What All Pet Owners Need to Know about Dog Fights and Dog Bites

What you can do to prevent dog fights and bites, and what steps to take if you or your pet were injured by another dog

dog fight

We’ve talked about how your dog can affect your homeowners and renters insurance, and it largely has to do with dog fights and dog bites, and in general, the damage a dog can do to people, other animals, or property. Your home or renters insurance company covers you in the event you are found liable for dog bite damages through your liability coverage. But surely you have you heard the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” Not bad advice. Not bad at all. Here are a few things you can to do to prevent dog fights and dog bites, as well as what to do in the aftermath of an incident.

Before a dog fight or bite:

1. Always keep your dog on a leash

While it may be easier to let your dog off leash because you feel they are properly trained, another’s person’s dog might not be. By keeping your dog under your control and within your reach, you ensure some level of culpability in the event you come across another dog (or another animal) that is less than friendly. Plus, many parks or trails require you to keep your dog on leash at all times. So, it’s not just good pet parenting – it’s often the law.

2. Socialize your dog

A good way to reduce the chances of your dog causing any violence is to socialize them early and often. Taking them to puppy school is a great way to teach them the basic training as well as set them up for good relationships with dogs and people alike.

dog bites stick

During a dog fight or bite:

At the end of the day, you can only control yourself and your dog’s actions. You could keep your dog on leash, well trained, and socialized, but you or your pet might still be the victim in a fight. So what do you do?

1. Stay calm

First, stay calm. While your instincts as a pet parent are likely to physically pull your dog out of that situation, you can cause more damage by pulling or tugging them. If the other dog is firmly latched onto your dog, pulling your dog can result in muscle tearing or deeper wounds worse than the original puncture. Furthermore, pulling at the collar of either dog (aggressor or not) could make a dog become defensive and snap at your hand. If the two dogs are tousling, meaning one dog is not latched firmly on your dog’s neck or skin, get them out of there.

2. Distract the animals

Still, the best practice is to carry an additional tool to break up the fight safety. Consider what is known simply as a “shake can.” A shake can be any small metal container (an old soda can duct taped closed) with something small (coins, usually) inside of it. Shaking the object causes a sound most dogs (and humans) find unpleasant. By shaking it loudly and repeatedly, you may be able to buy yourself a few seconds of separation from the bite where you can then pull your dog away safely.

For dogs that don’t find a shake can to be a big enough distraction, you may want to consider a pet corrector. A pet corrector works by replicating sounds a dog is supposedly genetically predisposed to associate with danger — i.e., a loud hiss which is caused by compressed air. The hissing sound mimics a snake or an angry animal and can range in its frequency. An air horn, while much louder, can also be used.

Citronella is an unpleasant spray derived from a plant and is considered a much more humane substitute to pepper spray for keeping aggressive animals at bay as well as for training. (Many trainers and dog professionals do not recommend using pepper spray on animals because of the high likelihood of pain or injury to dogs and owners alike.)

If readily available, dump a bucket of water directly on the fighting dogs’ heads and snouts. Do this if and only if both dogs are secured and can be pulled apart from each other after the water is dropped — otherwise they will resume their fight.

3. Get involved (if nothing else has worked)

If, however, you don’t happen to have any of these distractions with you, there are some ways to help the situation.

Apply upward pressure (pull up) on the biting dog’s collar or leash to briefly decrease the amount of airflow for the dog. Do this while having someone else hold the other dog’s (not biting) collar. By keeping the head of the biting dog still, you are stabilizing the bite by not allowing the dog’s head to shake, which causes worse damage, until the biting dog runs out of oxygen and lets go or someone can break the bite.

You can break the bite by doing something called “feeding the bite.” By grabbing the scruff of the biting dog’s neck firmly and then pushing its head towards the dog being bitten, it essentially causes the biting dog to run out of oxygen and mouth space and thus let go. Don’t consider this measure lightly, as it is something professionals do after exhausting all other matters.

After a dog fight or bite:

The aftermath of a dog bite can be a rough process both physically and mentally, so take these steps to move forward from the situation positively and intelligently.

1. Collect personal information

First, if the owner of the attacking dog is present, document their name and contact information. This will be helpful for vet and insurance records (more on this below). If the dog owner is unwilling to give their information to you or flees the scene, call 3-1-1 and file a report. Give the reporting officer all necessary information.

2. Seek medical help if necessary

If the owner of the dog can provide vaccination information for their dog and it seems to be valid, you shouldn’t need any further shots. Typically, rabies and parvovirus vaccines (the big ones you would want to worry about) last between one and three years. If they are not able to provide any records or indicate their dog is unvaccinated, seek medical attention from a hospital or veterinarian as soon as possible.

dog on leash

Should You Involve Your Insurance Company for a Dog Bite Claim?

As we’ve discussed, collecting the personal information of a biting dog’s owner is enormously important – not just for safety reasons but for reimbursement via their homeowners insurance or renters insurance. Your dog is factored into your renters or homeowners insurance through your personal property as well as your liability. In this situation, it comes into play if your personal property was damaged (bitten) and if you are found legally responsible for the damages (the bite).

Legally, dog owners are considered to have a “duty of care” to guarantee their dog does not pose a threat to other people or property. This duty of care clause is a legal obligation, which, if broken, can render the owner of the dog liable to the victim and their dog’s injuries. But, depending on the severity of the bite, you might not need to involve anyone’s insurance company at all.

How Do You Determine Fault?

In terms of determining who is at fault, there is no golden rule for how an insurance company will view a dog fight. Usually, it’s one dog owner’s word against another – he said/she said statements which aren’t helpful to an insurance company. Still, if your dog was the victim of an attack, document everything you can do to help provide a case (this also why collecting personal and contact information after the initial incident is so helpful).

  1. Photograph damages incurred by you and your dog.
  2. Keep accurate records of all medical and vet bills as well.
  3. Collect witness statements. If you were at a crowded dog park, there will most likely be another concerned pet parent there that could corroborate your story. Collect their name and contact information and their version of events. This can help your claims adjuster or lawyer in the event you decide to file a claim or take legal action.
  4. If is it a neighborhood dog, ask around to see is anyone else has had similar experiences. If your dog has a clean bite record and no issues of aggression versus the opposing dog who has, it could help in determining fault during a fight.

If Your Dog Bites Someone

If it is your dog who bites someone, and that someone wants you to cover damages, you should consider a few things before filing a claim. 

1. Is it worth increasing your premium?

If you are able to pay for the damages out of pocket, you should consider if the increase in premium you will most likely be charged is worth it. Most insurance companies will raise your premium after a claim and will continue to do so for a few years. You should speak with your insurance company to see how much a claim could raise your renters or homeowners premium to determine if it is worth the payout.

2. Will this harm the relationship with your insurance company?

Insurance companies don’t always have the same relationships with our dogs as we do. They see them as risks for exactly these kinds of biting instances. Because your liability coverage extends to your dog, some insurance companies have certain stipulations regarding the breed of dog you can own. So, if you already have a dog your insurance has deemed “dangerous”* but insured anyway, filing a bite claim might cause your insurance company to think twice about you as a client and potentially drop your coverage.

*Includes pitbull-type breeds, German shepherds, huskies, akitas, chows, great danes, rottweilers, doberman pinschers, cane corsos, and boxers