Dog Fights – Are You Prepared?

Dog Fight

Photo Courtesy of fPat Murray and Flickr Creative Commons

In April I started reviewing local off-leash dog parks. While reviewing Magnusun Park the issue of dog fights came up because there were incidences at this park in the past that involved varying degrees of dog aggression.

The reader’s discussion of this post made me realize how many people are concerned about dog fights or attacks when it comes to visiting dog parks. Right or wrong, I tend to err on the side of “it won’t happen to me” if I am alert to what is going on around me. However, I have heard several people say they won’t take their dog’s to the dog park because of this concern.

Yesterday I was surprised to read an article about a recent, local dog attack case where the owner of the dog being attacked actually shot one of the dogs – and this wasn’t even at an off-leash dog park. This brings up several issues around the interpretation of dog behavior and aggression, owner responsibility and ability to keep their dog s under control and the victim’s response and right to defense.

There is no doubt in this article that the owner of the attacking dogs could not get them under control. The article stated that at one point the victim owner thought he had successfully fought off the three attacking dogs  but then they came back. I am wondering where the owner of these dogs was and what he was doing that the dogs were allowed to go back for a second round?

The victim owner felt the life of his dog, and his own life, was in jeopardy so he pulled out a gun and shot one of the dogs (he had a concealed weapons permit). Was that force excessive? On one hand I think he had the right to defend himself but the owner of the attacking dogs stated that, in his opinion, “at no time was the man and dog’s life in jeopardy”. Clearly, there were two interpretations of what was going on there.

Did the victim owner overreact because the attaching dogs were Pit Bulls? Was the attacking dog’s owner oblivious and clearly defending the actions of his dogs by making that statement? Did the attacking dog’s owner not step in because he actually didn’t perceive a threat? Could this situation have been handles properly without resorting to such extreme violence? Was the victim dog’s owner totally in the right?

We will just have to wait and see how this story unfolds as the days go on. To me, couple of things are clear. Dog attacks can happen anywhere. As a dog owner, you have a responsibility to control your dogs at all times. If you have dogs capable of killing or maiming someone, you need to be extra cautious – possibly to the point of keeping them on-leash around other dogs if you don’t have a 100% reliable recall. Dog owners should also be alert to their surroundings – watching other dogs around them and anticipating any possible issues and acting accordingly.

Sometimes things just happen though. Perhaps the dogs came out of nowhere to attack your dog. Perhaps your dog has never shown any type of aggression in the past and it was kind a fluke occurrence you couldn’t anticipate. The key in these situations is to know how to properly handle dog fights or attacks when, and if, they do come up.

Great timing then that I ran across this article today called How to Behave if Caught in a Dog Fight.

Points made include properly training your dog to have a reliable recall, keeping a vigilant eye on your surroundings at all times, staying calm if a fight does occur so you don’t escalate the situation and if there is a need to separate the dogs, possibly using an object to physically separate the dogs safely or at least temporarily break visual contact, which will help the dogs to break apart.

Another good point was made about small dogs. They are small enough that our first tendency is likely to scoop up our pooch and protect them in our arms. This article reminds us that lifting up your little dog to protect him from an aggressive, bigger dog is like dangling a carrot on a stick. You put your own safety in jeopardy and risk injury to your face, either by the larger dog snapping up at your dog or your own dog lashing out because he feels trapped and afraid.

With dog ownership increasing our dogs are at greater and greater risk of getting into a skirmish with a dog and potentially getting attacked…or being the attacker. We all have a responsibility both to protect our dog and make sure that our dog does not harm other dogs or people.

What is your take on all of this?


  1. says

    We always worry when walking our dogs (on leash-they are never off lead except when running a mark or blind while training and then they have an e-collar on them). Many times aggressive (non leashed) dogs have run up on us. You can tell the owner of the dog over and over to contain their dog, but usually they don’t take it seriously. Having an intact male Chessie, we have to be very diligent. Thunder won’t go looking for trouble, but if an aggressive dog gets in his face he won’t take it for long, (except small dogs, he seems to never mind those running up to him). Of course a warning growl is usually enough to send them packing. Storm is actually less tolerant of an aggressive dog in her face. (That is part of a Chessie being a Chessie and why the breed is not for everyone. They will play nicely with non-threatening dogs, but it is the aggressive ones that they will not tolerate.) Usually we make sure to walk with a heeling stick which can be helpful to dissuade a charging dog. But should a dog fight occur, we would never try to get in the middle. (Thank goodness we have never had to deal with that.)

    • says

      We have had that happen to us many times — our dogs are always on leashes on walks (only come off-leash at the park IF no one is in sight and at the dog park). Unfortunately, both Diesel and Evee have been attacked by bigger dogs charging us (the dogs were off-leash while our guys were on-leash). It’s very tough to handle those situations. Evee is so little and could easily get hurt or even killed by a big dog and Diesel is a bit fearful and reactive to begin with, so these encounters just further ingrain his anxiety.

      But as far as dog parks go, almost every time that we go, there’s a big dog fight. I don’t understand why people bring dog-aggressive dogs to the dog park …

      • says

        I agree that it is frustrating when people let their off-leash dogs approach your on-leash dog. Chester is super freindly but ANY dog that feels “tied up” while being approached by a dog that is very focused on them can, and usually do, feel threatened. It scares Gretel. When that happens I try to place myself between the approaching dog and Chester and Gretel. That way they can peek out from behind me and approach as they feel comfortable. Sometimes I get so frustrated though I have said something in a rude tone to people like “Please keep your dog away from mine. They are not friendly (even though they usually are)”. Dogs that are illegally off-leash on trails and do that frustrate me the most.

  2. says

    atlanta’s piedmont park can get unruly with intact pitties and clueless owners not paying attention. we’ve had at least one incident of a dog killing another dog, and one nearly killing one. people take their aggressivedogs in as a status symbol, then don’t keep an eye on them. call me biased, but i don’t think intact dogs should be allowed off leash. glad you keep stormy on leash! that is being a responsible owner!

  3. ShellyVP says

    Interesting article, as was the Bedford telegraph article. I do think that we as dog owners know our dogs well enough to know how they will respond in many situations. Just like parents of children, I think we tend to trivialize bad behaviors. I would not take my dog to the dog park because they are not trained well enough and would not listen me. Personally I think I would be irresponsible to do so. I think most dog owners would feel the same way but there is always one bully on the playground.

    If faced with an attack, I hope I have the presence of mind to remember the article on what to do and what not to do. I fear I would be the screaming lady with arms flailing to an fro.

  4. says

    We frequent dog parks very often with Bailey and dog fights are always in the back of our minds when we go. We are lucky in that the local parks that we have, the owners are very responsible and on top of their dogs.

    However occasionally you get an idiot that brings their dog to the park and it is clear that their dog should not be at dog parks. Some dogs just can’t handle it. They don’t know how to socialize properly in a pack of random dogs and that leads to a possibly aggressive dog. With Bailey being so small and unable to defend himself against a bigger dog, I am always not only watching him but the other dogs around us.

    Bailey has had 2 incidents with other dogs at a dog park that I can recall. The first time was at our usual park, that isn’t technically a dog park, just a field at a local university that all the locals, students and university staff bring their dogs to. Because its not a real dog park, we don’t get a lot of random people. You know everyone who comes there and as a result the dogs all know each other. Because of this, my guard is always let down at this park. We had just gotten to the park. I took a seat in the grass and began petting a dog that I hadn’t seen in a while, when all of a sudden I hear a sound from Bailey that sounds like he is being murdered. I turn and he is scrambling to get away from a boston terrier and running towards me onto my lap for protection and comfort. At first I didn’t think too much of it. He knew the other dog very well and sometimes he can be a bit of a cry baby if another dog gets a little rough. Until I looked down and saw that my hand was bloody after petting him. The Boston bit and punctured the very edge of his ear. Luckily it wasn’t anything too serious. The owner of the Boston is actually a Vet so she spent some time looking at it as well. Once it stopped bleeding it was fine. No one really saw what happened. I don’t know if Bailey did something to provoke the attack or not. He was shaken up by it but then 15 minutes later, Gaston showed up and he quickly forgot about the incident and all he wanted to do was play with his best friend.

    The second incident happened a couple months ago at our town’s official dog park. We had just entered and there was a large pit bull mix by the entrance. It took at interest in Bailey and at first that interest wasn’t necessarily aggressive. When new big dogs are overly interested in Bailey, it freaks him out so Bailey started to cry and back away from the dog. This reaction only excited the dog more and his actions turned more aggressive towards Bailey. It escalated to the dog chasing Bailey in circles as Bailey was trying to get away as the dog started to snap at him, and Bailey crying bloody murdy. As your post said, our first instinct was for Craig to scoop up Bailey. The dog did jump up at Craig once, but the dogs owner was finally able to grab ahold of his dog now that they weren’t running in circles. The dog was never able to make much contact with Bailey and cause damage although if we weren’t able to separate them when we did, he possibly could have.

    So in our experience, dog fights can happen anywhere with anyone. The first one happened with a dog that Bailey was very familiar with. The second one a stranger that was a result of a very unsuccessful first meeting. The most you can do is pay attention to your dog and the other dogs in the park, and hope that the other owners are doing the same. We are lucky in that there are many dog parks around us and groups of owners are very responsible. If we ever went to a new dog park and the groups of people and dogs there weren’t responsible, we would choose another park, no matter if that park was the nicest, most state of the art dog park around. Unfortunately, people might not have that luxury of choices when it comes to dog parks, but luckily we do.

  5. says

    I admit that I may be a little more lax with Chester and Gretel because they are small. I never let them off leash if we are not in a fenced dog park. They are hounds and will get fixated on a scent, head off into the sunset and never come back. I know in a fenced area they can only go so far.

    At the dog park, Chester is mellow and friendly to the point of not paying much attention to dogs. He gravitates towards people for pets. I tend to pay less attention to what he is doing but I admit that can be bad becaus it also means I am paying less attention to what other dogs may be doign TO him. In 8 years I have never had an incident with him though.

    Gretel is a bit of a different story. She wasn’t soicalized properly when we adopted her so she has a lot of anxiety issues. Usually that means she is timid and submissive and ends up running from other dogs. If she feels really threatened though she can turn into a barking maniac. She dows not attempt to engage the other dog and has never snapped or bitten. In fact she always maintains her distance while she is barking but it could trigger aggression in the other dog. Every other time she has great recall but when she sees red like this I can’t break her focus and it always ends in a crazy frenzy of me chasing her around flailing my arms. She has gotten way better, and we have gotten better and noticing the point where she might go into that mode so we can stop it before it happens, but we certainly aren’t as vigilant as we would be if she was a bigger dog. I think we let her get away with more than we possibly should.

    I certainly am going to be more alert for potential dog issues at parks now that I have read these articles.

  6. says

    We were one of the readers who expressed concern with dog parks and/or fights. I am probably overly cautious, but I watch my surroundings like a hawk whenever we’re outside with Gus. We had a couple of unfortunate incidents in the past and from then on I’ve always been a bit paranoid.

    We only visit the dog park in SA that has a separate small (or timid) dog area. We’ve watched way too many dog fights on the other side of the fence to risk taking Gus in there, who can be reactive.

    Great post…and good reader feedback! We always learn so much through other people’s comments!

    • says

      I wish SO badly that our dog park had a small dog area. Evee is only 10-pounds and I worry so much that she’ll get hurt/eaten by one of the big dogs (yesterday there was a rottie there that was a whopping 165-pounds!!!). Little dogs need a safe haven play space.

      • says

        I undersstand. The issue of big dogs accidentally hurting my little dogs is a big one for us because dachshunds have such fargile backs and big dogs tend to bat their paw at the middle of their back when trying to play.

  7. says

    Interesting post. All I know is that I’ve been to our Dog Park, which is a lovely place, 3 times and each time there has been an incident!

    The first time someone called the Dog Warden as a Dog was being aggressive with other Dogs and the owner was allowing it.

    The second time two people were ‘jogging’ in the Dog park (yep, seems odd! Even I wanted to chase them) – anyhow, one of them ending up getting bitten by a Dog and the police and Dog Warden were called.

    The third time a fight broke out between two Dogs and they wouldn’t let go of each other, luckily my Mum had just put me back on my lead when this happened, so happy I wasn’t involved.

    I’m a lover, not a fighter, so I get scared and confused when other Dogs are aggressive.

    Needless to say Mum isn’t a big fan of taking me back to the Dog park and I usually just have play dates with Dogs we’ve got to know.

    Your pal Snoopy :)

  8. jme says

    unfortunately many people are not at all in control of their dogs, and they think the park is a free for all and that this is just a “normal” part of dog play. there are small tiffs or grunts and quick corrections, but anything beyond that is not normal and should not be tolerated. i know people who leave when they see certain dogs come to the park, and certainly the people that patron the park need to be the advocates of it’s fantastic resource, so that it is not lost to chaos. this is a tough call- but it has mostly to do with the people- and carrying squirt bottles, perhaps air horns, slip leashes and some other tools might be worth it. people have to speak up and talk to each other about what goes on there, share stories and police it for themselves. hopefully this preventative aspect will keep the serious fights from breaking out.

    • says

      I am thinking of getting an air horn or loud whistle to help break up a dog fight if it ever happened or so I can use it to distract Gretel if she goes into one of her barking fits. The loud noise may also startle the owner into actually doing something to control their dog too :0

  9. says

    I’ve run into a few aggressive dogs (seriously, if your dog isn’t dog-friendly to ALL dogs, then answer “No” when I ask if your dog is friendly and answer “No” if i ask if my dog and I can come up to you), but I only ever got scared for gwynn once when he was at a dog-park. A dog that he’s met a few tiems before and always played nice with sent him bolting for rescue. strangest thing – it was like the other dog was just having a bad day of it and decided Gwynn was the cause! His owner had him on-leash and out of the dog park so quickly she just aboug carried her near-100lb dog out of there, and she was so apologetic about it.

    • says

      I admit, when I was a newbie dog owner I didn’t really ask if my dog could come up to someone else’s dog. Now I always ask. As for my reply when people ask me (because Gretel is not freindly to ALL dogs) is to say yes but let them know that Gretel is anxious and to come slow. I also let them know she might bark or growl but has never bitten. As a person that owns a reactive dog I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it when people hear that she isn’t always friendly but are still willing to cautiously let our dogs meet. Gretel needs that in order to learn what is approprate behavior and that not all dogs are threats. I understand why but it doesn’t help me if you hear what I have to say and then pull away and skuttle off. However, if your dog also tends to the reactive it is probably better to do. It’s up to the owner of the other dog to decide. I am just saying if you have a freindly dog please give Gretel and chance.

      • says

        I am always willing to try approaching when a person makes it clear that their dog may or may not be happy to meet Gwynn. Sometimes the other dog makes a bit of noise (meh… Gwynn doesn’t react too much to barking) or just backs off and avoids him, but other times they’re playing and sniffing each other cheerfully. I meant more that if your dog might attack (in an ‘i’m going to hurt your dog’ way) my dog, or some dogs, or certain types of dog, then definitely don’t tell me that your dog is friendly. The dog I ran into whose owner said ‘yes’ when he should have said no tried to take a chunk out of gwynn’s neck, and I was lucky that gwynn reacted to the snarl and snap by jumping back and behind me. The guy then tried to grill me about why my dog was causing his dog to react unusually (Him – is your dog male? me – uh-huh… him- unneutered? me – nope… (and why didn’t you ask these questions before bringing your dog close to mine, if these things make him reactive?) him – Oh… well, my dog just doesn’t like male dogs sometimes – your dog is probably just too dominant. and I’m left thinking, Yeah, my wimpy puppy is so dominant that your full-grown dog who weighs at least 30 lb more than him felt the need to try to tear his throat out, that is clearly the explanation here), as if it were my fault that his dog was aggressive.
        It sounds like you’re making the right moves, and trying to give Gretel a chance to become less nervous around other dogs without alarming the other dog owner. That type of nervousness is part of why i ask everyone if their dogs are friendly/if Gwynn and I can come up to them… that way I know if i should entirely avoid you, or if I should keep gwynn on a tighter leash so that he can’t follow the other dog if it retreats behind its owner.

  10. says

    Wow, what a topic. We don’t have a dog park near us so we are usually alone running up the mountain. we’ve been to the one in Park City a couple of times without a problem. I have to say, if a pitbull was aggressive toward one of my dogs, with no owner to control it, I wouldn’t hesitate to try and stop it. I don’t know if I would kill it….
    Thanks for the great info.

    • says

      Just FYI…according to the article the dog who was shot didnt actually die. The article said the owner “took it to the vet for medical attention”. I don’t know if that was intentional or just good luck.

  11. says

    My mommy is afraid to take me to a doggie park — I would love to go! When I was a little puppy, my furry sister Nala and I were taking a walk around the neighborhood, and a really BIG dog broke free of the stake that was keeping him on his leash. Nala freaked out and the big dog nipped her ear, and I didn’t know what the heck was going on… all while mommy was getting tangled up in our leashes and yelling for help. Thankfully, the big dog really didn’t do any real damage, but it scared mommy a lot. Nala doesn’t join us for long walks anymore (she’s a delicate doggie of 12 years), and she doesn’t walk far with me. She’s also leery about other big dogs. I think mommy should walk with a big stick and put the past behind her.

    Woofs & hugs,


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