Most dog owners consider their four-legged friend a cherished family member, which is why it's heart-breaking when your normally docile dog gets injured in an unexpected fight. The FOX 9 Investigators examined dog-on-dog attack reports across the metro.
In 2011, St. Paul Animal Control wrote up 64 incidents, and those are just the attacks that were reported.
"We know there [are] unreported one's out there. Maybe half again that many, 75 to 100," said Bill Stephenson, from St. Paul Animal Control.
In Minneapolis, at least 57 attacks were reported last year. Eagan got 14, Woodbury saw seven, and Maple Grove had four.
The aggression can be found in dogs of all breeds, and the damage these fights cause comes in all degrees.
"Had a dog in here this past weekend, and had its neck torn open -- hit one of its jugulars," recalled Dr. Jeff Bush, from the Animal Emergency Referral Center in Oakdale. "By the time it came in had lost half its blood."
Veterinarians at the animal hospital say they see about one dog a week that's hurt by another dog.
"We see what we call big dog/little dog on a regular basis," said Bush.
Ella Wilsey knows all about that. Her dog got caught in one such fight last December.
"The saddest part was my dog was laying there, totally passive, saying, 'I don't want to fight,'" she remembered. "I don't know if I ever got over how my dog looked on the sidewalk."
Wilsey said a neighboring Chow Chow charged her aging black Labrador, named Holly.
"He was trying to kill her. I was pretty sure of that," said Wilsey. "He was going for her throat, and I thought, 'There's no way. That dog is not going to choke my dog to death.'"
Wilsey did end up breaking up the fight, and Holly came out of it with no serious injuries -- but other dogs aren't so lucky.
University of Minnesota Animal Behavior Expert Margaret Duxbury said she doesn't let her pets interact with other dogs unless they're familiar with the other pooch.
"I am probably really going to surprise you and make a bold statement and say: Dogs should not greet each other on leash," Duxbury said.
Ultimate dog walker Curtis Johnson also endorses that strategy, and his morning route includes 18 dogs. He told FOX 9 he won't let his pack greet other four-legged walkers unless he sees something very specific.
"What we prefer, from a dog training perspective, we typically prefer to have [the other dog] demonstrate controlled behavior with a sit/stay and then go ahead and let it proceed and interact with another dog -- after talking with the owner of another dog who says, 'My dog is able to interact with other dogs well,'" said Johnson.
Dogs share a language all their own. Sometimes it is hard to tell if they're just checking each other out or getting ready to attack.
"Sometimes people misinterpret behavior of their dogs. They think it's excitement, but it's anxiety or frustration and they allow their dog to proceed and interact with another dog," Johnson explained.
It's much harder to prevent dogs from charging from a backyard, and the aggression of a fenced-in dog can easily escalate. When that canine sees a passing dog going away, the pooch thinks he chased it away. Unfortunately, every time you repeat a walk past that fence, the penned-in dog's aggression is reinforced and escalates. If it ever gets out -- watch out. Chances are, that dog will attack the other.
The FOX 9 Investigators' review of dog attack reports showed owners who protect their dogs often get hurt, too. Injuries range from scrapes to trips to the emergency room for stitches.
In the review of attacks, almost in no case did the attacking dog turn on the human. Instead, the person was hurt by trying to break up the dog fight.
The experts who spoke with FOX 9 offered different methods to avoid canine and human injury. The advice included:
"If owners live in a problem area, carry an umbrella. You can open it toward the attacking dog. Of course, you want to train your dog to be around the umbrella first," advised Duxbury.
You can also carry citronella spray with you. It can make an attacking dog turn away and it's safer than pepper spray.
Simply getting your dog out of harms way without putting yourself in it is the best strategy. That's what a St. Paul woman did a couple of years ago.
"She scooped her dog up, put it in a trash can, [and] covered it. The aggressive dog didn't want anything to do with her. He just wanted the dog," recalled Stephenson.
Owners of aggressive dogs often have to pay the vet bills of the animals their dogs hurt. That can run into the thousands of dollars. They can also face criminal charges.
You can train your dog not to react to other dogs start by checking out the video links below:
University of Minnesota animal behavior expert Margaret Duxbury recommended the following resource for pet owners: