Tails of Seattle: A pets blog
How to stop a dogfight, Part 4
Dr. Denise Petryk, an emergency medicine vet and co-owner of the Animal Emergency Clinic / Puget Sound Veterinary Referral Center in Tacoma, discusses how to stop a dogfight in the fourth in a series of posts on the subject from local behaviorists and veterinarians.
Unfortunately, dog bite wounds are a very common occurrence. Fortunately, rip-roaring dog fights are much less common.
In our busy emergency room, we see roughly a 50:50 mix of dogs that have been nipped by their canine house mates and dogs that have run into a biter at the park or somewhere on the streets.
To oversimplify, all dog bite wounds require immediate veterinary attention. This oversimplification can help save lots of money because treating infected wounds can be very costly.
With some cases, the bite wounds are very obvious and require a combination of cleaning and suturing because of the large size or extensive skin damage.
With other fights, the bites are just small punctures, but in the process of the battle, a bite, pull and tear occurs, significantly damaging the tissues under the skin. It is in this space under the skin where bacteria flourish and infection occurs quickly.
Fights also can cause significant bruising to the muscles, and in cases where large dogs grab little dogs by the neck area, a quick shake can cause damage to the spinal cord and even paralysis.
Skin damage, muscle damage, nerve damage, other internal damage and subcutaneous tissue damage are not always obvious at first. Timely and sometimes simple treatments are imperative when it comes to the prevention of infection, progressive bruising, and/or other potential complications.
Given the wide range of potential injuries, body damage and complications, it is worth repeating -- all bite and fight victims should go to the veterinarian ASAP after the incident!
Preventing dog bites and dog fights is the most obvious way to stay safe. Common sense can be the best prevention, but, oddly, common sense is not always that common.
Here is a list of some of the best ways to prevent bites and fights:
-- Know your dog and act accordingly. If your dog acts fearful, lunges when on the leash, snarls and carries on, go to dog training -- LOTS of dog training -- before trouble happens.
-- Carefully introduce any dog into your household or environment. Potentially consider the use of leashes, confined areas, sniffing only with one confined in a crate, muzzles. Meet in a neutral area the first time (someone's fenced yard).
-- Be sure your dog is well socialized before getting a second dog.
-- Avoid situations that can start a fight between your own dogs -- food aggression, favorite toy fights, attention seeking, intact dogs in heat.
-- Keep your dog well exercised to avoid pent-up energies and overexcitement at the mere thought of playing, getting the leash, or going "bye-bye."
-- Consider a high quality doggy day care as a way to double check your dog's level of socialization before getting a second dog or going to off-leash dog parks.
-- Have your fearful, biting beast wear a safe, plastic or basket muzzle when out in public until you have completed lots of dog training sessions; work with a trainer for better socialization.
-- Read and watch your dog's body language: hackles, tail, ears. Of course, this means YOU are paying attention and not texting, talking on the phone, or being otherwise distracted.
-- Watch the environment for danger -- other dogs, trouble spots, other dogs with long retractable leashes and distracted owners.
-- Be able to physically restrain your dog. Avoid the temptation, if you are the 99-pound weakling, to be the proud owner of the 120 pound Rottweiler; consider a promise leader or other restraining device; avoid retractable, long, stringy leashes.
-- Help your aging parents make good decisions about walking their dog to avoid bites, falls and other trauma.
-- Be sure that letting the kids walk the dog IS a good and safe idea.
-- Remember that your dog on a leash is an extension of you and that if you are anxious, nervous, scared, or otherwise emotionally distressed, your dog will act accordingly. This is why many dogs act worse when meeting another dog if they meet while both are leashed (leash-fighting phenomena).
-- If dogs are posturing and acting tough, avoiding crazy screaming; you may escalate mere pretense and create a biting and fighting situation.
-- If all the tips and ways to try and avoid trouble fail and you do find yourself at the scene of a big dogfight, be very careful to avoid any serious bites to the surrounding humans. Use your cellphone to call for help or call 911 if appropriate.
Dog fights are ugly and fueled by intense canine fight-drive emotions. Here is the list of DO NOTs:
-- Do not scream, holler and yell -- this will escalate things; a very timely, early, guttural sound may distract a dog, but this is back at the fight-prevention level.
-- Do not kick the dogs randomly and repeatedly -- this will make things worse.
-- Do not stick your hands anywhere in and/or near those biting mouths.
-- Do not jump in the middle of things or otherwise put your legs or other body parts in risky locations.
-- Do not grab collars without first carefully analyzing the situation.
-- Do not let yourself get into a huge frenzy -- you can make things worse.
The suggested DO list when faced with a dogfight:
-- Try and stay calm, focused and task oriented, and try to get help.
-- Consider using a water hose or a water squirt gun to break up the fight. Aim for the face and even the dog's eyes to maximally distract the fighters.
-- Be prepared for when the frenzy stops; have leashes or a way to keep the dogs separate.
-- Assess which dog is more dominant and focus your attention on that dog as you proceed with efforts to break up the fight.
-- Work with another person and boldly but carefully grab the dogs by the tail and rear legs and get the dog up and into a wheelbarrow position while pulling backward. Start to go in an arc or wide circle while keeping the dog in a wheelbarrow position. If the dog is lightweight, even swing it off the ground and move back and away from the fray.
-- If you are alone, consider the pull back and wheelbarrow technique. Target the most aggressive dog, and if it is still in a frenzy after you have pulled away and are circling, use momentum to actually toss the dog as far away as possible.
-- Consider, if becoming desperate, a quick kick to the rib area of the aggressive dog.
-- Consider pepper spray in the face of the aggressive dog.
-- Consider working with a partner to place a large barrier in-between the dogs -- wood, large chairs, etc.
-- If small dogs are fighting, try and get laundry baskets to use as "traps."
When dogs are fighting, it is a rage directed at the other dog. All attempts to break the fight need to be directed at breaking that focused emotion WHILE you are keeping yourself safe. Bite and fight prevention, using common sense, and investing in good dog training and socialization are the keys to enjoying many happy walks at our beautiful parks, off-leash dog areas, and other wilderness trail locations.
Dr. Denise Petryk, DVM, MBA
Dr. Denise Petryk graduated from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1991 and from Pacific Lutheran University's MBA program earlier this year. For the past 20 years she has enjoyed the fast pace of emergency medicine and enjoys the satisfaction of explaining things clearly to pet owners. At home, she has a family of five - three brown dogs and two perfect cats.
Do you have a question about veterinary health or pet behavior? Ask now! We'll pose some of your questions to a local trainer in an upcoming post.
Read earlier Q&A columns here.