Updated: Oct 20, 2019
Many of us have had the experience of our dog being in a fight whether it be a result of an outright attack or just a bit of argy bargy that has got out of hand. I am just a dog owner, by no means an expert, but I am an experienced dog owner. I am of the firm belief that 95% of the time, not just the one dog is to blame when things get out of control. If your dog is playing with another dog, things can escalate very quickly - excitement can spill over and before you know it - wham! Fisticuffs - dog style.
That's why, as a dog owner, you need to keep an eye on your pooch and their surroundings. You need to know how to read dog body language and you need to be ready to act. Here's a great infographic by Lili Chin that shows all manner of dog actions and body placement that you need to be aware of - it's just something to get you thinking and researching and looking at your own pooch - something to begin the dialogue on how to decipher what is going on with your dog.
From the Candidae website
"A dog who rolls over on its back with the tail tucked between his legs is in a submissive position. Lip-licking helps reduce stress and show others they are being compliant. Crouching down with their butt in the air says “I want to play.” Eye contact, especially if it’s intense or an actual stare, can indicate this dog is ready to rumble...."
"A confident dog holds his tail erect with a gentle slow wag. He stands or sits tall and erect, head held high. You can see his ears are pricked up as he listens and the eyes are relaxed looking with no “whites” showing. The body language of this dog says “Everything is cool and I feel good.”
An aggressive dog stiffens in his body and legs. His tail will be lower and held out straight. He may or may not signal his displeasure with a growl. Ears are flattened against his head and the head will be lowered. His hackles, the hair on his back, rump and around the shoulders, will be raised. Angry eyes stare intently and become narrowed. The lips may be curled into a snarl.
The fearful animal may be hard to predict. Fear in any species can make that individual unpredictable and potentially dangerous. A fearful dog has its tail tucked between their legs or it may hang straight down with a wag that is fast and uncertain. The back is arched and his head and rear are lower. The legs are slightly bent. He may turn his head away and look out of the corner of his eyes showing the whites of the eye while trying to avoid looking at what’s causing the concern or fear."
That's not to say that there aren't outright dog attacks where one dog will rush from out of nowhere and attack.
If you're unfortunate enough to have this happen to your own dog, here are some things to think about (from Pawsperous Pets)
Do NOT pick up your dog in an effort to protect him. The attacking dog may leap at you instead (in a bid to get at your dog) and you may be seriously injured just for being in the way. If you are hurt, you won't be able to help your dog.
Soothe and comfort your dog as best you can afterwards - but be careful. Dogs that are fearful or in pain may bite - even if they're normally very gentle.
Get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses - or if your dog is severely injured and in need of immediate vet care, consider giving them your address or phone number, and ask that they drop off their names and numbers there.
Note any details you can about the dogs, where they live, and their owner. If you heard the owners call them by name, write down the name or leave yourself a voice mail from your mobile phone so that you don't forget. Likewise, note the breed, size, colour of the dogs and anything you can about the owner (including car registration number and make of vehicle, if available). Snap a photo with your phone if it is safe to do so. Sometimes the pet owner may be concerned about your dog and will be helpful and cooperative; other times they may try to simply disappear with their dog or will be uncooperative. Do not put yourself in danger; your dog needs you.
Note the day, the time, and the location. Snap a photo of the location if you can
Get your dog to the vet, even if he doesn't show any external signs of injury. Better to be safe than sorry.
File a complaint with the local animal control officers as soon as you can. Even if the owners apologise, pay the vet bill, and seem like nice people ... file a complaint. If the dog has a history of aggressiveness, animal control can make a decision on what additional steps they may need to take. For example, they may require the owner to securely fence their yard or make sure their dog is muzzled when out in public. If yours is the first complaint then it's on file should anything ever happen again.
Be aware that some dogs may need 'rehabilitation' after an attack. They may be afraid of other dogs and might even show signs of fear-aggression. If you notice this happening with your dog, consult with a dog behaviourist. The can teach you ways to help your dog to become more comfortable around other dogs again. Dogs also pick up cues from their people's body language ... if you stay relaxed, your dog will be more relaxed, too.
All of the above is very easy to do - in hindsight - but difficult in a scary and stressful situation. Read it over a few times and that will help you to remember the procedures to follow.
For more information on what you should do if you and/or your dog is attacked, go to the Victorian State Government Dog Attacks FAQ and you will find a lot of relevant information on how to report an attack, how they can be prevented and more. Another helpful site is the Victoria Law Foundation where it has pages dedicated to attacks, the law and rights.