There are hidden dangers that can arise when dog walkers decide to walk several different breeds together.
Most professional dog walkers are familiar with basic safety tips to ensure that their dog outing is healthy and productive for the canines in their care. However, there are hidden dangers that can arise when dog walkers decide to walk several different breeds together, especially in areas where large numbers of unleashed dogs may also roam.
The main danger is the possibility of a dog pack attack, either from the dogs in their care, or from other dogs that treat their dogs as an unwanted and provocative “intrusion” on their own turf – and feel the need to retaliate.
Strictly speaking, a dog pack consists of four or more dogs operating in concert and displaying classic “pack” behavior, with one alpha leader and three followers doing its bidding.
Many dog owners and even many dog experts mistakenly believe that dogs have shed their primordial wolf-like nature once they become domesticated and that pet owners have nothing to fear from their house dogs when leashed and walked together for their daily exercise or left to romp unleashed with other pet dogs in a public dog park
But dog pack attacks are far more common than many people think. Consider the data from California alone. Of the 584 human fatalities due to dog attacks recorded in the state in 2020, nearly 14.8% involve dog pack attacks (of 4 or more dogs) specifically. That’s an enormous number, and if attacks by dogs in groups of three are included, the figure rises to 22.8% (and for attacks by dogs of 2 or more, it’s a whopping 45.2%).
While precise data on pack attacks in public dog parks is lacking, anecdotal accounts abound of random and often violent confrontations between poorly attended dogs that can be found in large numbers in unregulated dog parks, especially on weekends.
One reason is a lack of regulation on the number and types of dogs that are allowed to roam and the rules requiring owner leashing and monitoring of their dogs.
Some dog parks wisely separate larger and smaller dogs into separate pens, which discourages larger breeds from forming dominant groups to intimate or attack smaller breeds. In addition, with restricted time allowed for dog park occupancy, dogs are less likely to grow hungry, fraternize with other dog groups and establish territoriality.
Banning food and pet toys inside the dog park is another important anti-triggering measure that can prevent potential hostile dog encounters.
Dog Walker Awareness
Most dog walkers have probably never encountered a dog pack while performing their dog walking services. And they may have limited experience with dog parks because of strict client rules governing their dog walking routines.
That doesn’t mean that the threat of a dog pack attack doesn’t exist. It does.
Dog packs can form anywhere large numbers of dogs congregate without supervision, which can include city parks, parking lots and even alley ways. These areas exist in the suburbs, ex-urbs and the inner city, too.
Dog walkers that walk their charges in or near these areas can easily come upon a dog pack and find themselves a potential object of attack, depending on how they respond.
While there are few published media reports of such attacks, anecdotal accounts about them abound. For example, residents of Queens, New York have reported for years on the large number of abandoned wild dogs operating in some isolated expanses of the borough that have formed packs and periodically set upon unsuspecting residents out for a stroll or pet owners taking their dogs for a walk.
Where did these wild dogs come from? Apparently from abusive and neglectful former dog owners who decided to just dump their pets outside rather than find a proper home for them, or take them to a shelter. Over a period of months or years, the dogs established packs that set upon borough residents until authorities intervened.
Many dog pack attacks do occur at night, when most residents are asleep and pedestrian traffic is quiet – but not always.
Last year, in Montgomery, West Virginia, a wild dog pack roamed freely through the town in the late evening hours, rummaging through garbage cans and attacking pets at will. A local woman was identified as having fed the animals while she lived in the surrounding woods but after she died, the animals began descending in the town in search of food. The dogs also began breeding and grew to over a dozen in number.
While no humans have been attacked thus far, several pets have been killed by the pack which has been observed strolling unperturbed down city streets. Angry residents have criticized town authorities for failing to take action
Dog walkers can also face a dog pack threat from the very dogs in their care. Earlier this year, in Dallas County, Texas, a trained dog walker was viciously attacked by two pet dogs after she arrived at a home to walk them. The dogs knocked her down and devoured much of her face, leaving her permanently disfigured. The event was shocking, in part because the dog walker had met and fraternized with the same two dogs several days earlier during a visit to the owner’s home.
However, when she arrived to walk the dogs, the owner was not present and the dogs, which had a reputation for aggressive behavior, apparently interpreted her presence as a threat. The maimed dog walker has sued the dog walking company and the dog owner for the permanent injuries and trauma she suffered during this horrific event.
Dog walkers and the companies that employ them need to increase their awareness of the warning signs of possible dog pack attacks. They should take the necessary steps to prevent these avoidable tragedies as well as the substantial liability that can result when a dog pack attack occurs.
Here are some common sense prevention measures for dog walkers to adopt to deter dog pack attacks, or if suddenly faced with one, to escape and avoid serious injury:
● Get to know your clients and their dogs before you agree to walk them.
● If you walk more than one dog at the same time, make sure these dogs are properly introduced.
● Avoid walking groups of 3 or more dogs together if possible.
● Become intimately familiar with the areas and routes where you walk all your dogs.
● Avoid alleys, unpatrolled parks and other large isolated areas where hostile animals might congregate.
● Some dog parks are safe for your dogs; others are not. Establish clear rules with clients about accessing local dog parks.
● If faced with a group of hostile barking dogs, don’t run or display fear. Stand your ground.
● Carry an air horn, a bright flashlight or another form of alarm to frighten prospective attackers.
● Always carry a walking stick or an umbrella that can be used to ward off attacking animals.
● Special dog repellent sprays, such as DirectStop®, which uses citronella and is less harmful than pepper spray, can also help avert an attack.
● Carry animal treats to keep your dogs calm and to distract intruding dogs.