What to do when dog attacks happen?

  1. How common are dog attacks in your experience ?

Dog attacks on other dogs are more common, than we think, and the most common type of dog attack in my opinion.

I have worked in a Vet surgery for several years, and we had at least 1-2 dog on dog attacks a week. This was in a small township of 12000 citizens.

Working as a dog trainer/ behaviourist leads me to say, that dog to dog attack is becoming more and more common. I also see so many situations where dog owners do the wrong thing and only luck prevented another fight.

Most dog fights happen in dog parks and at home and there are more during spring and summer when more people take their dogs out and about.

  1. How do you know if a dog is about to attack another dog ?

It is mainly the dogs body language, that tells me what is going to happen. The body language I watch for is:

    • Stiff body/ legs
    • Staring at the other dog
    • Tail is up ( wagging stiffly, vibrating, or slow swinging )
    • Raised hackles
    • Flews up, that you can only see the front teeth
    • Ears pricked up
    • Wide stance with its leg apart and its chest thrown out
    • Tension and flexed muscles
  1. What should a pet owner do during/after an attack ?

First of all, this is maybe easier said, then done, but ” Don’t panic ! “

It’s very important to keep a cool head.

Prevention is the best cure, so be alert. Chatting on the phone with no awareness of what is going on with your dog will result in you missing the warning signs so unaware of an impending fight.

If the dog gets into a scuffle in a public place, again ! Don’t panic. Your energy impacts the way your dog behaves, so please it’s very important that you try to remain in control. If the dog is already angry, highly aroused, or fearful, he might be encouraged by your panicky behaviour to attack. On the other hand, your calm and focused behaviour can disarm a scary situation like a dog attack.

The following are some suggestions of what to do in this situation. It won’t cover a life threatening situation, but we know that you will do whatever you can do to save your pet in such situations. ( Fortunately, most attacks are NOT of that nature).

If a fight is already in progress:

    • Don’t try to separate them yourself
    • Spray with water ( if you have water, or a drink handy )
    • Try to distract the other dog from the distance
    • Call your dog away
    • Throw a piece of clothing over them

After an attack:

    • seek medical attention
    • Report the attack to the local council
    • Before you leave the scene, exchange details with the other dog owner and any witnesses.

When dogs attack other dogs, local councils are responsible for investigating. Your council should be made aware of any dog that you are not comfortable with.

  1. How can dog owners avoid dog attacks / best protect their pet ?

 A social upbringing at the breeders place is the most important thing you can give a puppy to  instill good social skills for life and protect them from either being attacked or becoming aggressive. The perfect puppy hood would be with socially skilled canine parents and siblings.

Early socialisation and training is very important. A ‘good’ puppy pre-school can help, but don’t think; that puppies work everything out themselves. Supervision at all times is essential and puppies playing too roughly or becoming too aroused should be taken out for a few minutes and settle before being put back with the group of puppies.

Exposure to as many different looking puppies is essential ( preferably in the first 8 weeks after picking your puppy  up from a breeder, so aged 8-16 weeks )

This doesn’t mean, that your new puppy should be playing with all of them, but to observe and learn is an important part of socialising your dog.

It is also a good idea to constantly introduce your dog to different environments so it can learn how to act in different situations

How do I best protect my puppy if another dog is displaying aggression towards him / her?

Try to keep your dog calm and, use your body to get between them before they can start fighting. If you can prevent an encounter in the first place, it will be much easier to control the situation. The following may help prevent another dog reaching and injuring you dog:

    • Pepper Spray
    • A backpack can help as a buffer between your dog and the attacker
    • Some people carry sticks ( I’m not a fan of this personally ), but before my dog gets severely injured or even killed, I would use a stick
    • If the other (aggressive ) dog is still in a fair distance, you can try to stop the attack by shouting out ” go away, go home, no, leave it ” etc.
  1. What are useful ways to address aggressive behaviour in a pet ?

Make notes of when your dog becomes aggressive and the circumstances surrounding the behavior. This will play an important part in determining your next step. It is essential to deal with the underlying cause of the aggression. The behaviour is just a symptom of an underlying problem. There are a number of ways you can manage the hostility and help your dog remain calm. It will take time, consistency, and most likely the help of a professional.

See Your Veterinarian

Dogs that aren’t normally aggressive but suddenly develop aggressive behaviours might have an underlying medical problem. Health problems that may cause aggression include hypothyroidism, painful injuries, and neurological problems such as encephalitis, epilepsy, and brain tumors.

Talk to your veterinarian to determine whether this is the case with your dog. Treatment or medication may make big improvements in your dog’s behaviour.

Call in a Professional

If your vet has ruled out a medical problem, it’s time to call in a professional dog trainer or animal behaviourist. Because aggression is such a serious problem, you shouldn’t attempt to fix it on your own. A professional can help you figure out what’s causing your dog’s aggression and create a plan to manage it.

To find a professional dog trainer or behaviorist, ask your veterinarian for a referral or contact the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

Create a Plan

A behaviourist or trainer can help you figure out the best approach for managing your dog’s aggression. In most cases, you’ll use positive reinforcement to teach your dog new behaviors.

For example, if your dog is mildly aggressive toward strangers, start off by standing far away from someone your dog doesn’t know. You should be far enough away so that your dog doesn’t start to growl or snap. Then, reward with lots of treats and praise as you gradually decrease the distance between your dog and the stranger, continuing to use positive reinforcement.

Ideally, your dog will begin to learn that strangers equal treats and you’ll see a reduction in its aggression. This same procedure can work for getting your dog used to a variety of other situations.

Avoid Punishment

Punishing your dog for aggressive behaviour usually backfires and can escalate the aggression. If you respond to a growling dog by hitting, yelling or using some other punishing method, the dog may feel the need to defend itself by biting you.

Punishment may also lead to your dog biting someone else without warning. For example, a dog that growls at children is letting you know that he is uncomfortable around them. If you punish a dog for growling, he may not warn you the next time he gets uncomfortable, but may simply bite.

  1. How important is owner education ?

Owner education is key to responsible dog ownership and creating well adjusted canine citizens. If owners have no education and understanding of normal canine social behaviour, they cannot recognise what is abnormal and cannot step in early enough to prevent attacks and keep everyone safe.

The most common example we see owners yelling  “It’s OK ! He’s just friendly ! He just wants to play, or say hello! “, as they are dragged down the  street at the end of the lead ( or worse, their dog is off lead racing with uncontrolled enthusiasm toward other dogs ).

This is the height of canine rudeness and it is only a matter of time before ” Mr. Friendly” gets attacked by another dog who does NOT want to play with such a rude and boisterous dog. Sadly, it is the attacking dog who gets the blame in such cases, whereas the fault really lies with the mis-training and mis-socialising of the dog who “Just wants to play “

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