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December 23, 2022

Let's Talk About Dog Attacks

If you have a dog, or spend time around dogs, you may in your lifetime witness, or be part of a dog attack. This article highlights the factors you should be conscious of, and what to do in an emergency.

Written By
Karishma Warr, CCA Head of Training & Behavior, MA | CCPDT-KA | FFCP | CSAT
dog being walked looking back at the camera

What Triggers Dog Attacks?


Leashes, fences and gates can increase frustration, remove flight options, and act as catalysts for aggression in dogs. This often looks like barking, lunging and growling on the end of leashes, at fences or at the perimeter of territories


Not just food! Water, trash, people, sticks, vomit (!), territory: anything of value to a dog can be potentially guardable from other approaching animals and can provoke aggressive events

Poor Social Skills:

Dogs not listening to other dogs' subtle body language cues is a classic antecedent to dog fights where one dog ‘has had enough’ and escalates to aggression to increase distance between them and their assailant. Tangentially, undersocialized dogs who lack communication skills with their guardians can quickly become problematic, especially when released for their weekly run in the dog park with pent up energy and unmet social needs

Trigger Stacking:

A dog who has just experienced a series of stressors with little time to recover in between triggers is more likely to be triggered into an aggressive response. Read our recent post: "Reduce Stress With Defensive Walking" for a more thorough discussion of trigger stacking

Predatory Drift:

Predatory drift describes a phenomenon where ritualized play behaviors seemingly ‘switch’ into more predacious and dangerous interactions. Fast-moving, high-squeaking stimuli have been reported to provoke this ‘drift’ from well-intentioned fun, to the rapid completion of the full predatory sequence: stare, stalk, chase, grab, shake, kill, and dissect

Dog - Dog Attacks

What to do when a dog attacks another dog

Firstly, try to be mindful of situations that may trigger aggression between two dogs - such as barriers or resources, and do what is needed to avoid putting your dog in situations where they are set up to fail. There are many strategies to set dog-dog interactions up for success, but they are outside the scope of this blog. In this article, we aim to outline strategies for use in emergency situations

If a fight between two dogs does break out, what do you do? Well first let's discuss what not to do. Most people's instincts tell them to yell, flail their arms around, rush to the dogs, and pull them apart. Resist this urge! Our natural instinct to intervene immediately often adds more fuel to the fire, and is a quick way to escalate a squabble into a full blown fight. Avoid grabbing collars and harnesses at all cost - this will often leave the handler with a nasty redirected bite. If a dog-dog incident occurs, take a breath and run through the following steps of your Fight Toolkit to safely, and constructively de-escalate aggression

Be Prepared with a “Fight Toolkit”

If you’re like our clients, you want to be prepared. Understanding triggers is the first step - so you can be vigilant of your environment and keep you and your dog safe. Knowing the safest intervention strategies, and having a list of least invasive, minimally aversive steps to work through is the second. Being prepared with a few of the key tools mentioned below may seem overly cautious, but if you are a regular at the dog park, spend time off leash on public hiking trails, or have an aggressive dog yourself, trust us, it’s better to be safe than sorry


1. Interruption

Should you ever need to intervene in a dog fight, the first line of defence is anything that can be done from a distance - loud noises, like banging a water bowl, or blowing an air horn can be effective in some cases. Hosing the dogs or dumping a bottle of water over them can also interrupt the chain of behaviors in their early stages and allow handlers to ‘get their foot in the door’ to quickly leash their dogs and separate them. If that is ineffective you should move to your next intervention strategy

2. Deterrent Spray

Deterrent sprays like Spray Shield can be sprayed at the aggressing dog - usually aimed at the face and nose - to put a stop to their advances and put distance between the two dogs. Highly unpleasant to dogs and humans who inhale, this must be used only after lesser invasive and aversive strategies have failed

3. Physical Barrier

If distanced interventions fail we may need to move closer. Throwing a blanket or a coat over each of the dogs, and scooping the dog up in the blanket away from the fight can help avoid those redirected bites and be the safest way to intervene physically if necessary. “Feeding” the coat, or blanket into a panicking dog's snapping jaws can be a helpful management tactic in emergency situations like these

4. Wheelbarrow Method

If none of those things work - and there is nothing else in the environment you can use to wrangle these dogs apart - you may find yourself in a position where you have to physically put your hands on the dogs. If needed - and deemed safe by your best judgment - do so in the following way. Have a handler behind each dog and hold the dogs in the armpit of their hind legs. Swing their bodies apart in a circular motion, arcing in opposite directions. The centrifugal force of this circular swing helps avoid their head snapping back over their neck for one of those redirected bites

Dog - Dog & Human Attacks

What to do when a dog attacks you and your dog

At CCA this is something we deal with all too regularly. Our trainers and clients are educated about these protocols due to necessity, as off-leash, out of control dogs are becoming more and more of a problem on urban leash walks

Here are some basic things to remember as outlined by Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA:

  • Do not yell or scream - this can provoke further aggression in the moment
  • If possible, keep the dog in your peripheral vision and slowly back away to a safe spot - do not turn your back on the dog
  • Assess your environment - can you climb onto a car, or fence, or trash can - if so, do so! Can you put your dog somewhere out of reach - like in the trash can or behind a wall
  • If you can find a shield in your environment, anything like a trash can lid, or piece of wood, back up to this item and place it between you and the dog - this can be used to shield your body and distract the dog
  • Use items of clothing or objects to distract or "feed the dog" i.e. let them bite it, or for you to hide yourself behind
  • Avoid picking up your small dog and holding them in the air - this can encourage the assailant dog to jump and snap at them and actually make them more of a target
  • Sometimes dropping your dog's leash - particularly if your dog is fast, or big enough to hold their own - is the safest thing to do. It gives your dog the opportunity to run or climb to safety and you two hands to address the assailant dog and access your fight kit. Be mindful around main roads of course, but in some cases (e.g. off leash trails/ the dog park) this is the best option

If none of the above have helped you can run through the steps of your Fight Toolkit

  1. Interruption
  2. Deterrent Spray
  3. Physical Barrier
  4. Wheelbarrow Method
Dog - Human Attacks

What to do if a dog attacks you or someone around you

Of course lots of what we discussed in the last two sections applies here. If a dog is growling, hard-staring, barking and lunging at you, you can dip into deescalation tactics. Understanding how to identify the smoke before the fire and dousing it before it ignites to full aggression is the best way to avoid dog-human attacks.

Here are tips we often give clients when dealing with the early stages of aggressive or offensive behavior

Deescalation Tactics

  • Avoid direct eye contact, this is often threatening to dogs
  • Try to remain as calm as possible and take slow, deep breaths
  • Stand slightly side-on to the dog; this is less threatening and makes you a smaller target
  • Offering ‘calming signals’ like licking your lips, turning your head away, blinking and yawning can help signal you are not a threat
  • Check the environment for guardable resources (like food scraps) with the intention to move away from them if identified
  • Slowly back away from the dog without turning your back on them
  • Use calming tones and words the dog may have heard before. E.g. “Hey buddy wanna treat?”, “Easy there, good dog” “ You wanna toy? You wanna play?” can sometimes conjure positive associations, but be sure to keep your tone calm and non-threatening, and avoid direct eye-contact
  • Tossing food or toys slowly in the other direction while you back away can give the tense dog something to focus on other than you, but be sure to use slow predictable gestures so as not to be threatening

Fight Toolkit:

If all else fails and an attack commences you can run through the steps of your Fight Toolkit

  1. Interruption
  2. Deterrent Spray
  3. Physical Barrier
  4. Wheelbarrow Method
What to Do After an Attack

Get as much information as you can from the dog’s guardian:

Useful information to get:

  • Guardian’s name, address and contact number
  • Dog’s age, description (breed, colour, size) and vaccination records

Seek the relevant medical attention:

If your dog has been injured, you’ll need to take them to your vet or an emergency vet for assessment and treatment. Bite wounds are particularly susceptible to bacterial infections and may require suturing and antibiotics

If you have a minor scratch (as per a Level 2 bite on the scale above), at home first aid may be sufficient. As per advice from the Mayo Clinic, for a minor animal bite you should:

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water
  • Apply an antibiotic cream and cover the bite with a clean bandage

However, you should seek prompt medical care if:

  • The wound is a deep puncture or you're not sure how serious it is.
  • The skin is badly torn, crushed or bleeding significantly — first apply pressure with a bandage or clean cloth to stop the bleeding
  • You notice increasing swelling, redness, pain or oozing, which are warning signs of infection
  • You have questions about your risk of rabies or about rabies prevention. If the bite was caused by a cat or a dog, try to confirm that the animal's rabies vaccination is up to date
  • You haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 5 years

Report it

Check the laws on reporting animal bites for the area in which you live. For example, recommends reporting any bite to a person within 24 hours of the bite occurrence. For cases where a dog bites another dog, there does not appear to be any specific guidance on whether or where this should be reported. If in doubt check with the local health department for guidance

Healing the Emotional Scars

A traumatic event, known as “single event learning”, can potentially undo months or years of training and confidence building. Your dog may show a negative conditioned response to the breed, color, or size of dog that they had a traumatic experience with, and this can generalise to all dogs if left unaddressed

It sounds all bad, but there are things that you can do to help your dog recover emotionally from a scary event like a dog attack:

  • Go at your dog’s pace. Bear in mind that it can take several days just for their stress hormones to come down to normal levels. It’s important to keep things low key during this time to allow this decompression to happen. If your dog was injured, allow them to heal before attempting anything stressful or strenuous
  • Only use positive reinforcement training methods (we hope this should be an obvious one!). Never punish your dog for performing aggressive behavior, or defending themselves. Seek the help of a certified trainer to address the underlying emotional concerns, and modify your dogs unwanted aggressive behavior
  • Be your dog’s advocate. Do not put them in situations where they may be overwhelmed or scared, like a dog park. And be mindful of passing dogs when on walks, plan your route to avoid dog-heavy areas and if needed, change direction or cross the street to avoid a close walk-by. Don’t be afraid to tell other guardians that your dog is a little scared and an interaction isn't a good call
  • When gauging how your dog is feeling in environments that may be stressful, or remind them of the attack, like at the dog park, or when close to another dog on the street - watch their body language very carefully, check for signs that they are uncomfortable (e.g. tucked tail, ears pinned back, yawning, lip licking etc) and note how far away the “trigger” is. If you are seeing any signs of discomfort, do not move closer to the scary thing - listen to your dog’s body language
  • If your dog has any well-established doggy friends that they trust and play well with, you can start to do one-on-one play-dates to create positive interactions and associations around dogs again. Keep these play sessions short and reward your dog heavily with treats and praise between and after play sessions to really boost that good conditioned emotional response regarding play
  • If in any doubt, always contact a certified behavior trainer for a bespoke training and management plan to help get your pup back to their usual self

Stay safe everyone!

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