One summer evening, I was walking my dog Chloe in the neighborhood. She was on a leash and enjoying her stroll down the sidewalk in the shade of the trees. Out of nowhere, a very large dog came running across a yard and attacked Chloe. He took her to the ground and started biting her ferociously as the dog’s owner ran across the yard, yelling at his dog. Fortunately, I knew how to safely break up the fight and the injuries were superficial. Chloe, although shaken up, recovered nicely.
Nothing will put a scare in you like having your dog attacked by another dog. Knowing what to do can make a lot of difference in the outcome. Most of us have experienced a caretaker being bitten badly while trying to separate two fighting dogs. When this happens, things get really complicated.
When two dogs are fighting, most people, out of reflex will reach for the dog’s collar in hopes of controlling the dog and separating it from the other dog. Unfortunately, this is the last thing we need to do. When the dog is fighting, it is having a fight or flight response and is certainly not thinking correctly, so when someone grabs it, it will reflexly turn and attack whoever is doing it. This is when the human often gets bitten.
Instead of reaching for the collar, it is best to grab the back legs near the hock joint and quickly pull the dog away from the other dog. The dog will stop fighting and turn towards you to see what is going on. At that time, you can reach down and grab the collar. Hopefully, the owner of the other dog will grab his dog at the time of separation. This will usually work at stopping the fight as well as preventing injury to the caretaker.
If there is no human injury, then the focus should be on your dog’s injuries. This is where another common mistake occurs. Take a moment and grab your forearm with your other hand. Rotate the forearm and notice how the skin moves freely as you rotate your hand around your forearm. Also, notice how the muscles below the skin do not move freely. When a dog bites another dog, it will shake its head. The fang teeth will penetrate through the skin and deep into the muscle tissue (depending on the size of the dog). As the attacking dog shakes its head, the skin moves freely, allowing minimal damage to the skin. The muscles, because the are fixed, are often shredded by the teeth.
Years ago I had a lady bring her dog to the clinic after being attacked by another dog. The attack had occurred a couple of days earlier and when she examined her dog, she noticed that there were two small puncture wounds on both sides of the neck. It did not look serious, so she chose not to take her dog to the vet. Now, the dog would scream in pain whenever it moved its head. I anesthetized her dog and prepared it for surgery. When I made an incision from one puncture to the other, it revealed the enormous damage that had been done to the neck muscles. I literally could put two fingers through the hole and come out on the other side of the neck. I derided the dead tissue, placed several drains into the damaged area and closed the wound. The dog recovered uneventfully. Remember, bite wounds can be misleading, so exam your dog carefully and if there is any question, take your dog to the vet.
What happens if a person is bitten? It depends on whether the person has to go to the doctor for treatment. Most states have a law that requires the doctor to report a bite wound to the local animal control. If this happens, then animal control representative will file a report and contact the owner of the dog that bit the person with instructions about rabies quarantine. Each state is different with their regulations, but they will strictly enforce the regulations. In Texas, where I practiced for many years, if the dog was not current on its rabies vaccination, the bite victim had the legal right to have the dog euthanized and the brain sent to the state lab to be checked for rabies. If the dog was vaccinated for rabies, the dog had to be quarantined at a vet hospital for 10 days. After 10 days, if the dog was clinically normal, it had to be re-vaccinated for rabies. Each state is different, so it would be wise to know how your state handles these situations.
What are the legal obligations when one dog attacks another dog? The law in most states requires the owner of the dog that does the attack to make financial compensation for any monetary damages done as a result of the dog attack, both for the pet and person. Veterinary medical expenses for dog attacks can be very costly, especially if surgery is involved. Having the responsible party pay for those expenses is not only the right thing to do, but it is often a learning experience for the pet caretaker as well to be more cautious with the aggressive pet.
The last thing a dog caretaker wants to experience is having a dog fight while enjoying time with their pet on the sidewalk or at the local park. Being prepared may keep the damage to a minimum.