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Canine Behavior/Weird dog attack


QUESTION: My dog went on a play date the other day and he was playing nicely with another dog he has played with before with no problems. Suddenly, as they were playing, this other dog yelped as if in pain, then snapped angrily and my dog growled back and soon a big fight erupted. My dog ended up being stitched up.I still don't understand what happened. Perhaps my dog stepped on his foot? Anyhow I have 4 questions:

1) Why would a dog attack like this for something minor like that? I did see puppies and small dogs yelp in pain in the past as if they got hurt in play with bigger dogs, but usually it all ends there. I always though that a dog would yelp and withdraw to tell the other dog he was too rough, then why did this dog attack so viciously instead?

2) Should a dog that reacts like this be taken to the park or allowed on future play dates? can the problem be fixed? It's my understanding this is the first time this happened, but I can see it happen again and again given the right circumstances...

3) this dog obsessively licked the corners of my dog's mouth at times and my dog didn't mind. This dog also peed on top of my dog's pee. Yet, afterward they played enthusiastically together. I was wondering if this was a sign of trouble already.

4) could this fight have been interrupted? It happened really fast, one split second they went from playing to fighting. Because they were at a distance off leash, I couldn't intervene quickly as I wanted to, both dogs were too aroused to respond to calling. We had to separate them by holding their back legs in a wheel barrow fashion.

Thank you for your insight on this matter.

ANSWER: A yelp is a signal to another dog, as you correctly perceived it, that "I'm hurt, back off" but THAT YELP then produced an attack by the yelping dog.  THAT dog is the problem.  Your dog is not the problem.  Why the other dog attacked so viciously is something I can't tell you because the owner of that dog has not asked me any questions or provided any information.  Suffice it to say: I dislike dog parks and for a very good reason.  This is one of them.

Your dog may very well have now acquired a fear response to dogs of a certain "type" or "demeanor".  I suggest you keep him out of the dog park to avoid any further trouble.  If you have a friend with a sweet, dog friendly dog, a dog that is CLEARLY not close in temperament to your own (i.e., less assertive, more submissive), make a play date.  Keep both dogs on lightweight leashes (you can step on the leash, remove your dog, as can your friend remove his, should a problem erupt).

Try this and report back using followup feature.  If your dog has now acquired a strong fear response to a certain "type" or "demeanor" (attitude you will not perceive but your dog will), he is in need of some rehabilitation and I can help you to do that.  Stay out of the dog park.

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QUESTION: Thank you kindly for responding. To clarify, this didn't happen at the dog park... it was a play date with a dog that used to frequent the dog park and I have seen playing there. I don't like dog parks as well, which is why I do play dates with what look like friendly dogs. The dog appeared friendly and playful as he played in the past with my sister's dog, only odd thing was he was sort of obsessed to lick my dog's lips, but my dog didn't seem to mind about this at all. To help my dog "recover" I let him spend some time with a dog he has always been friends with and he seemed OK and happy to play and spend time with him. Thanks again for your response! Robert

When a dog licks the lips of another dog (and "dog kisses" for humans qualifies as well), it is showing sub-dominance/infantile behavior.  This behavior is originally intended for the adult to regurgitate food (if we want to look at the behavior of the Grey Wolf which, of course, our dogs are NOT).

The sudden "attack" was a fear response to the pain in the other dog.  You are wise to keep them apart from now on.  You see for yourself that this is not your dog's problem and, happily, he has not acquired a fear response to other dogs.  Any further questions at any time, please feel free to ask.  That's why I'm here, and have a very blessed 2015.

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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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