Sometimes Dogs Fight

By Karin Krisher

Chicken, jalapenos, guacamole, sweet potato fries, sweet tea and a dog, howling in pain.

My Sunday afternoon lunch took a turn for the morose when a fellow restaurant goer cried out in anguish. She was a big, black dog, who had previously been resting quietly on the bricks of Church Street under her owner’s table. As a man with a backpack and a golden-brown mixed breed sauntered past, his dog lashed out, grabbing ahold of the other canine with a vice of teeth and slobber, whipping her face around in his mouth and provoking a collective reaction of disbelief.

I watched the mixed-breed finally pull away, still straining on his leash, still with fire in his growl. His owner held his hands up in mocked surrender. Just out of earshot, the conversation ensued. I watched the man grab a muzzle, attached to his dog’s collar, and place it over the pup’s mouth. My memory logged this—maybe this dog had struck before. The victim bled visibly and quietly, her owners soaking up the mess with cheap restaurant napkins as onlookers stood, shocked, around her.

It was the noise that bothered me. It wasn’t the bite, or the blood—it was the noise—the pure, low signal: something is wrong. I felt as I imagined everyone nearby felt. For the victim, I felt a streak of empathy so strong that it quickly gave way to anger and blame.

The owner of the alleged perpetrator made this leap an easy one. He wouldn’t walk away, exchange information cordially or so much as remove his dog from the situation and make the necessary phone calls alongside the bitten dog’s family. It was a stark reminder that sometimes, the dog truly does reflect the owner, and this one wasn’t the kindest, the most reasonable, or the least aggressive.

But the victim’s family seemed confused about what to do, as well. Dog ownership comes with a lot of manuals, but not every one features the chapter “When your dog is attacked.” Here’s our best effort.

Most experts agree that you should not get between fighting dogs. Your safety is at risk. But if you need to separate the dogs and they are leashed, tugging on the leash can help. The dogs I saw locked together were easily separated because the fight was face-to-face, not full body. They were physically separated by a chain around the restaurant’s outside dining area, so a barrier already existed. In general, if you see an unleashed dog, the best thing to do is be wary.

That said, if you’re out for a walk and meet another dog, it’s OK to let the dogs sniff each other out and meet. (What if your dog stood in the way of you waving hello to anyone you pleased?) After the fight we witnessed, my partner pointed out that he witnessed more than 20 dog to dog interactions in the same time period, and every one was cordial. A sniff, another sniff, an owner smiling and moving on.

A good way to be sure these exchanges go as planned is to wait to allow the dogs to approach one another until you’ve consulted the owner about the interaction. “How does he do with other dogs?” is a polite way to feel out the dog’s personality before getting too close. There’s also a trendy new way to indicate your own dog’s temperament: tie a yellow ribbon around his leash if he needs some space. If you see one around another dog’s leash, respect their wishes.

If your dog is attacked, take him to the vet as soon as possible. He should always be up to date on all shots– another way to prevent more harm from an attacking dog. Still, you’ll want to have his wound checked out by a professional even if it looks minimal.

Exchange information with the other owner. It’s important to realize that states have varying laws about this sort of thing. Know your state laws and your local laws, so you’re prepared if questions come up. Often, these types of cases are settled out of court. If you must settle in court, seek out a lawyer that has dealt with this type of case before, as there can be many roads surrounding a dog bite incident that he or she will be better equipped to navigate.

If you’re on private property that isn’t yours, talk to the owner of that property for his or her contact information. Keep this on file. The same goes for witnesses.

And finally, don’t try to get in a public fight over your dog’s injury. Of course, it’s difficult not to feel anger and want immediate retribution. But your dog’s safety is number one priority, and getting revenge with your words or body language won’t protect that. Stay calm and make the process easy. If the dog really is a clear reflection of the owner, you’ll want to minimize aggression so that you (and your dog) can move on from the event with as little pain and stress as possible.

Has your dog ever been attacked by another dog? Have you ever been the owner of a dog that suddenly attacked another, and you were just as surprised as everyone else? Tell us what happened—and how you handled it—in a comment!

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