergrowth to keep them occupied as the other dog passes.
Practising Good Recall
This is an essential tool for every owner, whether your dog is the potential victim or aggressor. That survey we mentioned before found that a third of parents whose dog has been attacked or involved in a fight said it was because the owner of the other dog could not control it. The Dog’s Trust has some fantastic basic training advice on recall and it’s something you can practice on every walk, reinforcing your dog’s response until they’re able to reliably return to you even when triggered by exciting smells, noises or other animals. Until this point, it’s best to keep your dog on a lead when close to other dogs, farmed animals or hazards like busy roads.
Dealing With A Dog Attack
Sadly, not all pawrents are responsible or informed enough to manage their dogs in the ways we’ve talked about above. Their dog may have a high prey drive that stimulates them to chase and seize smaller breeds, or their pup may be unintentionally put in a situation where they feel their only choice is to bite. This can lead to the kind of incident suffered by Blossom, where your dog is injured or traumatised by another hound.
If you and your pup find yourselves in this situation, there are a few things you can do to restrict the injuries sustained and then to help the healing process.
- Be mindful of your own safety: it can be tempting to put yourself between your dog and the attacker, but this can lead to even more serious injuries. Equally, picking your small dog up might feel like the obvious way to take them out of harm’s way but, by immobilising your dog, you’re putting them in more danger while also putting yourself in the fight zone!
- If another dog has seized your pup and has locked their jaw around them, trying to separate them could injure your dog further. Try to stay calm while you wait for the pawrent to arrive and regain control over their dog. Don’t scream or lunge at the dog – you’ll just aggravate them further.
- If you feel that the other pawrent is responsible for the attack and doesn’t have adequate control over their dog, report the incident to the police. The last thing you want is for this to happen again to another pup.
- Get the owner's contact details and try to get a photo of the other dog. If there are witnesses, it’s a good idea to get their contact details too.
- Note or photograph any injuries your dog has.
- If you can, check if the other owner has third party or pet insurance for their dog as this may cover you for any veterinary care required.
- Make sure you have insurance: between 2016-2020, veterinary costs resulting from dog-on-dog attacks ranged from £75 to £9,000. In this post, we discuss the importance of getting pet insurance and some of the best options.
- Get your dog to the vet ASAP! Even if the injuries don't look serious, there may be damage to the muscles and tissue underneath the skin, and the bacteria carried in the other dog’s mouth can cause infection.
If your dog is attacked, it’s likely that their future interactions with other dogs will be impacted by the lasting trauma of that attack. Don’t force your dog into social situations they’re no longer comfortable with; it’s likely that you will need to build their confidence gradually, beginning with safe on-lead encounters with familiar furry friends. For some traumatised dogs, you’ll be starting again from scratch with their socialisation. This requires patience and understanding, and a lot of emotional support.
Hopefully, armed with the tips above, we can all play our part in keeping our dogs safe and avoiding this situation altogether!
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