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Canine Behavior/Big dog vs Small dog bite


QUESTION: The information I require is to assist me in a civil legal issue regarding our dog. I am not asking for legal advise as I have sought that information.

What I am asking for, is professional information regarding the behaviour of small dogs; specifically in the area of aggression and intimidation.

During a walk, our larger Rottie Sheppard X (whom was 6 years old at the time and weighs approx 85 pounds) was greeted by an off leash Pomeranian. I was walking him with our other dog, a Sighthound Lab X.

My dog sniffed there's and I seperated the two by pulling on his leash and turning him around as her owner called there dog back.

Their dog then dashed away, only to reappear from behind some bushes running up behind my dog. At this point in time my Rottie turned around almost instantly and bit their dog.

In my opinion the bite was a result of him being startled by the smaller dogs sudden approach from behind, or defensive in nature, either to protect himself, myself or our other dog from potential harm.

What I would like to know in regards to this incident is the behavioral characteristics of small breed dogs in relation to say larger dogs. I have been led to believe that smaller dogs will sometimes use speed and running away and reappearing as a tactic to intimidate a larger dog.

Any insight would be very much appreciated whether it be in favor or my dog or not.

It should be noted, whether it makes a difference in the situation or not, that their dog was off leash and clearly wasn't trained well enough to remain with its owner when he originally called it back. Finally, our Rottie X has never displayed aggressive behaviour, and has not bitten any other animal or person before. He also did not growl, display teeth or display any other obvious sign when the smaller dog ran up behind him during this incident.

ANSWER: Sounds like instant fear response.  Dogs have three options when startled: fight, flight, freeze.  A Sighthound would most likely try to run or would freeze.  A dog genetically intended for independent guarding (even second or third generation) will more likely fight.  It appears to me that your dog responded to the startling event of the other dog coming up behind him and YOU.  Since your dog has no other incidents of active aggression toward persons or dogs, and given that the other dog was off leash (if there are leash laws in your area, they can't win in court), I very much doubt your Rottie X is at fault here.  However, we now have a precedent and this dog's reactions to other dogs on the "street" (especially small breeds) needs to be closely monitored.  If you see ANY indication of a conditioned response (raised hackles, extra alert, or worse: growling or barking/lunging) repost immediately using followup because this dog will need some counter conditioning.  I suggest what you do from now on is this: as you approach another dog on the "street" (or one approaches you), sing a happy song and have a ten second "party".  This will immediately do two things: disengage your own fight/flight response (anxiety) and redirect your dogs' attention to you who appear perfectly happy and "isn't this all wonderful".

I presume you are being sued?  Has animal control come to your house?  I do offer service (for pay) to analyze situation and prepare a brief for the Court in active aggression litigation.  We need to avoid your dog being seized but I think that would most likely have already occurred.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I thank you for your response.

Animal control did attend, and we were charged with "as being the owner of a dog, allowing him to bite or wound another person or animal"

We prevailed in bylaw court and the judge reached the conclusion the dog acted the way he had as a result of being scared or out of defense.

We are however being sued for the vet bills, cost of replacement animal and the cost of adopting their dog in the first place. Their dog was put down as a result of its injuries. A 85 pound dog vs. 6 pound dog does leave much room for survival. The bite lasted all of a second, and their animal survived the 25 minute journey to the vet plus through examination. They are trying to make it out to be some vicious prolonged attack when though the vet report indicated only one puncture wound.

I am confident we will prevail in small claims as there was no negligence on my behalf, and I offered to pay the vet bill at the time. Howevere their tune changed and it became all about money.

Again thank you for your expert opinion, it confirms what I believed was the case in this situation and gives me further evidence to present should they attempt to make our dog to be some vicious killer.

Don't hesitate to contact me privately (I do NOT answer private questions, usually) should you require expert analysis for the Court.  If this small dog was bitten once and survived the journey to the vet, I suggest you approach the Court on how to subpoena the veterinary records.  It's possible they just did not want to pay the (possibly large) expenses required for the dog to heal/survive.  I've seen far worse, believe me.  As I said before, observe your dog closely.  If there is ANY indication of an acquired fear response, you will see it and it must be addressed immediately.  If your dog is ever involved in another incident, it will be seized and destroyed.  To stop that requires expensive lawyer and court dates and the dog suffers in the kill shelter.  Let's cut this one off at the pass.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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