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What to do if a dog attacks


With almost 5 million pet dogs in Australia, what are your responsibilities when you have a furry friend?

Just how common are dog attacks?

The statistics are hard to firm up because they are recorded individually by local councils. So we don't exactly know. But behavioural vet Lewis Kirkham from Port Melbourne Vet Clinic says they're more common than we think. "Working in an inner-city clinic, we would see probably perhaps once a week," Dr Kirkham says. He says dog attacks are common in dog parks and in the home. "It's often seasonal, in the spring and summer time when dogs are out in the park is when we see it more," Dr Kirkham says. Even when you're doing the right thing and have your dog on a leash, it's always good to be vigilant and aware of other dogs that are nearby and off-leash.

What are the signs a dog might be about to attack? 

There are a few behaviour signs you can look out for such as shaking, a dog tucking its tail between its legs, not making eye contact, licking its lips, and excessive panting. "Yawning and licking lips are early anxiety signs," Dr Kirkham says. "Often your own dog is a good indicator if something is about to happen. You might see subtle signs of being worried. It might be backing away if it is on the leash, or even off the leash." If your dog is actively trying to get away from another dog and that dog keeps coming after yours, RSPCA vet Emma Bronts recommends separating the two or leaving the park. "You can't predict how your dog is going to react in all situations. Just because you trust your dog doesn't mean you'll end up okay," Dr Bronts says.

What should I do if my dog is attacked?

Be safe. When dogs are fighting, everything becomes a threat and chances are if you get near their jaws, you'll be bitten. Dr Bronts recommends throwing water on the dogs if possible and making loud noises. Dr Kirkham says trying to pull the dog away if it's on a leash is a good idea, but be wary of going for the collar because it's close to the dog's teeth. You can grab the dog's back leg as a last resort but be aware it could turn and focus its attack on you.

What should I do after an attack?

When the dogs are separated Dr Bronts says you need to take your pup to the vet immediately — even if it looks like they aren't hurt. Before you leave the scene, exchange details with the other dog owner and any witnesses. When dogs attack other dogs, local councils are responsible for investigating. "Your council should be made aware of any dog that you are not comfortable within your community," Dr Bronts says. There's also a dangerous dogs hotline to help councils identify issues before they get violent. A guide to your council's by-laws and abilities to investigate dog complaints can be found on the Know Your Council website

What should I do to avoid this happening?

Early socialisation and training is super important and ultimately you're responsible for your own dog. If you adopt a puppy, Dr Bronts recommends making sure you socialise it and constantly introduce it to different environments so it can learn how to act in different situations. "Take your pup to training school, or in a car with you when you go out," she says. "The more people they can see, the more dogs they can see with you around the better they are going to be as they get older." If you adopt an adult dog, Dr Bronts recommends slowly introducing them to a new environment and making sure they are initially on leash when experiencing new situations.

Who is responsible for a dog fight?

It's tricky. When a dog attacks a human, the police investigate and it's usually the dog and dog owner's fault. But when a dog attacks another dog, it falls to local councils to investigate. And that can be a slow process. Tina Andrianopoulos's dog was attacked by a pitbull cross two months ago and despite her providing two witnesses, medical evidence and a re-enactment of the incident to council investigators, she is yet to be provided with a decision. The Footscray woman says the pitbull was on a lead when it leapt across a path and mauled her shih tzu, Henry. "I spent $3,000 on vet bills and took two weeks off work. I've got deep trauma, he's got trauma, so I find it very difficult to leave the house," Ms Andrianopoulos said. Ms Andrianopoulos is now considering legal action.

Are dog attacks covered by insurance?

If a pet is attacked by another pet and the responsibility is with the other pet, then it would depend on their insurance, but whether they have insurance or not they are responsible, and any injury or damage that occurred would need to be remedied by that party. If your pet causes injury or damage to another pet it would depend if your insurance includes third party liability. Not all pet insurance includes third party liability (3rd party liability) and you would need to check a policy PDS to know. Vets Choice insurance does include third party liability insurance in its policies covering you and your pet for instances where third party liability insurance could be applied. Please see the other covers offered by pet insurance policies for dog insurance and cat insurance by Vets Choice to know what else can be covered for. 

Legal Aid Victoria and the State Government have websites with advice for dog owners about attacks.

To get a quote to insure your dog, click here.