Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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Cane Corso dog-aggression causes horrifying knock-down injury

Accounts describing the potentially dangerous nature of the Cane corso are usually about aggression directed towards humans and not other dogs.  Nonetheless, a Cane corso and other large breeds with strong tendencies to attack other dogs may likewise pose considerable danger to humans, particularly in a public setting.

For example, outside of a home setting, dogs are usually in the proximity of their owner or other people, such as in a park setting or when a dog is being walked in a residential setting.  And if a fight breaks out between dogs or when one dog launches an unprovoked attack on another dog, a person in the proximity of the dogs may be bitten or a person may be knocked to the ground.  Below, I share the correspondence I received from an 62-year-old lady about a horrifying attack by a Cane corso on her blind 15-year-old Carin terrier. In the skirmish, she was knocked down and sustained a fractured wrist

Correspondence to Dr. Polsky

Cane Corso aggression
Knock down injuries to people caused by dogs are common, and often happen in situations involving dog-dog aggression. The Cane corso because of its massive size can easily knock-down a person.

“I was walking our two dogs with my 23 year old son and walked by the house where the Cane corso was watching us through the side Fence of his yard.  The owners had accidentally left the gate to their yard open while moving something into their house. As we passed by their driveway we saw this large Cane corso running to us.  I stopped to try to quickly pick up my small terrier but never made it.  The dog (male) ran right into me knocking me off my feet and immediately started attacking my small dog.  He was shaken 3 times – a blind, 15 year old cairn terrier.

Our other small dog snapped her leather leash in half and ran away.  My son kept trying to pull their dog off of ours.  I was still on the ground – never made it back up…..but was trying to protect our pup as much as I could.

This dog never bit my son nor myself.  He was solely Intent on killing our terrier.  This attack lasted probably less than 5 minutes, but my son and myself were both screaming.

The woman owner finally came out of the house and pounded on their dogs head multiple times to no avail.  The Cane  corso was locked onto our dog’s neck and wouldn’t let go.  The man owner came later and actually pried the dog’s mouth open.  Our dog literally dropped onto the pavement- looked dead.

These owners apologized as I quickly picked up our dog to get him home, in the car, to the hospital.  He stayed the night at the hospital and had in excess of 25 stitches on his neck and under his chin.  He is going to be alright.

I sustained a wrist fracture from when the dog knocked me off my feet, that has required surgery for pinning – with another surgery to remove them followed by a cast.  I cannot do anything strenuous for 4 months and my surgeon says it will cause pain and swelling for up to a year or more.  I am a nurse who has worked part-time for over a year, and in addition to that we had just put our house up for sale.

I was in a state of shock and was quite hysterical while in the hospital – have never experienced that before – but I couldn’t stop crying.  I still have experience flashbacks.
What makes this whole episode worse is that these neighbors live directly behind us and we share a back fence.  Reflecting on the incident – we realize our dogs were acquainted with each other because of that, and both are males.  I have visions of this dog breaking through our fence to get at ours and I always go outside with him. They are panic attacks…..I imagine I will get over the event eventually but can honestly say it was the most traumatic experience I have ever had.

The police in our city were notified….. they are taking the owners to court, where they City Lawyer and Judge are going after this Case with all they’ve got, to have him officially labeled as ‘vicious’ requiring many stipulations with continued ownership of this dog – or have him euthanized.”

Animal behavior perspective

  • First, in the certain circumstances, public safety is endangered not necessarily because of an aggressive dog’s intent to attack a human but rather because of their intent to attack another unfamiliar dog, as clearly shown in the example above. As in the current case, a person walking their dog near the house where a potentially dangerous dog is housed, may be placing themselves in danger of being knocked down (not necessarily bitten) if the dog escapes the confines of its yard.  This scenario is quite common in the cases I have investigated in my practice as a dog bite expert witness.
  • Second, owners need to be cautioned about walking a dog past the property housing a potentially dangerous dog, whether be a Cane Corso or for that matter any other large muscular breed capable of inflicting serious bodily injury.  For example, if a dog contained in the yard is able to see the dog on the sidewalk through the fence, then it may give the dog sufficient cause to break through the gate or fence, or even hop over the fence in an attempt to consummate an attack on a dog that is being walked. Owners walking dogs in residential neighborhoods need to be cautioned about this possibility.
  • Third, in the current instance, given the victim was not bitten, the most viable legal recourse to recover damages is one based on negligence theory. Dog bite statutes in states such as California Arizona, and Michigan will not suffice for purposes of recovery given that the dog’s teeth did not cause the damage to the victim. Hence, in the example described above, the victim needs to establish that the owner of the Cane Corso was negligent in some fashion perhaps in terms of how the dog was handled or maintained.  In addition, if the victim can prove that this Cane Corso had previously attacked people or other dogs in similar circumstances, and that the owner of the Cane Corso  acted recklessly at the time of the incident, then punitive damages may be warranted.