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Fighting A Mountain Lion
Dog saves people’s lives—would yours do the same?
Would your dog defend you against a mountain lion? Would you want her to?

Yesterday, Hoagie, a Lab mix, was walking with his guardians in the Santa Ana Mountains when they were attacked by a mountain lion. The dog was seriously injured in his attempts to fight off the large cat. He required surgery to treat his injuries, but is expected to survive.

We all hope that in an emergency our dog would protect and defend us, although obviously nobody wants their dog to be so seriously injured.

Unless a dog has specifically been trained as a guard dog, it’s extremely difficult to predict how a dog will behave in a dangerous situation. (By the way, I recommend against training pet dogs to function as guard dogs. It’s far more likely that the dog will attack your child’s playmate or the UPS driver by mistake instead of the rare dangerous intruder.)

I’ve been asked many times by clients if I think that their dogs would defend them if they were attacked by a person or by another animal. The majority of dogs I work with have aggression issues, so it makes sense that many people wonder whether the dogs would behave aggressively in situations in which that might actually be helpful.

You can only know the answer to this question if the situation presents itself and you observe what happens. Some dogs go hide under the sofa in a bad situation, some will defend you to the death, literally, and some make friends with burglars, perhaps thinking that they will get some treats if they show this nice man where you keep your jewelry and spare cash. You’d think it would be easier to predict than it is. Perhaps you’d expect that dogs who tend to be fearful are members of the hide-under-the-bed set, but sometimes the fearful dogs attack and defend out of panic—and often very effectively. Confident dogs who seem to take all things in stride might be expected to be heroes, but some of those types of dogs are socially savvy dogs who know how things should be, and when things get weird or tense, their alarm bells go off and they become too afraid to act.

Sometimes I know a dog really well and have a strong intuition that if it came down to it, this dog would step up and give his all to defend loved ones, but it’s no more than an intuition. I’ve also known dogs I felt would stand behind the family’s youngest child and hope not to be noticed in a bad situation, but I wouldn’t bet on it. This unpredictability is not surprising. It’s the same for people in that it’s hard to know who will step up in an emergency and who just doesn’t have it in them.

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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