My Dog Was Attacked By Another Dog: What Are My Rights?
Your dog has been attacked by another dog! As a dog owner, it’s distressing and alarming to see your beloved pup being attacked. Especially if the attack has caused grievous bodily harm to your dog and you are left to cover hefty vet fees. You want justice. So what are your rights in this situation? In this article, we’ll discuss your rights as the owner of an attacked dog in Australia and the appropriate steps to ensure the safety and well being of your fur-baby in the future. This article aims to help you navigate through this challenging experience.
Disclaimer: We want to make clear that Gentle Dog Trainers as a company, and the writer herself, are not legal experts. The exact legal course you take will depend on the state you live in and the local laws. There are no Australia-wide laws around dog attacks. State-wide laws are rare too. Each local council has the right to define what the legal repercussions are for dog attacks.
This article will just give you an overview of what to do after the attack, how to report it, and the (typical) rights you have in this situation. Always contact your local council for the most up-to-date information. You can also contact a civil lawyer for tailored legal advice.
What is Classed as a Dog Attack in Australia?
First, let’s go through some definitions! What is a dog attack in legal terms in Australia?
Many local councils will have varying definitions of this, but the general rule of thumb is that anyone has the right to report a “dangerous dog”. A dangerous dog is a dog that:
- “Seriously attacked another animal or a human
- Has acted in a way to cause fear in a human or animal” (1)
So yes, that means a dog owner can even get into trouble if their dog intimidates your dog. Though it’s rare that those cases go to court.
More than likely, you’re reading this article because your dog has been bitten by another dog.
That’s the most common form of attack that incurs legal proceedings. Therefore, for the rest of the article, I’m going to assume we’re talking about bodily harm caused by another dog.
Related: 6 Best Dog Muzzles Australia.
But just know that if another dog has acted in a way that intimidates and scares your dog (or you) to an extreme degree, you may have grounds to make a complaint to the council. Check your local council’s policies for further details.
What To Do When Your Dog Has Been Attacked By Another Dog
If the attack has just happened and you’re looking for guidance, we’ve got you! Here is a step-by-step guide on exactly what to do to care for your pup and get justice for the incident.
Step 1: Check your dog for injuries
You’ll need to assess the damage properly after a dog attack. Dog bites are deceptively damaging. Even if there’s not much blood, a lot can be happening under the surface,
“Think of a bite wound as an iceberg where most of the damage may often be under the surface. Depending on the location of the wounds, tissues can be torn or crushed. The most concerning wounds are ones that penetrate the chest and the abdomen as they can cause serious internal and potentially life-threatening damage.”- Dr Jerry Klein of AKA (2)
If you think your dog has been bitten but there are no visible punctures, your dog could still be seriously bruised. A dog bite can crush the tissues and organs beneath them even if the skin is intact. Scary right?
When you investigate, make sure you are using a soothing voice and touching your dog gently. Part the fur in the places where you think your dog is injured to take a good look at it.
If there’s no puncture wound, lightly press to check for bruising. Your pup will quickly let you know if they are suffering from any internal bruising or bleeding.
Step 2: Seek veterinary attention
After assessing the severity of your dog's injuries, then contact a veterinarian immediately. The quicker you get your dog seen by a professional, the sooner you can prevent any serious complications.
- Prolonged pain and suffering
Now you’re probably wondering, who is liable to pay the vet fee if your dog is attacked?
If you have pet insurance, you may be able to claim from that.
If not, you’ll need to front the cost until if/when your dog’s attack goes to court. If the council or a private lawsuit goes in your favour, you’ll likely be compensated for the vet bills.
Some owners are kind enough to recognise that their dog has caused harm to the other dog, and offer to cover the vet bills anyway. But that’s assuming they are extremely honest people!
Step 3: Gather evidence that your dog was attacked
Document the incident by:
- taking photographs or videos of your dog's injuries
- the location of the attack
- the other dog involved
If there are any witnesses, request their contact information.
If the owner is present and forthcoming, get their details too.
Make copies of your vet bills and any other expenses you’ve endured after the attack.
Step 4: Think about the circumstances of the attack before reporting
Before you rush to report, write out a clear sequence of events so that the council investigators know exactly what happened.
Here are some things to note:
All of these details are important to fully understand your case.
Step 5: Report to the local council
Reporting the dog attack is crucial to address the incident and hold the responsible party accountable. The reporting process may vary depending on your council, but generally, you have three options:
- Contact the local council
Phone or email the local council clearly stating your case. They will redirect you to the right department to start the investigation. Typically, they’ll ask you for a statement and review your case over several weeks.
- Contact Animal Control or the Dangerous Dog Hotline
Some councils have a local animal control agency or appropriate authority responsible for handling dog-related incidents. Provide them with a detailed account of the attack, including any evidence collected.
- File a Police Report
In cases of severe attacks or if you believe the other dog's owner was negligent, and your local council has no process to handle dog attack complaints, consider filing a police report. This will establish a formal record of the incident and aid in potential legal proceedings.
What Are My Rights If My Dog Was Attacked By Another Dog?
When your dog is attacked by another dog, you may have legal options to seek compensation for damages and hold the responsible party liable. Here are some of the legal avenues you may have available to you.
Related: Dangerous Dog Warning Collars Australia.
Local council investigations
Most dog attacks are handled at the council level. The owner of the dog who attacked yours could face:
Your local council will investigate the incident and make appropriate judgements on your behalf.
In Australia, many home and contents insurance policies cover incidents involving their dog. (4) Some pet insurance even covers it.
You would need to discuss with the owner if this is a possibility so that the insurance can cover vet bills.
If your dog has been seriously injured, and the local council isn’t equipped to help, you may consider privately suing the owner for damages. For that, you’ll need to contact a lawyer to represent you in a civil lawsuit.
But not so fast. Criminal proceedings are only generally worth pursuing if:
You can seek private legal counsel if these conditions aren't met, but you're not likely to win. And lawyers are expensive!
You must be able to prove that the dog is dangerous, you’ve incurred huge expenses, and the owner is culpable.
Consult with a lawyer specialising in animal law to evaluate the merits of your case and explore potential compensation for veterinary bills, emotional distress, or other damages.
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Being Attacked By Other Dogs?
Your dog has been through enough! We want to ensure that your pup remains happy and healthy for years to come. So, do you never take them outside again? Don’t deprive them of enjoying the outdoors in the name of safety. Here are some ways you can lower the chances your dog will be attacked again.
Learn to spot an aggressive dog
There are plenty of body signals that let you know if another dog is being aggressive or not. (5)
Here’s a quick list:
- Baring teeth
- Ears pinned back
- Hair on end (piloerection)
- Eyes wide open (you can see the whites of the eyes)
If a dog near you or your pup is showing these signs, take your dog to safety.
Train and socialise your dog properly
Why would you need to train your dog if they were the one that was attacked?
Bear with me, let’s talk about how attacks happen.
While it’s true that some dogs are just reactive and therefore attack with no warning, many times it’s because of a “canine argument” gone wrong.
Your dog doesn’t need to like every dog that they meet. But socialising them properly will help lessen aggression in your dog that can set off aggression in other dogs.
We recommend hiring a professional dog trainer if your dog is reactive and/or enrolling in puppy or dog training classes to meet other dogs in a safe environment.
Respect local leash laws
You should always follow local leash laws and keep your dog on a leash when in public spaces. This will help you maintain more control of the situation if things go wrong.
Summary: If Your Dog Has Been Attacked By Another Dog…
Experiencing a dog attack can be a distressing event, but knowing your rights can empower you to take appropriate action and protect your dog's wellbeing. Remember to prioritise your dog's safety and health, report the incident to the appropriate authorities, and consider legal recourse if necessary.
By being proactive and taking preventative measures, you can help create a safer environment for your dog and others in the community.
If you see a dog that’s been attacked and they are without their owner, contact the RSPCA or a local dog shelter to help.
If your dog has attacked another dog, the best and kind thing to do is to take responsibility for the incident. If you exchange details with the owner and offer to cover any veterinary bills, you’re less likely to get fined by the council or sued by the owner. If the case goes to court, they may even put your dog down.
If the local council doesn’t investigate your dog attack report, you can complain to your state ombudsman. You can also file a police report against the dog owner.
Yes! A dog can be traumatised after a dog attack. They may be fearful when walking or in the company of other dogs. It can take time to build their confidence but over time, most dogs do recover from their psychological distress after a dog attack.
- “A Guide To Dog Attacks (what to do and treatment options)”. March 20, 2023. Animal Emergency Service. Retrieved June 6, 2023. https://animalemergencyservice.com.au/blog/a-guide-to-dog-attacks/
- Klein, J. November 14, 2020. “Bite Wounds”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved June 6, 2023. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/vets-corner/bite-wounds/
- “Dog attacks”. Animal Welfare Victoria. Retrieved June 6, 2023. https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/livestock-and-animals/animal-welfare-victoria/dogs/dog-attacks-dangerous-and-menacing-dogs/dog-attacks
- Ioannou, D. “Dog attacks: owners' liability explained”. Maurice Blackburn Lawyers. Retrieved June 6, 2023. https://www.mauriceblackburn.com.au/blog/public-place-injury/dog-attacks-owners-liability-explained/
- Martin, K. Buzhardt, L. “Aggression in Dogs”. VCA Hospitals. Retrieved June 6, 2023. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/fear-vs-aggression