A couple of days ago, Milo, the sweet collie pup in my last blog, and Annie’s great friend, was attacked by a bulldog at the end of his own driveway. Milo was on leash with his dad, having just played with some neighborhood kids in the snow–it was his first experience with snow, ever. Milo’s parents are attentive, careful, and have spent months training and socializing Milo: Milo was on a leash, under control.
The dog who attacked Milo was a large bulldog, also on leash. The problem was that the owner took out both of his big, powerful dogs on leash at the same time in the snow. The bulldogs pulled the man right up to Milo, and with no apparent warning or vocalization, one of them bit Milo hard on the shoulder and didn’t let go. Chaos ensued, and Milo sustained several deep puncture wounds, one requiring a drain.
Another unfortunate thing about this situation is that it was not the first time this dog had attacked and injured another dog, unprovoked. The owner knew his dog could potentially attack another dog, yet still allowed it to happen. As I said in my previous blog about denial and aggression in dogs, denial is a powerful thing.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Two weeks ago, Belle, a friend’s 13 year old dog was attacked by two large, off-leash dogs while on a walk with her dad. Belle was on leash and under control. Her back leg was badly punctured and subsequently became infected. Thankfully, she is feeling better after a course of antibiotics. The dog’s owner denied the attack, but was cited for having his dogs off leash and given a $250.00 fine.
Another friend’s chihuahua was attacked at a local dog park a few years ago. After the dog’s owner assured my friend that the dog was safe, he grabbed Zina in his jaws and shook her. The dog was large, and caused Zina extensive abdominal damage. One of her legs was so badly injured it had to be amputated. The owner initially took responsibility but had no money. She was 26 and unemployed. Whatcom Humane Society issued a potentially dangerous dog designation and the owner became hostile. Sue paid the bill. $7,000.
In spite of the damage they can cause, I have a very soft place in my heart for reactive and aggressive dogs. 95% of the time, dogs are aggressive because they are afraid–offense is the best defense. For six years, as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, I worked exclusively with dogs who had fear aggression. My goal was to help owners build their dogs’ confidence, thus reducing the dogs’ fear and reactivity, and to teach owners how to handle their dogs in a safe and responsible manner. I even spent four years writing the novel, “Finding Vera”, in an attempt to give people a sense of what life might be like from the perspective of these special-needs dogs.
But no matter how much you love these dogs, being responsible for dogs who have issues with aggression is absolutely essential. If you aren’t responsible, the unthinkable can and will happen…puppies, dogs, cats, children, and adults are all potential victims if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and only you can minimize the chance of the “wrong time” ever occurring.
If your dog injures another dog:
- Do not take it lightly. Dogs are powerful creatures with a bite force of up to 400 lbs per square inch and they can bite up to 6 times per second. If they are not well socialized before the age of 12-16 weeks, they may never acquire the social skills to be comfortable around other dogs, and may not learn how to control their bite adequately.
- The injured dog might need to spend hours in the emergency clinic, need anesthesia, sutures, IV’s or drains, take antibiotics, require major surgery, and need to be crated and/or in an elizabethan collar for days or weeks depending on the extent of the injuries. In the worst case scenario, the victim may lose limbs or die.
- The vet bills could be outrageous, and if you are a responsible owner, you will pay them without question.
- The injured dog might be fearful of other dogs for the rest of his life. It is not unusual for one episode of intense fear to be permanently imprinted in the dog’s brain. This fear will often turn into aggression in an attempt to keep other dogs away.
- The owners of the injured dog will also be traumatized emotionally–if not for life, for a very long time. Their sense of trust in other dogs will wane, and they may keep their dog away from other dogs completely, contributing to behavior issues in a previously well-socialized dog.
- You or the owner of the victim could be badly bitten breaking up the fight. This does not happen infrequently.
- Your dog could also be injured if a fight ensues.
- Depending on where you live, you could run into legal problems–your dog could be declared a “dangerous dog” and, among other things, be required to wear a muzzle when leaving the house.
- The owners of the injured dog might sue. If a child is injured, the legal repercussions could be devastating.
- There might be pressure to euthanize your dog— legal pressure, peer pressure from the owner of the injured dog, or from your own sense of guilt.
- You will not view your dog in the same way again. The damage he caused will affect your relationship, if not forever, for quite some time.
What can you do?
- Get help from a professional dog trainer with experience in aggression training. Be sure to find someone who has a positive approach to working with your dog, and who does not use punishment-style techniques. Training that uses punishment and harsh corrections will only aggravate your dog’s behavior and irreversibly damage your relationship with him.
- Keep your dog at distance from other dogs where he feels safe–that means if your dog stiffens, barks or lunges, you are too close. For some dogs, this can be 100 yards or more.
- Do not take your dog off leash or to places where other dogs may run loose.
- Do not take your dog to the dog park to “socialize him”.
- If your dog has bitten another dog before, do not allow him to approach strange dogs, even if he acts like he wants to. Your dog might be interested in approaching, but once too close, fear takes over and he will lunge, bark, or bite (remember, 95% of aggression in dogs is fear based).
- Only walk one dog at a time. It is impossible to control two or more dogs at once–even if they are small.
- There is never a safe time to take chances. Once you let down your guard, bad things happen.
- Always wear sturdy footwear. It is easy to trip, slip, or fall when things go south. Even in summer, wear protective footwear. Dogs’ toenails can be brutal on your sandaled feet.
- Carry an air horn to keep off-leash dogs away from your dog if they approach. Desensitize your dog to the airhorn.
Update on Milo
Four days after the incident, Milo has his drain out. Although he needs to be kept quiet for another week or so, he is returning to normal. He was excited to see other dogs at the vet when he went in for his recheck.
The owners of the bulldogs were very remorseful and paid the vet bills in full. I am hoping they don’t stop there, and will get the help they need for their dog.
My next blog will discuss steps you can take to protect your well-socialized dog.
Photos courtesy of Laurie Potter, Sue Schmidt, and Debby Ayers.