It’s every dog owner’s worst nightmare – our dogs being attacked or frightened by another, often out-of-control, dog. We do our best to keep our dogs safe on their walks, but we can’t control every variable. Sometimes, other people allow their dogs to run riot and spoil things for others. Sometimes, accidents happen. Whatever the event, it’s important that dog owners know what to do next to support their dogs and to help them recover & move forward. These events can be traumatising for our dogs and we can’t just expect them to forget it or get over it right away – doing the wrong thing after an incident can quickly exacerbate the issue, compound our dogs’ fear and cause long term problems that might’ve been avoided. So here are our top tips for what to do if your dog has experienced a traumatic incident or dog attack.
Give them time to decompress.
Stressful events lead to a spike in stress hormones such as cortisol, which take time to leave our dog’s system. High levels of cortisol will make our dogs more hypervigilant and reactive, so it’s a good idea to give them at least a couple of days off (if not more) after they’ve had a stressful experience. When you start going out again, begin with shorter walks in places that you know you and your dog both feel confident and secure and keep an eye on your dog’s behaviour – if they seem more alert than usual or worried about things that usually wouldn’t bother them, they might need some more time off.
Try to make sure they have only good experiences.
This one is part of why we suggest not walking your dogs for a few days after the event – with cortisol levels so high, things our dogs could usual cope well with will be more likely to tip them over the edge. As we can’t control the environment outside, staying at home and incorporating some fun enrichment where it’s safe and predictable is a good way to ensure that their fear is not compounded.
Incorporate feel good activities to help with decompression.
While they’re on their cortisol holiday, give your dogs things to do that promote feelings of calm and will boost their feel-good hormones. Scent work is a great way to help our dogs feel good (read about the benefits of scent work in our other blog, here
). From fun food scatter games to our online Scent Detectives course,
there’s lots of ways to get your dog using their nose to help them relax.
Speak to a trainer!
Having a traumatic experience with another dog, such as being attacked, can easily lead to anxiety and reactivity around other dogs in the future – both from our dogs and from us! Speak to a trainer and consider signing up to some group classes
, so you and your dog can have positive experiences working together in the presence of other dogs, in a safe and controlled environment. If you and/or your dog are particularly nervous, you can get started with a 121
to help you feel prepared and know what to do if either of you are nervous around another dog.
Contact a behaviourist ASAP if you are concerned.
If your experience was particularly severe and/or you are seeing ANY signs at all of behavioural issues, such as reactivity, developing in your dog, contact a behaviourist
immediately. Behavioural issues are complex and difficult to resolve, and recovering from a traumatic experience will always take time and effort. However, the longer we leave it the tougher things will get – when our dogs start to show outward signs of fear/reactivity, they are already feeling extremely stressed out. Each time our dogs go outside, see another dog and experience that level of stress, they are learning that other dogs = stressful event. Not only is their fear becoming more and more ingrained, but whatever behaviours you are seeing are probably being reinforced – if your dog sees another dog, feels afraid, lunges and barks and the dog walks off down the street, they are learning that lunging and barking is a successful way to get the other dog to go away. Our dogs don’t know the other dog was going to walk off down the street regardless, they just know that the dog appeared, they barked and the dog went away. So, the longer we allow this cycle to continue happening, the harder it gets to fix the problem. Behavioural work is an investment, but for good reason – a qualified behaviourist is worth their weight in gold and you will save yourself and your dog both time, stress and money if you invest in the professional support you both need as soon as possible.