Have you ever wondered what you would do if your dog was attacked? How would you protect your dog? Could you rise to the occasion? I have to admit, it’s very unnerving to see your dog injured. You try to swallow down all other emotions while your dog needs you. I know this one well.
However, to be honest, I’ve put off this article for a while. It’s still a bit traumatic for me. On the other hand, my rescue dog, Henry, is still happy and loves all critters. Although, he does get more nervous with certain sounds. This didn’t happen before he was attacked. In this article, share with you my best advice if your dog is attacked by other dogs. Additionally, I’ll walk you through how to protect your dog if attacked. Plus, how to protect your rights. This is a valuable article, but one I really hope you never need.
Dog fight safety tips
First, above all never, reach into the middle of a dog fight. However, if your dog is still being attacked, you’ll need to remove the attacking dog. The AKC recommends:
Distract the aggressive dog
This could be by use of a whistle, air horn, dog treats thrown away from the scene, car horn, or tossing a blanket or jacket over the aggressive dog.
Object as a shield
In this method, you can grab a trash can lid, piece of plywood, empty baby stroller, grocery cart, or umbrella to push the aggressive dog away from your dog.
With this method, you use basic commands such as “NO!” “SIT!” “LET IT GO!” or “GO HOME!” to get the attacking dog to stop. If the attacking dog is trained at all, he or she may stop attacking your dog.
This includes everything from spray shield, pepper spray, mace, and even bear spray to get the aggressive dog to release your dog. Keep in mind that in some areas these sprays will be considered a weapon and you’ll need a license to carry them. Additionally, you’ll have to be mindful of the wind if you decide to use one of these options. You can lessen the blowback on these types of sprays with gel options.
However, I’ve recently learned about distilled vinegar. I believe this is often a much better option when dealing with an aggressive or even an off-leash dog. Specifically, when you aim the spray at the attacking dog’s nose it will immediately turn them. Additionally, it won’t inhibit you if you are downwind. To use this method, you’ll simply want to grab a spray bottle or super soaker, fill it with distilled vinegar, attach a loop of velcro to the bottle and a loop to your belt. Then you’ll have easy access if needed, yet your hands are free.
Use your body
This method is used with extreme caution. I’m only mentioning this one as an absolute last resort. AKC does suggest it as a last resort option. However, remember to not put your hands or face down near the aggressive dog. Basically, the idea is to physically put yourself between your dog and the attacking dog. Then you’ll begin to walk the aggressive dog backward. Again, I want to stress this method needs to be done with extreme caution and as an absolute last resort to save your dog from an attacking dog.
If the aggressive dog owner is at the scene, ask them for their contact information. Make sure you get the owner’s name, phone number, and whether the dog is up-to-date on vaccinations. I also recommend taking photos of the dog, dog owner, their vehicle, and license plate number, if at all possible. And of course, the scene. You can even quickly take a video of the scene. Or you can ask a friend to do this for you while you tend to your dog.
What if the dog owner isn’t present during the dog attack?
Unfortunately, this can happen more times than anyone cares to imagine. If the dog owner isn’t present during the dog attack get photos of the dog (yours and the attacking dog) as well as the scene. Ask bystanders for photos and contact info. If at all possible snap a few shots of the dog bite at the scene. Or you can take photos after you’ve left the scene. You’ll need to decide what’s best to do for your dog. Remember, if your dog is in dire need, quickly share phone numbers and get to the vet.
NOTE: Here’s one more tip that could be helpful for animal control or if you need to pursue court action later. If you use distilled vinegar on the attacking dog, add a few drops of food coloring to the bottle or super soaker. This will mark the dog and not allow the dog owner to say the dog wasn’t at a certain location. The dye doesn’t hurt the dog. But, it’s not easy to wash off, which you may know if you’ve ever dyed Easter eggs. It’s just another check for animal control.
How did Henry’s dog attack happen?
Like most pivotal moments in life, Henry’s dog attack was unforeseen. We were invited over to a friend’s house for him to play with his best puppy friend. Henry and his puppy playmate enjoyed romping in the backyard. Meanwhile, my friend and I watched out the window.
Suddenly we saw the fence between her yard and the neighbor’s yard break. Henry was pulled through the gaping hole. I rushed to the backyard as if shot from a canon. Amazingly he broke free and headed inside within seconds. I swooped up my friend’s small puppy and closed the doggie door. Then the trauma began.
Access your dog’s wounds
Once you have safely removed yourself and your dog from the dangerous scene, you’ll want to access your dog.
- Is your dog bleeding?
- Does your dog have a limp?
- Is there any area that is swelling on your dog?
- Are there any sensitive areas on your dog? (Gently touch all parts of your dog’s body, if possible).
If yes to any of these or your dog is unresponsive, vomiting, or acting abnormally, seek immediate veterinarian attention.
What if my dog isn’t bleeding and seems “normal” after a dog attack?
If your dog isn’t bleeding, limping, has any tender areas, or any other concerning symptoms you may not need to seek veterinarian care. However, I always recommend erring on the side of caution and visiting your vet. You want to make sure there are no internal injuries or any bodily injuries you missed.
What happened when Henry was attacked by dogs?
When I first accessed Henry after he was attacked, I didn’t see much. He was laying on the kitchen floor and I couldn’t see him well. But then I picked him up and I immediately saw his dog bite injury. Actually, injuries.
As a result of the dog bites, his eyelid was severed. It was a very severe injury. My heart skipped a few beats. Then I felt for any other bodily injury. As my hand grazed his neck and cheek I found blood. There were puncture wounds on his neck and cheek. Yep, a neck bite. Otherwise known as kill wounds. I swallowed a huge lump in my throat at that discovery. I knew he’d barely escaped. But I still didn’t know if he’d survive or how his life would look in the future.
After several deep breaths, I headed to the emergency vet. Of course, such things always occur on the weekend. My emergency vet at that time was more than 40 miles away. As I ran out of the house, I asked my friend to take photos of the hole in the fence that was created by the aggression and force of the attacking dogs.
What are my rights when my dog is attacked by other dogs? Here’s what I learned.
This can be a bit tricky. What are your legal rights? When Henry was attacked in my friend’s backyard, the fence wasn’t her fence. However, I was an invited guest to her house and I had a reasonable expectation I and my possessions would be safe during this visit. Thus, under the laws of my state liability would fall to both her and the neighbor.
NOTE: Legally pets are considered material possessions, just like your car. Sad, but unfortunately true.
However, I felt like the vicious attacking dogs and the neighbors not keeping the fence well maintained were mostly at fault. As such, I looked to them for reimbursement of Henry’s bills.
Always optimistic with an eyewitness
My friend said she didn’t think her neighbors were home during the attack. So, I decided to take the hopeful approach and assume that the neighbors would do the right thing and pay Henry’s bills.
Thus, I gathered all Henry’s vet bills and took a different friend to visit the neighbor. I didn’t want to make a difficult situation worse for my friend. Although, I wanted an eye-witness if I should need one later.
Amazingly, the elderly husband answered the door. He was unaware of the attack. He volunteered to show us where he had patched the hole in his fence. His thought the aggressive dogs were “rough housing” and caused the hole. As he showed us the patched hole, his adult daughter joined us in the backyard. I told her the story of Henry being attacked. She grasped her chest and her eyes filled with tears. I later learned the dogs were her dogs.
As we made our way back to the front of the house, the elderly homeowner took the copy of Henry’s bills. He then said he’d take care of Henry’s expenses “one way or the other”.
I was relieved. However, as I soon learned I was also smart to have an eyewitness.
After about 45-60 days (and no payment), I took an updated invoice and set of bills to the homeowners. During this visit, the same eyewitness went with me. I rang the bell, and the aggressive dogs barked and growled. When the elderly male homeowner opened the door the aggressive dogs lunged at me. He pulled them back or I would’ve been attacked as well. However, he did take the bills. But he didn’t say a word this time. It was another dangerous incident.
What are my next steps for protecting my dog after a dog attack?
You’ll want to file a report about the dog attack with your local animal services office or animal control. A written report can be very useful, especially if you are forced to go to court. Plus, if the dog owners have multiple reports written about their dogs or pets, it will help your case.
Yep, I filed a complaint about the attacking dogs
As for Henry’s case, Halloween was approaching. I debated about filing a complaint and worried about what would happen to those dogs. But then another friend reminded me that if the aggressive dogs attacked a trick or treater it could be fatal. Basically, you’ll want to think of it as a public health alert when you file the report.
Therefore, I called and filed a written report on the attack. But this was during COVID and it took months for the animal control officers to conduct interviews with the homeowner and my friend. Thus, by this time the dogs had been moved to a different location.
Apparently, the daughter and her aggressive dogs were only staying with her parents temporarily. She had found a new job and moved.
Nonetheless, animal services in most cases will be able to ascertain the health of the aggressive dog or dogs. If the dogs are on the premises during the visit the animal control officer will note any aggressive behavior. Additionally, the officer will most likely ask for the vaccination records, including the rabies vaccination of the attacking dog which will also help with the overall “dog health” picture.
Keep in mind that in general a dog bite claim to animal control will be taken seriously. If the dog is of a certain breed or mixed breed in general it will be taken more seriously. Your goal is simply to have a paper trail of the dog attack in case you should need it later. Or if someone else should need it for a later aggressive behavior act by the dog.
Can a homeowner file a claim against their homeowner’s insurance for a dog attack?
This will depend on a lot of factors. Again, this is what I learned.
Where did the attack occur?
If the attack occurred on the aggressive dog’s property or they damaged your adjoining property, you may have some precedent for a claim.
For example, in Henry’s case, the attacking dogs broke down their fence and pulled Henry through to their side of the property. They never crossed onto my friend’s property. But they viciously pulled Henry’s head onto their property. Had Henry initiated the cross onto the property, it would’ve been a different story.
Do you have any witnesses?
This could even be a security camera. Those can be a great tool! Especially, when they have a date and time stamp.
In Henry’s case, I had my friend as a witness. She was able to tell animal control and later a judge that Henry was physically pulled onto the neighbor’s property. This was very important. Plus, the photos showed that the fence was broken from the neighbor’s side and not my friend’s side. This was also helpful in building my case. Besides the fact that the attacking dogs were each about 65-70 lbs, while Henry was only 14 lbs. He simply didn’t have the force to break a fence. Even one that wasn’t well maintained.
Was the attacking dog running loose?
If the attack occurred in an area where dogs are allowed to be off-leash that will need to be considered. However, aggressive dogs still need to be controlled.
Additionally, if the attack occurred in a leashed area, that’s a different story. My city has leash laws. Yours probably does as well.
In Henry’s case, the attacking dogs were in the neighbor’s backyard. So, they were contained in the backyard. But it wasn’t safe. The fence was not well maintained and they were able to break it.
Get professional advice.
As I tried to grapple with Henry’s case, I consulted different attorneys. Here’s the best explanation I ever received on whether homeowners insurance can be used or not:
Remember your dog is a material item. So, as a comparison, you are invited over to your friend’s house. You park in her driveway and as such you have a reasonable expectation that your car will be safely parked in that spot. However, your friend has neglected her big oak tree in her front yard for years.
So, as you sit inside and visit with your friend a huge limb from the oak tree falls directly onto your car. Now, your car has a huge dent in it. That dent would not have occurred but for the fact that 1. you were invited to your friend’s house and 2. your friend neglected the maintenance of her tree. Thus, she can claim the damage on her home owner’s insurance.
Therefore, yes, in Henry’s case the attacking dog’s homeowners could file a claim on their homeowners’ insurance (even though they were only staying there temporarily). Plus, the dogs’ owner (homeowners’ daughter) could file a claim on her insurance. My friend could as well. I had a reasonable expectation that I and my possessions (Henry) would be safe during our invited visit.
What do I do if my dog is attacked on someone’s property and the homeowner’s insurance refuses to pay?
I suspect this happens a lot. Although, I don’t have any stats on it. But keep in mind, that insurance companies are around to make money, not pay out claims (regardless of the premiums you pay). Most insurance companies (I don’t care which one you’re with) will argue on any payment.
Regardless, that doesn’t mean they have a legal ground for the denial. That is just their internal policy. They don’t want to pay unless it’s more cost-effective to pay.
Thus, this leads me back to Henry’s case. While the elderly male homeowner agreed to pay all Henry’s expenses, he forgot to check with his wife. She apparently blew a sprocket to think that they’d pay anything. As such, here are the steps I took:
1. Attorney demand letter
Since the homeowner didn’t pay, I took the next step which was a demand letter from an attorney. This basically is a letter from an attorney stating that the incident occurred. Their dogs are liable. Why they are liable. And an invoice indicating how much is owed at that point. A copy of the expenses. And a date for payment to be made or the next steps that will be taken. In my case, it was filing in small claims court. Interestingly, the attorney who wrote this letter received a heated call from the elderly wife homeowner. She was irate and said they wouldn’t pay a cent (of course, this is the G-Rated version of the conversion).
2. Contact their homeowner’s insurance company
I was able to get the insurance information on one of my visits. So, I contacted them directly. They denied my claim for unspecified reasons. I clearly stated the law. They were uninterested. They didn’t want to pay.
3. File a complaint with your state division of insurance
Yep, I even filed a complaint with my state’s division of insurance. This puts a mark on the company. Basically, the insurance company wants a good standing with each state. Thus, the more complaints an insurance company has filed with a state’s division of insurance, the lower the rating with that state. If that rating is low enough a state could deny them to practice within that state. The insurance division reviewed my case and said that the insurance company should pay, but they couldn’t make the company pay. Thus, they recommended my last resort.
4. Small claims court
Honestly, I was doing everything in my power to avoid going to court. It was my last resort. I would’ve preferred a root canal without anesthesia. But I was put in a position where I had no choice. So, I filed my case and the homeowners where the aggressive dogs stayed, although temporarily, were served.
5. Court date
I took all my documents with me to court (animal control report, photos, bills, eyewitness statements). Plus, I had my witnesses (my friend who saw Henry attacked and the one who heard the husband say he’d take care of everything and saw the dogs lung at me). The judge made no decisions on court day. But oddly the only defense the aggressive dog owners’ (or homeowners’) insurance had was “we don’t want to pay”. Which frankly was bizarre and seemed to irate the judge. It was definitely one for the books.
The judge issued his ruling about a week later. He ruled in my favor and said the attacking dogs’ were on the homeowners’ property and thus, they were at fault. The fence should’ve been maintained and it was neglected. Therefore, they had to pay Henry’s bills. Now, you’d think the fight would be over here, right? Nope.
Here’s where it got even more tricky. Yep, insurance doesn’t like to pay. I said that, right? Even when a judge rules they must pay, they don’t want to pay. So, the insurance company was late paying. That meant, in my state, they owed me interest. Yep, I hounded them for another month for the interest. It wasn’t much. At this point, it was the principal of it.
How can I find legal help for my dog attack?
I know it’s overwhelming trying to figure out the law and what you should or can do.
The laws of each state can vary a bit. But you can still find help. In every state, there’s a Bar Association. Part of each bar is a free assistance. Call them and ask for a pro bono attorney, a free legal clinic, or which lawyers will provide a free consultation.
Keep in mind that most of the time you are not allowed to have an attorney in small claims court. This can vary.
Additionally, there are some attorneys that specialize in this type of law and are often referred to as a dog bite lawyer. However, they are mostly focused on dog bites on a human being. Not an aggressive dog bite injury to another dog. Although, it’s a good place to start.
While your situation will be different than Henry’s, you can find help. It may take a little research and guidance to determine what’s best for you and your dog. But I know you can do this just as I did for Henry. It was not fun, but I’m glad I rose to all the obstacles and found the resolution I and Henry needed.
What if a homeowner tells their insurance to pay?
Again, this could vary by company and state. But I can tell you it is absolutely possible to have an honest property owner make an insurance company do the right thing.
For example, a few years ago when I worked at a brick-and-mortar company one of the people leasing an office came in after a big snow storm. All the snow and ice had melted off the metal roof and slid onto his SUV. His vehicle was damaged. While he wasn’t an employee of my company, he was on our property. He had a reasonable expectation that his vehicle would be safe in his reserved spot.
Meanwhile, he contacted his company’s insurance about placing a claim. They told him they couldn’t because it was on our property. So, I contacted our property insurance.
Shockingly the response from the insurance was jaw-dropping! The agent said, “we can simply deny.” I told him, “NO! You will pay. It falls under our insurance. DO IT!” There was silence for about 10 seconds. Then the agent said, “you mean you want us to pay the claim?” I told him, “Yes, and do it NOW!”
Needless to say, this goes to show that insurance companies don’t want to pay and won’t pay unless they are forced.
Whenever confronted with a bully in whatever form, I always remember a quote from a dear friend of mine:
You do the right thing simply because it’s right.
How is Henry doing today after the dogs attacked him?
Yes, Henry was horribly attacked. His tear duct was crushed in his right eye. His veterinarian suspected he’d need additional eye surgery. But I’ve been able to keep his eye clean (6-8 cleanings or more a day with a warm compress), but so far he’s avoided surgery. He’s got some scars.
Although, I don’t think I can see all of Henry’s scars. But he still loves to play and be a silly pup. The punctured neck and face wounds healed nicely. Although, he does react quickly to sounds which he didn’t do to this extent before the dogs attack.
Unfortunately, my hidden scars have yet to heal. I’m overly cautious of Henry being around other dogs at all. I have to be completely certain the dog is friendly and then my eyes never leave him. Plus, I’m within reach to grab Henry or spray a bit of vinegar if needed.
As a perspective, Henry’s napped through the writing of this article. I’m certain my blood pressure has risen at least 15 points as I typed. The trauma of the day and subsequent days probably left marks on both of our mental health. But thankfully, dogs are great for your mental health well being.
A dog attack can be extremely pricey. I’m really lucky that Henry didn’t lose his eye or his life. During the attack his left tear duct was destroyed. As the eyelid was sewn back, it became sketchy if he’d need additional surgery. I have been determined to not let that happen.
Thus, Henry undergoes a lot of eye cleaning during the day. But it’s better than the unknown of surgery. The best tip is don’t be bullied by anyone when you know you’re in the right and your dog needs help. Or you need help with your dog. That includes big corporations. It may not be a comfort zone for you. I certainly wasn’t in my comfort zone, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
- Is Your Dog Aggressive?
- What Is The Best Treat For My Dog?
- The Journey To Help Calm A Rescue Dog With Severe Panic Attacks
- How To Find A Positive Reinforcement Dog Trainer For Your Rescue Dog
- How to Find the Best Veterinarian
- Keeping A Dog Safe With Off-Leash Dogs
Summary of the best advice when dogs attack your dog
If you should ever find your dog being attacked by dogs, first get you and your dog to a safe place. Then access your dog’s injuries. Next, take your dog to the veterinarian to be fully checked out. It’s always best to err on the side of caution. Finally, as your dog heals (and you do) you can address the legal aspect. To be honest, while I got the right outcome, it was a lot of work and it did not happen overnight. It was a two-year process to get payment from the neighbor’s homeowners insurance.
While Henry and I are both changed from the event, I would fight even harder for him today. I know the ropes better. But I have everything crossed that I never have to experience that again. I hope the same for you and your fur kids.
Have you ever witnessed a dog attack another dog? How did you react?
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