Dog Park Dog Attack - Ask An Expert

Dog attack
Dog Park Dog Attack - Ask An Expert
If my dog is attacked at the dog park, what should I do?


What should you do if your dog gets attacked at the park. Tracy in Austin had the same questions. We turned to expert Ian Dunbar to find out what do when dogs attack. We have also talked to an expert dog trainer on how to break up a dog fight safely if you are ever put in that unfortunate position.

Q: If my dog is attacked at the dog park, what should I do? —Tracey, Austin, TX

UNPROVOKED ATTACKS ARE ACTUALLY EXTREMELY rare but very dangerous. When they occur, there is usually a considerable size difference between the two dogs—the attacker is large and the victim small—and the attack is usually eerily silent, rapid, and often predatory. Often both the attacker and the victim are un-socialized. Sometimes the attacker picks up and carries and shakes the victim. This is a dire emergency: scream blue murder! Create as much noise as possible to convince other people to shout and help chase down the dog and get him to release the victim. I once chased down a neighbour’s German Shepherd to rescue a Pekingnese. Sadly, the Peke died three days later. Dog fights, on the other hand are extremely common but rarely dangerous.

Dog fights occur between all dogs but most usually between male dogs less than two years of age. Most people assume one dog is a dominant bully and the other an innocent victim but more usually both dogs are under-socialized and lack confidence and social savvy. Frequently, the two dogs will eyeball each other and the tension will progressively escalate as each dog is incited by the others reactivity. The resulting dogfight is often noisy and protracted, however, few of these altercations necessitate a trip to the veterinary clinic. The dogs are reactive but not dangerous because, during puppyhood, they both developed bite inhibition and learned to settle differences via Marquis of Dogsberry Fighting Rules: only biting the other dog from the neck forwards (scuff and soft part of neck, muzzle, head, and ears) and never puncturing the skin. Learning bite inhibition and socially acceptable stereotypical fighting patterns are the most important reasons for dogs to attend off-leash puppy and adolescent classes.

The best, safest, and most effective way to break up a dog fight is by pushing a “pig board” (a 36” x 30” piece of plywood with a handle in the top) between the two dogs. Maybe this should be standard equipment for all dog parks, boarding, and day care facilities. Certainly do not try to separate the dogs with your hands or feet. Even though dogs may have good bite inhibition towards each other, they may or may not have developed sufficient bite inhibition toward people depending on the degree of puppyhood play with humans.

Standard dog park procedure is for as many people as possible to quickly approach and circle the dogs (to prevent other dogs joining in the fray) while shouting, “Sit! Sit! Sit!” and then praising the dogs as soon as they stop fighting.

Breaking up dogfights is never without potential danger to people so the best strategy is to never let your dog get into a fight. Prevent the desire to fight by thoroughly socializing your dog during puppyhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Routinely condition your dog to enjoy the proximity of other dogs. Never let your dog eyeball, lunge towards, or vocalize at other dogs. Simply ask your dog to sit and shush and look at you. Three basic obedience commands—Sit, Shush, and Watch Me—will go a long way to prevent your dog from getting into trouble. If your dog sits and shushes, he cannot bark and lunge, and if he looks at you he cannot eyeball and amp up the other dog. But more importantly, if your dog sits and looks at you, he presents the aura of a calm and confident dog, one that has a much more important mission (paying attention to you) than being concerned with the growly silliness of other dogs. Basically, you are training your dog to emulate the behavior of a true Top Dog. Remember, calm and confident dogs are seldom picked on, but under-socialized insecure dogs are attackbait. My wife teaches dogs to Watch and Wag whenever under pressure from other dogs; to pay attention to her and to wag their tails. It is surprisingly difficult for other dogs to pick an argument with a waggly rear end. For more tips, see ■

Thank you Dr. Ian for the tips on how to handle dog attacks in the park. Has this ever happened to you, let us know your story in the comments!


Dr. Ian Dunbar is a veterinarian, animal behaviourist, dog trainer, and author of several books and DVDs. He is the Founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers ( and co-creator of—a daily magazine for dog owners.

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Comments (12)

I'm sorry, but I don't agree with this article. My dog is friendly, calm and knows how to "meet and greet" other dogs, but she was still attacked today at the dog park by a pack of four dogs that were the same size as her, but definitely NOT socialized at all. They approached her, circled her, and then two of them attacked until my husband intervened and drove them off. She tried to get back to us, but they wouldn't let her. They then went on to attack the next dog that came along (also friendly, and the same size as them) and the next dog, and so on. Sometimes it's just "bad parenting", and the victim is not at fault at all.
Sun, 12/30/2012 - 19:39
Dog park are very bad... Vet love them... Can make your dog bad in time
Sat, 01/04/2014 - 14:43
Best way to break up a dog fight is to grab the dogs by the back legs, lift them up and pull or turn them away. Best if you have a person on each dog. A boxer jumped my dog and had her pinned to the ground. I grabbed his back legs and pulled him off as my dog was not fighting back. Lucky for me his owners showed up and took him away. Don't grab dog by the collar as you will get bit. Carrying doggie mace at the dog park for real bad fights is a good idea. Just don't spray every dog that gets in a little scuffle.
Sat, 02/09/2013 - 18:46
Sounds like the advice from Anonymous here is more practical and likely to be of real-world help than this article. A "pig board"? Give me a break! Even if such a thing was stored somewhere at every dog park, how would people know where it is and have access to it? How long would it take to find it and get it? What if the encounter is not at an official dog park? Also, people need to understand that some individuals in some breeds will become dog-aggressive no matter how much you socialize and train. I once had an Alaskan Malamute (not my first was not aggressive at all) whom we neutered and made every effort to socialize and train. He went to puppy classes, was superb in obedience (actually won some trials...shocking many people, and we did agility), had another dog in the house who taught him manners, had MANY friends whom he played with very nicely -- until he turned two. At that age, he still behaved the same way towards people, but became VERY aggressive towards other dogs. On leash, off leash, didn't matter. He wanted to jump them and he was dangerous due to his size. The solution for him was this: for a short time, I carried around a gallon jug of water with the top cut off on all of our walks. If he started to focus on another dog, I said a word I had chosen that was not one used for anything else and not actually an English word, so not one he would hear in normal conversation. I said it LOUDLY, then dumped the whole jug of water in his face. It took two times of this happening before I could say the word and he would take his mind off the dog and bring it to me. And yes, he had previously been VERY well trained to "look at me" for obedience classes -- but when his personality changed, that was not enough. The water gave me control over the dog again and made it possible for me to take him in public without incident. I never carried the water again. An interesting sidenote: this dog had been friends as a puppy and youngster with another large male, an Akbash, who also became extremely dog aggressive when he matured around age two. The only dog that dog could still play with was my boy, and my boy never got aggressive towards him either, even if they hadn't seen each other in months. We arranged many remote (from other dogs) play dates for those two boys, as their friendship was so solid.
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 10:16
Wow! I read your comment and I had the same experience. My German Shepherd was socialized since he was 8 weeks old. He took all the training classes and he did very well. Some older and smaller dogs would growl and snap at him. He avoided them. On Christmas eve, we went for a walk around the block ( we did this every day). When suddenly a dachshund came charging towards us, teeth showing. Flynn was on the heel command. He quickly put himself between me and the dachshund. He chased the dog, I was pulled down. I got up as quickly and saw the dachshund was chasing poor Flynn down the street. The owners of the dachshund finally got their dog. They tried chasing Flynn to catch him but he was so scared. I told them not to chase him. I called to him and he came to me. I was bloody on my right side. The owners of the dachshund said nothing. I am terrified to go for a walk now. I had to hav e shoulder surgery due to the fall. Now Flynn is traumatized by this incident... and so am I. I might try your idea with the jug of water, but I am so scared.
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 13:53
Our 6 month old puppy was attacked tonight at puppy training school. In spite of the fact that she had rolled over on her back the trainers old dog took this to the next level our puppy just evaded a serious bite from this large dog by crawling under a near by car this event has left our puppy fairly traumatized. She has settled down when she got home my concerns are for her interaction with other dogs in the future she has always been a quick study and has never been a problem to take out on walks or to go for free runs and has always enjoyed the company of other dogs before this event.
Thu, 05/22/2014 - 03:04
I agree that this is a bit over-simplistic. My 20-month-old, 28-pound dog, who is very playful and friendly with other dogs, got into a staring match with a standard poodle (probably 3 times his weight) at a large rural dog park. I put my dog on a leash and went to sit with some friends on a picnic bench. He was sitting at my feet on the leash when the larger dog, who looked well taken care of, jumped up on the picnic table behind us.
I don't know what happened because the bigger dog was behind me, but the next thing I knew the two dogs were headed at each other. I put out my arm to pull my dog to safety. Someone's teeth sank into my forearm (probably my dog's since he was closer to my arm). I had 28 stitches. I never heard a word of apology from the owner. I did not want to take any kind of action against her and did not give her name to the health department when they called (mandated in my state, with dog bite injuries) but I do hope her dog was banned from the dog park. Was I irresponsible in not reporting the dog? Maybe. But I'd already had enough trauma. I will never go to that park again, although my dog and I happily continue to go to other dog parks.
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 11:10
I was walking my dog at the park last summer in another dog came up out of nowhere and jumped on my dog and started attacking her. My dog is a beagle mix and is 15 years old and the other dog was in Akita if I hadn't tried to pull the other dog off he would have killed my dog my dog has been socialized but as she gets older she is leery of people. Now I have mace and I carried that and luckily the other dog didn't break the skin but my dog was traumatized as well as myself. My dog has been socialized so I disagree with your article.

Thu, 01/24/2019 - 18:22
Think I'll stick to Cat Handling....Thank You
Wed, 07/24/2019 - 12:05
Yes this happened at a dog park and all of the owners just allow it because they believe it's normal do behaviour to let there dog get bullied and attacked . I left after the first incident aggressive dog turned vicious in a group. It was broken up I think the one dog was bit because he was yelping . I was traumatized seeing it happen . Some very uneducated dog owners who believe the aggressive dog should be allowed to stay . And sure enough they broke up the fight and within minutes the aggressor was at it again. I left I do not find that fun or relaxing to be at a dog park like that.
Thu, 02/13/2020 - 17:17
My dog, Rika, medium sized Labradoodle, desexed female, was attacked by a large mastiff-type at the park today.
Rika is thoroughly socialised dog to dog and dog to person, with a gentle nature and avoids altercations in the park.
We had not met the big dog before today, but as soon as Rika entered the dog park, he started snarling and fighting. His bites did not go beyond her shoulder fur to the skin but she made loud yelps and sounded terrible. There were 2 other dogs in the park at the time who had no issues with the mastiff.
I am wondering:
Did Rika give off a smell of fear that the big dog reacted to?
Was he threatened with a smaller dog’s arrival?
Would he have issues of dominance?

It was the first time this dog had attacked in such a way.

Would appreciate your thoughts.


Tue, 12/21/2021 - 01:54
My Chihuahua only barks at the dog park. He starts barking as soon as we enter the driveway to the park. He barks all the way in and runs with other dogs who don't bark all the time until he's barked out. He loves chasing and will bark at a bigger dog until it runs. Then he's bounding along next to it barking. I'd like him to run n play but not bark. He's usually the smallest dog or one of 3 at the park. He loves the dog park and jumps up eagerly at 2 pm because that's his time at the park. 2-4.
Sat, 02/18/2023 - 09:11


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