How to Help a Dog Recover From a Dog Attack

Updated on June 27, 2019
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Is Your Dog in Shock After Being Attacked?

Your dog was just attacked by another dog. You have taken him to the vet, cured the scrapes and puncture wounds, but what about healing his emotional scars? If your dog is in shock after being attacked, you need to know how to help your dog recover after the attack. However, even if your dog doesn't show any signs of physical or emotional scars, it's still important to do what you can to protect his emotional wellbeing.

Let's face it: We all wished dogs would get along and always play nicely together. But unfortunately, our bubbles are often burst as fights do happen and they can happen even quite frequently. Fortunately, in most cases, they are simply loud squabbles where no dog gets hurt, but still, those incidents can surely be unsettling.

Dog parks are often the backdrop of such happenings due to several factors such as lack of active supervision, failure to interrupt interactions that are deteriorating in a timely manner, difficulties in differentiating dogs who are playing from dogs who are fighting and just the plain fact of putting together a bunch of dogs with different play styles and personalities.

Some dogs simply have poor social skills. Some dogs come on too strong towards other dogs, while others are not 100 percent comfortable around dogs and may get snappy. Some dogs may have deficits in their play styles. These dogs don't use much metacommunication, and their play may be misinterpreted and spill into fighting.

Some dogs engage in "bullying," perhaps insisting in mounting behaviors (according to a study, excess mounting led to aggression 85 percent of the time), forcing play on non-consenting dogs or taking the "fun police role" with the goal of stopping two dogs who are rowdily playing. And then, there are dogs who resource guard and dogs who are just predisposed to fighting.

Many dogs do fine at the dog park for many months as puppies, but then, once they reach social maturity (generally between 12 and 36 months of age), things start changing.

Regardless of why and how the fight erupted, one thing is for sure: a traumatic experience may cause a dog to be in shock after being attacked, and this may potentially undo years of behavioral training and confidence building.

Warning

If your dog was attacked by another dog, see your vet. Even if your dog presents with fairly small puncture wounds in the skin, these may be just the tip of the iceberg. There may be damage underneath the skin that is far more serious and extensive due to the tearing and shearing due to a dog's large canine teeth, warn veterinary surgeons Dr. Tara Britt and Dr. Christopher Thacher.

Dog Behavior After Being Attacked

Being attacked by another dog is an aversive experience that may lead to short-term and long-term consequences. Just seconds after the attack, the affected dog may be shaky and jumpy as the adrenaline will be pumping. As the dog recuperates from this acute onset, there may be the onset of a negative conditioned emotional response associated with the place where the incident occurred and/or the presence of other dogs.

Now, this doesn't always happen to every single dog. Some dogs may perceive the attack as scary and unpleasant, but it will soon be shaken off. The problem arises when the attack is morphed into a life-changing event, and this can happen even to the most solid dogs.

There are ample stories of even service dogs who have proven their worth in being "bomb proof dogs" over the years, suffering the consequences of an encounter gone wrong and emotionally paying the price. It's as if an imaginary switch flips inside their head. Science calls it "single event learning." Undoing the damage is often quite a bumpy road. In this service dog story, a 30-second attack turned into two years of rehabilitation.

This negative experience may, therefore, have an impact on how the dog reacts in the presence of other dogs. A history of an injury is not necessary for such aversive conditioning to take place.

I have seen reactions range from avoidance behaviors (the dog no longer wants to play or interact with other dogs or does so very tentatively) to defensive behaviors (the dog feels threatened and uses the "offense is the best defense" strategy to maintain distance).

There are then also several dogs sort of in between, where you really don't notice many problems readily, but at some point in the dog's future history of playing or interacting with other dogs, a new issue pops up out of nowhere (e.g., dog starts growling during an interaction) in a dog who never exhibited this type of issues before.

In any case, the onset of a negative conditioned emotional response needs to be addressed to prevent the issue from establishing and becoming worse. This requires several measures to protect the dog's emotional wellbeing and addressing any issues the dog may have acquired due to the negative experience.

Fears and phobias can develop from a single experience (one event learning) or from continued exposure to the fearful stimulus.

— Debra Horwitz & Gary Landsberg

Ways to Help a Dog Recover From a Dog Attack

If your dog is shocked after a dog attack, it is very important that you take several measures to protect your dog from any future negative encounters and that you help your dog eventually recover through some remedial socialization using the right type of dogs.

Left untreated, affected dogs may end up reacting negatively to any dogs who remind them of the attacker (same coat color, same size, same breed) and this may even generalize to other dogs.

A dog trainer or behavior professional using humane, positive-based behavior modification methods may be needed to assess the attacked dog dog and help him out. This is very important. The last thing a stressed dog needs is punishment-based corrections at the sight of other dogs, which will only strengthen the dog’s negative association with them.

Following are several ways to help a dog recover from a dog attack. How quickly the dog recovers varies from one dog and another and other variables such as level of owner commitment, how severely the dog was impacted, whether professional assistance is sought and how well the dog's environment can be managed to prevent any future negative encounters.

Be Your Dog's Ambassador

If your dog was attacked by another dog, it's important that you protect your dog from any future negative encounters that may further cause stress. Keep in mind that stress levels may take several days to go down, so protect your dog from certain close encounters until your dog is ready.

It's fundamental preventing off-leash dog encounters and telling dog owners to keep their dogs under control. While this safe "buffer of space" is not the treatment for undoing emotional damage, it's a good starting point so that your dog relaxes and trusts you to handle the issue.

If your dog frequents the dog park, don't let him interact with dogs that stir trouble or even better skip the dog park altogether. There are better options to allow your dog to socialize when he's ready again, without being at the mercy of out-of-control, dogs with little social skills.

Have a Professional Monitor

If you need help for a dog in shock after being attacked, your best bet is to have a professional assess your dog and monitor his future interactions with other dogs.

Not all dogs are ready to interact with other dogs and play again after being attacked. The behavior consultant should be able to assess your dog for signs of tension. If the assessment reveals that your dog is tense around other dogs, then prior to scheduling positive interactions such as play and walks with other dogs, behavior modification may be carried out to better manage and protect your dog's emotional wellbeing.

The professional may therefore have to pave the path for some groundwork first using methods based on the scientific principles of desensitization and counterconditioning.

For example, if the attack occurred at the dog park, it may help sitting with your dog at a safe distance where he is under threshold praising lavishly and giving your dog treats as he looks at dogs entering and exiting the park. If the attack was on a walk, it may help praising and giving treats every time your dog sees another dog crossing his path.

After some time, as your dog seems more and relaxed, your dog may be able to progress to closer encounters with other dogs.

Limit Interactions to a Few Good Dogs

If your dog had a negative experience, you will likely have to engage your dog in a remedial socialization program. To undo the damage done, your dog will need to exposed to dogs that have been carefully screened. Your dog trainer/ behavior professional, may be even able to provide the right friendly dog/dogs for remedial socialization.

Skip the dog park where there are dogs your dog doesn't know well, and often there are dogs who really aren't suitable for group play.

Instead, it would be best to stick to a handful of good doggy friends that have proven over the years to have gotten along well with your dog. As it happens in people, best a few good buddies that many friends who aren't best friends but just superficial acquaintances that haven't proved worthy of trust.

Create Good Memories

For sake of comparison, the process is similar to attending a Toastmasters' meeting for those folks with terror of public speaking. In these meetings, people are encouraged to speak in a safe, supportive environment where they don't feel rejected or ridiculized.

Dogs suitable for such encounters are often super socialized dogs, dogs who have met countless of dogs and who know how to properly interact. Ideally, these are dogs who are very adept in reading other dogs and in delivering the right body language. These "teacher dogs" dogs should be masters in sending calming signals to fearful, tentative dogs.

Your dog needs to feel safe and relaxed so to create good memories. Creating several positive emotional responses is important so to replace the negative ones. Always end the sessions on a positive note, praising your dog lavishly so that these new events help at least partially take the edge off the fearful memories.

Slow and steady wins the race in behavior modification, so it's important working at the dog's pace.

What If the Attacking Dog Shares the Same Household?

Things can get problematic if the attacking dog shares the same household. Dogs attacked in the home may develop chronic fear, which may in the long-run affect their daily emotional wellbeing.

The dog attacking will need to be prevented from rehearsing the problem behavior. The more the dog practices the attacking behavior, the more this behavior establishes and becomes more difficult to eradicate.

The most important step is always making sure everybody stays safe. Dogs should be kept separated (use baby gates, crates, etc. to create a degree of separation) until a behavior professional can assess the situation and help implement behavior modification.

Behavior modification in such cases entails rehabilitating the dog being attacked and working on preventing the attacking dog from attacking. A functional analysis plays a key role in determining the exact antecedents triggering the attacking behavior and consequences maintaining the behavior.

Afterward, behavior modification again using desensitization and counterconditioning under the direct guidance of a behavior professional can help change the negative emotional response of the dog being attacked while also tackling the underlying emotional issues triggering the attacking dog to attack in the first place.

Severe cases may require permanent housing arrangements to grant separation or even re-homing one dog. The unpredictable behavior of the attacking dog may lead to chronic stress, which can affect the dog's emotional and physical wellbeing.

Note

Behavior modification comes with risks. If your dog is showing behavior problems or aggression or is the victim of aggression, please consult with a behavior professional for hands-on help for safety and correct implementation of behavior modification.

References:

  • DVM360: Manage bite wounds: not just skin deep
  • VCA Animal Hospitals: Fear of Noises and Places in Dogs
  • Description of the behaviour of domestic dog (Canis familiaris) by experienced and inexperienced people Applied Animal Behaviour Science 120(3):159-169 · September 2009 with 304 ReadsDOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2009.06.009

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2018 Adrienne Farricelli

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    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      2 days ago

      Hi Jac, in general anxiety meds for dogs are not meant to be used alone, but along with behavior modification. In other words, they are meant to create a calmer state of mind, so that the dog's cognitive functions are "open" and more receptive to learning.

      Your dog would therefore benefit from seeing a veterinary behaviorist who can assess your dog,then based on history-taking and observation, decide then whether anxiety meds are really needed before guiding you through the process of behavior modification.

    • profile image

      Jac 

      2 days ago

      Hi,

      My dog is a rescue, we adopted here at 1 1/2 years old. She was a stray so no info on previous history.

      She played very well with other dogs and absolutely loves people.

      She was attacked in our community dig park where a pit bull had its jaw around her snout for about 5 min. I know i reacted with screaming.

      Our dog was always leash agressive with other dogs, but had no issues with playing and socializing. After the attack, i continued to brimg her to the dog park, but stopped after she initiated several agressive behaviors with dogs while initially playing. I now avoid the dog park unless it is empty.

      However, she is now very agressive toward other dogs.

      Would anti anxiety meds help her? I walk her often, and as long as no other people walking a dog is encountered, she remains a joy.

      We want to help her but not sure next steps.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      6 weeks ago

      Hi Eva, so sorry for the loss of your dog and that you and your other dog had to witness this in such a traumatic way. To answer your question, dogs mourn so you may notice signs of mourning. https://pethelpful.com/pet-ownership/Ways-to-Help-...

    • profile image

      Eva 

      6 weeks ago

      My dog little male dog was attacked by the neighbors female dog and passed away. My other bigger female dog tried to save him by pulling him away (wasn't bit) but couldn't save him. How would this event effect her.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      2 months ago

      Hi Sara,

      If you are looking for a professional to help you out, I would consider a veterinary behaviorist. Here is the official website to find one:

      https://www.dacvb.org/

    • profile image

      Sara 

      2 months ago

      My older dog and her daughter do not get along at all. I would say the youngest one is the attacking dog and my older being the victim. If you know of any behavioral sites for professionals i can look up that would be great! Im in az btw.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      3 months ago

      Good to hear your dog seems to be back to his old self! That's certainly a good sign. I think we may never know exactly how much this event has registered in his brain and exactly what details may have been absorbed. I think there may be chances the place where this occurred may have some impact as that might have an adaptive function (so dogs avoid danger areas in the future). It could be that being this attack happened so quick he didn't register much details about this dog (other than maybe smell), only time will tell based on how he reacts upon spotting other dogs on walks. I wish a full recovery to Max, he has gone through so much, but he's lucky to have a dog owner like you who is so attentive to his emotional well-being! Keep me posted on how things go!

    • profile image

      joynkarl 

      3 months ago

      Thank you very much for your response.

      Max is a great guy and adapts easy to things. My husband passed away two years ago and prior to losing him we would all go on long road trips, hunting and fishing. Max loves everyone and everyone loves Max.

      With the New Year over, and all the fireworks associated with them, which is the only things that frightens him, behind him, I’m in hopes he bounces back.

      Today he seems to be his old self to the point of playing with one of his toys. He’s my best buddy and I want him to heal outside as well as inside.

      I’m in hopes that since Max was facing away from the pitbull during the time he was in the dogs clenches that maybe it didn’t register what was exactly happening... It was all so intense. What do you think?

      Thank you again for your suggestions and support.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      3 months ago

      Hi Joynkarl, that must have been a very scary ordeal to witness! I am glad to hear your dog is OK physically for the most part. Shame on the owner for running away.

      But yes, you need to think about your dog's emotional recovery. Only time will really tell how it will go. You may see him tense up when he sees other dogs, and therefore, you may need to do some desensitization and counterconditioning as you keep distance from dogs that make him uncomfortable.

      But then, some dogs can be quite resilient and bounce back. It ultimately boils down to your dog's temperament and how you react as well as he may sense you tense up if you now feel nervous upon spotting other dogs on walks. And who can feel calm after such happening! It's a rehabilitation effort for you both.

      I would be very observant on how he does emotionally. You know your dog best so keep an eye on how he reacts in the next days once he is back to going out on walks. Wishing you and your dog a speedy recovery.

    • profile image

      joynkarl 

      3 months ago

      I have a 9 pound Maltese that was attacked by a pitbull yesterday afternoon. We had just exited the store and my dogs on a leash and the pitbull was outside. It was similar to two people meeting at the corner of the building. It happened so quickly! The owner was on the ground wrestling with his pitbull trying to get him to release my poor Max. All I could do was scream as I saw my little one’s eyes looking at me as if to save me. The pit bulls owner Was fighting with all his might and it was like watching someone wrestling an alligator! Many people came around during the attack and as I said all I could do was scream throughout it! Thanks be to God that my dog was not injured worse than he was. He had had a sweater on and then I have a heavy duty harness and somehow someway I can’t even tell you how it happened my dog was released tonight I got him in my arms the man got up asked if he was hurt and I said I didn’t know and two ladies were helping me look at him and I saw blood from his ear but I couldn’t see blood from anywhere else.

      The dog owner and dog took off running. Some young boys on their skateboard went after Him and the people standing by were yelling at him to come back, But He fled and the young boys were unable to find him. I took my Max to the vet and as I said thanks be to God that he was OK he had puncture ones in his ears that didn’t even require stitching. He was given antibiotics and medication and of course the cold to wear for a week.

      The police were called but I had gone to the vet prior to their arrival. I called him from the vet and was told that officer would be out to take a report but in the meantime animal control called me and said since I didn’t have the owner or any information on him there was nothing they could do.

      I can’t bear the thought to think that if a child had walked out of that door instead of my little dog that child would be dead. What can I do to notify the small little community of this dog and the owner I could give a description of both.

      My greatest concern now is that Max is traumatized I know I am so traumatized by this I’ve never my life seen anything so violent. What can I do to make sure that my poor boy doesn’t have long-term anxiety or issues from this attack?

      Thank you so much for your time and I’m glad I was able to find the site.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      3 months ago

      Hi Amanda, when dogs undergo strong emotional stress, studies have found that as a protective mechanism, they tend to sleep more, however they get less deep sleep. It could be your dog is just recovering this way. Since her heart rate is normal and breathing is normal as well, it sounds like she's back to her baseline. You likely need to take measures to prevent her from undergoing such scary events in the future.

    • profile image

      Amanda lynn 

      3 months ago

      My pomchi puppy wasnt attacked but she was terrified by my pitbulls. They got overly excited about her and cornered her. Now, she is sleeping. Her purpils dilated and such normally, Her breathing is normal, her heart rate is normal, and her reaction times and such are also normal. Im worried because she just wants to sleep! Its only been about 2 hours since it happend and health wise she seems to be fine. Should i be worried?

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      4 months ago

      Hi Lameez,

      Sorry to hear about your pup's attack. Please read the warning in the article about seeing the vet after a dog attack. Since he's breathing heavy, I would take him to the vet as soon as possible to make sure he didn't get any internal injuries or has pain somewhere.

    • profile image

      Lameez 

      4 months ago

      Hello my dog was attacked right now and my dog is still trying to be calm but he can walk he's only a puppy but got attacked by a pitbul and he's breathing abit heavily i can hear sounds coming from his wounds and he's lying next to me

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      5 months ago

      Dida, so sorry to hear your little one was attacked. There are many stories of a social group of dogs living in perfect harmony until a new addition is introduced. You have handled this very well and doing everything right. Yes, please keep your dogs safe from each other and if the lab mix must have toys/treats/bones, make sure these resources are given away from your other dogs.

    • profile image

      Dida 

      5 months ago

      Thank you for this article. It was exactly what I was searching for. I guess it will just take time and patience. I have a pack of 4. 3 small dogs and the latest addition is a, now 3 year old, chocolate lab/springer spaniel mix). All has been well for 3 years with the group. Bear, the lab, occasionally does the scary "I want that bone/toy/treat and I'm taking it" thing but until now it's not caused any long term issues.

      Last week we returned from work to find that Chester, one of the smaller ones, had a small cut above the eye and was very obviously shaken up. Since then, he shakes and trembles, hides under the bed or chairs, won't come for a treat. Mostly when Bear's around.

      Dinner time is fine. He comes and eats. They even all walk together when we go for our daily walk. All 4 of them walk fine. Chester even walks next to Bear.

      I guess it's treat and maybe attention from us time, that he's scared that Bear will attack again.

      Thank you for letting me share the issue. If you have any ideas that will help, I'd love to hear them. We've just been trying to reassure him and keep them at a save distance from one another.

      Thanks.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      6 months ago

      John, sorry to hear your dog was attacked by your older dog. Is your other dog present in field hunting?

    • profile image

      John Fetzer 

      6 months ago

      my dog was attacked by my older dog . GWP.

      My younger dog is tentative when he is trained (field hunting) Before the attack he was bold.

      How can I get him to become bold again .. .this occurred in May and I seem to be failing him. He seldom wiggles his tail.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      8 months ago

      Hello Thomas, is your dog aggressive to other dogs you have in the home or on walks?

    • profile image

      Thomas DellaMonica 

      8 months ago

      Hi I got my dog ( Bo) from my girlfriend’s son that he plan to give Bo away, because he could not take care of Bo... I asked if he is socializing with other dog, he said “yes” then we got Bo and realize he wasn’t friendly with other dogs. Then I called her son and he said “oh he was friendly with another dog which is his sister living under same roof” I got so upset, I tried tried training Bo for a year and half. Nothing success.... I do not know what to do!!!!

      Bo is a very strong dog he is mixed Australia and Caine .... sometimes I feel he is mixed “Wolf” because of his paw and his back growing like “Hulk lol” hard to explain....

      we love Bo so much he is a family dog, but what and how can I train him? He is training for service dog he hears for us we all are Deaf.... Bo picking up lots of sign language quickly and God bless Bo he is so smart... we really need help!

      My daughter living with us and she has a cat, it took me 3 minute nths to train Bo to get along no with the cat... sometimes Bo attack the cat ....

      We need professional help! We are disable and we love and precious Bo....

      Help us please.....

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      11 months ago

      Cee Jay Kay, good luck in helping your dog recover emotionally from the attack. She is in great hands, as not many dog owners realize the importance of this. Glad you are taking step to help her out.

    • profile image

      Cee Jay Kay 

      11 months ago

      Thanks for this information. My Greyhound and husband were attacked by a loose dog roaming the neighborhood while taking a walk a week ago. Sophie went through four hours of surgery at the emergency vet hospital, and will have more surgery tomorrow with my regular vet. I am very concerned for her psyche because I board dogs at my house. I always screen dogs before boarding so I know their temperament, and right now I'm mostly boarding return customers. She is no where near interacting with dogs other than my own at this time. She has a lot of physical healing to do first. This article was very informative, and now I know some steps to take.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      16 months ago

      Hello Edward, thanks for stopping by. Glad to hear you have enjoyed reading the hubs about dogs. Send pats to your dogs from me.

    • profile image

      Edward J. Palumbo 

      16 months ago

      We have two dogs that are party of our household and family, and I appreciate the Hubs you've provided. Thank you.

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