If your dog is attacked

As a dog owner, my dog being attacked is my worst fear. Dog attacks are all too common and sadly, we can’t always prevent them from happening. So what should you do in those crucial moments and days after your dog has been attacked?

Being attacked by another dog is about the most stressful thing that can happen for our dogs. They will have entered fight or flight during the attack and their cortisol levels (stress hormone) will be sky-high. This moves them into a state of chronic stress. It’s really important that we manage this stress correctly as reactivity following an attack is a very common (and completely understandable) response for our dogs. 


During the attack

  • Do not put your hands into a dog fight, this puts you at great risk of being bitten (by both the attacker and your own dog). 
  • If both dogs are on lead, lengthen your lead (or drop it completely) to give your dog space to get away from the attack
  • Startle the other dog. Make yourself big (stand in a starfish) and shout in a loud, firm voice, “NO, GET OFF, BACK!”. You want to startle the other dog to create a pause in the attack to get your dog away. 
  • If the other dog is on lead, maintain this big, loud stance. Your body is very powerful and dogs are not used to seeing people stand and move this way so it should give you the space to get your dog away. 
  • Get away and get your dog on lead and back to the car/home ASAP.  Get them back to their safe space so they can begin decompressing and processing. 
  • Assess the damage. You may need to take your dog to the vet if skin has been broken. 

Days following the attack

  • Studies have shown that this cortisol takes a full 72 hours (3 days) to drain from a dog’s system completely. This means no walks – even walks where you think you won’t see another dog, for 3 days. Whilst their cortisol levels are elevated, they have very little room to handle additional stress before tipping back over into that fight/flight response. Walks are, by their nature, stressful experiences for our dogs. Yes, most of the stress is positive, but by exposing our dogs to further triggers immediately after an attack we are greatly increasing the chance for reactivity to occur. 
  • Promote calmness at home. Rather than walks, we want to be building confidence and reducing stress. Scent games, scatter feeding, snuffle mats, Kongs, lick mats, training games – all these are great ways to tire your dog out mentally and physically without adding to their stress levels. 

Weeks following the attack

  • Despite what we might think, getting your dog to play with other dogs is not a way to help them after an attack. It is likely that another dog coming into their space will cause stress and interacting with unknown dogs is always a risk. Keep your distance from unknown dogs. 
  • Create positive experiences with other dogs around. This doesn’t have to be interacting with other dogs directly but could be playing a fun game with you when a dog is nearby or snuffling for treats in some grass as another dog walks past. Show your dog that good things happen when dogs are around. 
  • Gradually reintroduce walks. Your dog may find it helpful to have a walk every other day, to allow them time to process and decompress fully between each walk. You could drop down to only having a half hour walk for a week or two. Listen to your dog and don’t try to do too much, too quickly. 

It is worth noting that every dog is different. I know dogs who have been viciously attacked, with broken skin and stitches needed, who are completely fine and still unbothered by other dogs. On the other hand, I know dogs who have only been snapped at by another dog and who are now very reactive. Until the initial wave of cortisol has flushed away, it’s impossible to know where your dog might sit in terms of their reaction to dogs moving forward. 

As always, prevention is better than cure when it comes to dog attacks. To prevent an attack from happening in the first place, keep your dog on lead if their recall is unreliable and don’t allow extended interactions with unfamiliar dogs. However, an attack can still happen even if we do everything right so knowing how to handle one is important. 

If your dog is struggling with a lack of confidence and reactivity, then I am here to help. I am a qualified Reactivity Specialist and have worked extensively with reactive dogs from chihuahuas to rottweilers. All dogs (and owners!) deserve happy, stress-free walks and it is absolutely possible to rehabilitate a reactive dog. 

To read more about my work with reactivity, click here to see my client stories.