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My Pet World: How to deal with off-leash dogs that are aggressive

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

While walking through a neighborhood park with my dog on a leash, two off-leash dogs attacked my dog. The small dog came running toward us barking, which seemed to trigger the bigger dog to attack us. Both dogs ignored their owners. I don't think the dog owners were together, but it's hard to tell in the age of social distancing. One pet owner did not even say anything after pulling the large dog away. Owners of unleashed dogs need to understand the effects their dogs have on leashed dogs.

What I'm wondering is how I should have handled this interaction with my dog both during and afterward? She's 70 pounds, so I couldn't scoop her up. She's a rescue and a bit spooked. I have had her nine years and training took time.

During the attack, she started by defending herself and getting into the fight, then one of the dogs got a grip on her scruff, and she suddenly cowered and submitted. Thankfully, we walked away injury free. But I was yelling and waving and stomping like crazy, trying to stop the strange dogs from attacking. Was my behavior what made her cower and submit? It happened so fast that I couldn't think what else to do.

- Anchorage, Alaska

Dear Anchorage,

Dog fights happen quickly and it's important to stay as calm as you can. While highly instinctive to do, shouting at dogs during a fight sometimes escalates tensions. In trying to please you, your dog may have acquiesced to your demands to stop. But she also could have submitted because two dogs were attacking her at once.

When walking your dog, carry an airhorn to startle an approaching dog, citronella spray to disarm an aggressive dog, or an umbrella to separate you both from an approaching dog. The umbrella is easy to carry, opens quickly and can serve as a way to push a dog away, while at the same time blocking tensions between dogs.

In a dog fight, the instinct is to pull dogs apart. If you pull your dog away using the leash, and the other dog's owner is not doing the same thing, your dog comes across as submissive, which is a disadvantage to her in a fight. Instead, loosen your lead so your dog has some flexibility to protect herself and you are a safe distance away. Make a loud noise, like clapping for a mild altercation, or use an airhorn for a serious fight. You also can try getting a closed umbrella between them or spraying both dogs with water from a hose. Both owners also could grab their dogs by the back legs and pull them away from each other. Never step into a fight to pull dogs apart because you will be injured, perhaps severely.

As soon as the dogs break, walk your dog quickly away from the fight. Pulling her back could make the other dog attack again. Then check your dog for injuries. If the other dog was off leash, the owner might be liable for your veterinary expenses.


Dear Cathy,

Like J. Stein from Holtsville, New York, who had a golden retriever afraid of storms, I have had dogs that were terrified of loud noises and thunderstorms. One dog wanted to be in the dark, so I would either cover her with a blanket (and she would fall asleep) or I would leave the closet door partially open so she could hide under the clothes in the dark. My current six-pound dog didn't like the Thundershirt. It seemed to make her more agitated and she didn't like being left alone.

My solution has been ThunderWunders, a calming dog chew at my local pet store. It is made by the same company that makes the Thundershirt. It doesn't put her to sleep; it just calms her down. Maybe one of these will work for dogs that don't like wearing the vests.

- Sandra, Meriden, Connecticut

Dear Sandra,

I love reader tips as there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to helping our dogs weather thunderstorms. The pet market has developed many over-the-counter products that pet parents can try during storms. If that works for your dog, I am thrilled. Maybe it will work for J. Stein, too.


(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)




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