WARNING: The video below is graphic and may be disturbing.
You may have seen the viral video of a dog fight that erupted at the Avalon Pier on Catalina Island in California. Two large Pit Bull dogs attacked a small Jack Russell Terrier. The owner of the small dog, John Brady, covered his pup with his body to protect him, and the two larger dogs began biting him instead.
As Brady passed his dog to bystanders for safety, the owner of the Pit Bulls, a woman who lives on the island, tried to pull the large dogs off of Brady. One of the dogs turned on her, then the other Pit Bull attacked that dog in response. When it was all over, Brady had bite wounds that would require skin grafts and surgery, and his Jack Russell required surgery, as well. The owner of the Pit Bulls agreed to have them both euthanized.
The saddest part of this tragic story is that it probably could have all been avoided with responsible pet ownership. Some might claim that it is because the dogs involved were Pit Bulls, but the term “Pit Bull” encompasses a variety of breeds with different temperaments, and dogs’ behaviors are more determined by training and the humans that care for them than by breed. In the end, the fault lies with the owners. Here are seven ways the owners of these dogs could have prevented the fight.
1. Always Leash Your Dog, And Use The Right Equipment
Dogs should always be on leash in public when they are not in designated off-leash areas like dog parks and dog beaches. Period. Leash laws exist for a reason. Even if your dog is perfectly well-behaved, you cannot predict when something could startle your dog into traffic, when your dog may bolt after something interesting, or when another dog may act aggressively. Having a leash will give you more control in all of these situations.
In the case of the fight on Avalon Pier, one of the Pit Bulls got free of its leash and attacked. This means that there was some kind of equipment failure. It’s likely that the collar was too loose or not secure. Collars, leashes, and harnesses are rated for specific dog weights, and most are able to tighten to fit your dog’s body shape. One of the Pit Bulls clearly has a harness in the video, but the other does not, and that’s where the problem started. Harnesses are often less likely to slip off, so make sure you compare collars and harnesses to decide which is most appropriate for your dog. A sturdy, non-retractable leash that is thick enough for your dog’s weight is also a must. These items are all needed to maintain control during your walks and will allow you to avoid dangerous situations.
2. Get A Dog That You Can Handle
There is something very obviously wrong when watching the video from Avalon Pier. Take a look at the owner of two muscular, 80 to 100-pound Pit Bulls trying to keep them under control. She’s a small, middle-aged to elderly lady who could have been overpowered by her dogs at any time, and that’s exactly what happened.
You absolutely should not own a dog that can escape your control. You need to be able to move your dog out of harms way and away from conflicts, and you can’t do that if your dog is strong enough to ignore you. You need to be aware of your own physical fitness when adopting a dog in the first place. This is especially true if you plan to adopt two dogs and walk them at the same time. The Pit Bull owner may have been able to control one of the dogs if she decided to walk them separately, which would have made the fight easier to avoid, but she certainly wasn’t strong enough to handle both of them.
3. Know Your Dog’s Temperament
Some dogs don’t belong in public. Dogs that are still training and learning to socialize or dogs that have a history of aggression should not be walking on a public pier. Knowing your pup’s temperament goes beyond just knowing if they are aggressive or not. Your dog’s behavior can be affected by many things, including whether or not they are on a leash and how other dogs near them are acting.
Some dogs will interact fine when off leash, but will bark or lunge when on leash. Other dogs that did not socialize early on may not be as aware of dog language. They might look another dog in the eye, which can be seen as a challenge, without meaning any harm. Had the woman on Avalon Pier paid more attention to her dogs’ temperaments, she would have known that they needed a space to walk that was quiet and free of other unfamiliar dogs.
4. Socialization And Training
The key to raising a well-behaved and social pooch is to train, and the earlier it starts, the better. Early puppyhood is an especially important time to socialize, as older dogs’ personalities are not as easy to change, though exposure to positive experiences with other pups can be helpful to older dogs, too. Ideally dogs learn from their siblings and mothers about body language and the proper ways to show dominance and submission. When a dog knows how to communicate, a fight is less likely to happen.
Play dates, group obedience school, and eventually dog parks are great places for dogs to learn to be social. Training is also key. If your dog is trained to obey your commands, trust your guidance, and rely on you for instruction, you’ll have more control over any situation you encounter. Teaching your dog to wait for permission to interact with other dogs or people on your walks, rewarding good behavior, and reinforcing commands like “No” or “Down” are all things you should do to help your dog avoid conflicts and would have helped to avoid the fight on the pier completely.
5. Watch Body Language
Dogs will almost always give you body language cues when they are upset. These will clue you in to when a fight is about to happen, giving you time to get out of the situation. If you see a hard, unwavering stare, stiff body movements, the tail rigidly held straight up or down, or teeth showing, move away quickly. Try to put an obstruction like a tree, a parked vehicle, or a building between your pup and the other dog. Block their view.
This is why a pier is no place for dogs that could get into a fight. There aren’t many obstructions or places to hide from view. There was nothing stopping the dogs on Avalon Pier from seeing each other, nor was there anything blocking their attack. In a different setting, it’s possible that these dogs could have been moved to a different place and completely forgotten about each other before a confrontation happened.
6. Carry A Deterrent
It may not be common for most dog owners to think about bringing some kind of deterrent to stop dog fights, but it’s better to have one and not need it than to be unprepared should the worst happen. There are a few different kinds of deterrents that can be used to distract or startle dogs enough that they lose focus on fighting. A water gun or spray bottle can help by catching dogs off guard enough to draw their attention elsewhere.
Another possibility is a citronella spray, which is harmless to dogs, but produces a strong odor that they don’t care for. Some owners suggest carrying a stun gun, which can be used by firing above an attacking dog, not at it, since the gun produces a noise that hums at a frequency that startles dogs. Other owners carry an umbrella, which can surprise pooches when opened quickly, as well as acting as a barrier. Do not use pepper spray, as this can cause injury and lead dogs to become even more fearful and aggressive.
7. Know How To Stop The Fight
If a fight starts happening, you can at least prevent it from continuing and causing more injuries by knowing what to do and what not to do. One solution is to pour water over the fighting dogs, as it distracts and surprises them, causing a loss of focus on the fight. In the case of the fight on Avalon Pier, the dogs were surrounded by water. Someone could have grabbed a bucket or, as some commenters on the video noted, pushed the dogs into the water, as it wasn’t much of a fall. Granted, there’s no telling if the dogs knew how to swim, but it wouldn’t have been terribly hard to drag them back out of the water once the fight was over.
Some dogs will back off after being sprayed with vinegar or the citronella spray mentioned earlier. Another method is to put something between the dogs. A branch, a lawn chair, or any strong object that you can wedge between the pups can put a stop to the fighting. A final solution is to grab one of the dogs by the hind legs and tail as the Harbor Patrol officer did at the end of the video, then lift the dog into a wheelbarrow position until they let go. This is a risky move, as the dog could turn on you, so it’s best to drop the legs and move away as soon as the conflict is over. Some even suggest lifting the hind legs and twisting so that the dog is forced onto its back in the submissive position. Again, there is some risk involved, so use caution. Luckily, this is what brought the fight to an end thanks to the brave Harbor Patrol officer who grabbed the most aggressive dog and stopped the conflict.
How else do you think this fight could have been prevented or avoided? What would you do if your dog was attacked? Let us know in the comments below.