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By Dr. John H. Sudduth
Northwest Animal Hospital and Pet Care Center, PC

In the first article of this series we talked about the benefits of exercise, both for ourselves as well
as our dogs. Different dog breeds possess physical and behavioral characteristics that can make them better running partners than other breeds. Matching our intended activity with the capabilities of our individual dog is a first step in making running and hiking a safe activity for all.

We also talked about what age your dogs should be before beginning rigorous outdoor activity and provided a rough guide to distances which may be safe for different age dogs. Click here for a link to the first article.

Our second article turned attention to ensuring that our dog is healthy an how to prepare them for increased rigors and the increased risks of the outdoors. Starting any outdoor activity is best done gradually to allow their bodies to adapt much like we would in building a couch to 5K plan.

Ensuring that our dog is up-to-date with necessary vaccinations, parasite prevention and has the proper identification should be provided before exposing them to the increased risks of being
outdoors. For a link to that article with additional tips click here.

In the third article, we began talking about hazards on the trail. This article addressed pertinent factors concerning dealing with dog encounters, the leash law, what it is and its value in preventing dog and human injuries and illness, along with 8 tips to follow with a hope to prevent these problems. Click here for a link to Hazards, Part 1.

We'll continue talking about hazards in this article and look at the unfortunate reality of actually being charged by an unfamiliar dog, and dealing with a fight along with bite injuries. We will also consider some of the questions that arise in these situations touching on legal liabilities on one hand and special concerns with the public health risks involved and especially the question of Rabies. Whereas, we hope that none of us ever are involved in this situation, the daily reality is that this occurs more frequently than would be commonly assumed. It is best to be prepared before these situations do happen as they can occur quickly and are very upsetting and frightening. To be forearmed with knowledge is one of the best ways to deal with these horrific events!

Scenario No. 1: You are out for a run or hike/bike and you turn the corner and in your path there is an unfamiliar dog or worse, a pack of dogs and they are running, without supervision off-leash. They don’t look all that friendly, but it is really unknown as to how they could react to your presence with your dog. Before you know it, a dog is charging you and your dog. You may or may not be certain of its intentions. What would you do?

Step 1: Attempt to stop the approach or attack.
Attempting to stop the approach of an unfamiliar dog (Step 1) that may have malicious intent is
wise until further assessment of the situation can be made if possible. Here are 4 tips to try:

  • Arm yourself immediately with deterrent methods. In Part 1 of hazards out on the trail:
    other dogs, we talked about 3 of these; an air horn, pepper spray and thirdly a Taser unit. See Hazards Part 1for more details here. I put this as the first tip, because these things happen so quickly and are over in some cases in the blink of an eye, so you don’t have time to react if you delay this necessary tip. I carry mine in my pocket or a running vest where I have easy access. They are relatively small units and don’t weigh me down all that much.
  • Try to remain calm and in control. Pick up small dogs if possible and shorten the lead on
    your dog to keep your dog under control. Loudly command the approaching dog to stop with your hand held out, palm up. If the unfamiliar dog is obviously aggressive or runs through this command, lower your hand and try a loud blast of the air horn. Most dogs will be deterred with this, but of course aggressive dog’s intent on injuring or killing will not be. That’s where pepper spray may help, and of course in extreme situations the Taser unit may be necessary. Your objective is to avoid an intense fight with injuries.
  • Do not turn and run as this may elicit herding instincts and makes you all that more
    susceptible to a bite wound. Be bold but also do not act aggressively by waving hands and screaming. Remember, you cannot outrun a dog. In some cases you may be able to calmly but firmly talk your way out of an attack.
  • In some cases you may be able to distract an approaching dog by tossing a treat or water bottle out on the trail. This could buy time to forearm yourself. Of course this is a judgementcall and case by case.

Step 2:In an actual attack, defend yourself and your dog against injury.

  • Separate the dogs if possible. Fight back. Use deterrents. Try to break the fight up but
    be very aware to keep your fingers, hands, and legs out of harm’s way if at all possible. Use fists but not outstretched fingers and use whatever means you have like sticks, running poles or canes etc. Water may help but this is so intense that it can be difficult as it would take a blast of water to divert attention and normally a hose is nowhere to be found.

Step 3: Assess the aftermath

  • Thoroughly examine your dog and yourself for bite wounds. Seek medical and veterinary care immediately if necessary. Don’t take chances with wounds that could become infected. Puncture wounds have a higher incidence of becoming infected. Furthermore, I have operated on many dogs where the outside bite wound looks small but due to shaking etc. the underlying wounds are severe and extensive. Puncture wounds over the rib cage can be life threatening by causing lung and heart damage and by introducing air into the chest cavity. This is called pneumothorax. It is not an uncommon occurrence especially in a big dog, little dog confrontation, where the larger dog grabs over the chest and shakes violently. (During appropriate weather, sweaters and coats may help reduce injuries in these smaller breeds).
  • If a dog or dogs are running loose and their activity presents an immediate danger to public safety call 911. Our intent is to save lives, and possibly multiple lives. Follow this by placing a call to the El Paso County Animal Control Dispatch at 719-302-8798. Pre-program this number into your phone! If possible take photos and get a good description of the dog or dogs involved, their location and direction they are heading. You may save lives and injuries by preventin further attacks, automobile accidents, etc. by immediately reporting this. Don’t skip this step! The community needs to work together to make a difference.

Scenario No. 2:This is the situation that occurs more frequently where all or parts of the above (Scenario No. 1) transpire, but there is an owner or responsible party involved. Side note: Remember, there are dog parks and locations within El Paso county where dogs are allowed to roam freely and off-lead. These locations are designated as “use at your own risk.” This means that in posting the rules, if your dog bites another dog, it is your responsibility to pay for the treatment of the injured dog. Before entering a dog park, or off-leash area so designated, make sure you read and understand the rules and regulations. Of course nearly all dog parks include a rule forbidding aggressive dogs, but the problem lies in that not all owners know their dogs well enough to assess how their dog might react in a confrontation, or they downplay their behavior, so beware of this. Furthermore, take a sober assessment of your dog as to their ability to qualify for off-leash activity. There are certain dogs which may not be ready to be put to the test, and so the owner must be the advocate for protection. These dogs would include reactive dogs by personality, under trained or under socialized dogs which may be fearful in the present of people or other dogs, puppies or adult dogs that don’t understand or have not been trained to respect the limits and personal space of other people and other dogs, females in heat, unneutered males that express dominant characteristics, etc. The point is, choose the activity and location that fits your individual dog and their requirements with safety for all being the primary consideration. Then have fun! Exercise is good for everyone!) In the event that either you or your dog is actually bitten, of course the primary consideration is to assess the degree of injury if you are able and attend to their medical needs.

  • Remember that even mild mannered dogs that are in pain may bite thereby making a bad situation worse, so proceed carefully. If injuries have occurred seek medical care for full assessment.
  • Planning for a worst case scenario is important. Here’s what you need to understand: It is important to discuss this with the responsible parties if at all possible. This is often difficult because these incidents are often emotionally charged and terrifying. But it is important to gather information which could have important consequences so try to remain calm and polite. Confrontation language can make these situations escalate rapidly. The information needed is the date and time of day, name of the responsible party along with address and phone numbers;where they may be contacted, location where the incident occurred, if injuries were sustained, and the rabies vaccination status of all dogs involved.
  • If the other party is not willing to share this kind of information, do not risk personal safety by pressing the issue. Take photos if possible, including license plates, or anything else that might facilitate contacting the party involved, so that the proper authorities may contact and get the vital information needed. Contact 911 if your personal safety is at risk and El Paso Animal Control Dispatch by dialing the preprogramed cell phone number @ 719-302-8798. Time is of the essence in all situations so do not delay contacting the proper authorities.
  • In the event that you or your dog is bitten, all bite cases are reportable to the Humane Society. The phone number to call is 719-473-1741. Follow the prompts. The following is taken directly from the Humane Society Animal Law Enforcement web page: [my note: the talk about quarantine has everything to do about the risk of Rabies in our area and is meant to insure that this risk is addressed for the health and safety of all concerned]: What are the procedures for an animal bite? Colorado Revised Statue 25-4-603 requires all animal bites be reported within twelve (12) hours. If you have been bitten by an animal or your pet has bitten someone call your local Animal Law Enforcement division immediately (see contact for appropriate phone numbers). If the bite occurs after normal hours of operation and the biting animal is still at large and a threat to public safety, call your local police department or sheriff’s office, or dial 911. An animal law enforcement officer will contact the owner and victim to complete a bite report and to quarantine the animal. Domestic pets are quarantined for 10 days from the date of the bite or exposure, including the day of the bite or exposure. Quarantines generally require confinement at the owner's home to prevent the animal from wandering or from coming into contact with people or pets that do not live in the same household. Home quarantines are normally permitted unless the owner is unwilling or unable to securely confine the animal during the quarantine period or when there are Dangerous Animal charges filed or pending. If animals are not quarantined at home, they are confined at a veterinary hospital or the animal shelter. Officers determine quarantine sites based on the circumstances of each incident on a case-by-case basis. Home quarantines are not an owner's right, but a courtesy extended to responsible owners. Quarantines at locations other than the owner's home will be at the owner's expenses. After the 10-day quarantine period has ended, an animal law enforcement officer will follow-up to ensure the animal does not exhibit any signs or symptoms that are consistent with the rabies virus and release the animal from quarantine. This is a matter of public safety and health and must be taken seriously.
  • Make sure your dog has a current Rabies vaccination and you can document such. Here are the important steps: 1. Your dog has a Rabies vaccination that is current, not out of date, 2.The rabies vaccination must be administered by a licensed veterinarian. Rabies vaccine administered by the owner is not recognized as being valid in the state of Colorado, 3.Documentation of the rabies vaccination, type of vaccine and date of administration is necessary so to prove that your dog is in compliance with this law. Is your dog in compliance? If you are missing any of this information, take immediate steps to remedy this.
  • In a recent public health letter to the citizens in El Paso County, the El Paso County
    health department issued this recent August pertaining to rabies and the importance in keeping
    your pet up to date:http://www.elpasocountyhealth.org/news/news-release/2015/protect-yo...

We are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful city as Colorado Springs and for many of us outdoor oriented types we moved to this locale for just this very reason. Keeping our trails safe and available to all citizens and our dogs will require that we all work together to ensure such remains the case for ourselves and future generations. If you have further questions regarding your dog that we can address, call Northwest Animal Hospital at 593-8582 or visit us on the web at www.nwanimalhospital.com!

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