For Dog Owners, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

An unsecured fence can mean a world of trouble if you and your neighbor each own dogs.


It sure feels like winter where I live. Several winter storms have blown through my area, with lashing rain and driving winds. Although California storms can’t compare to the true superstorm that struck the East Coast last month, the wind here has felled plenty of trees and caused its share of damage.

If you and your neighbor each own dogs, it’s a good idea to make sure your fence is sufficiently strong to hold up through the winter. The old adage is especially true for dog owners: Good fences really do make good neighbors, and damaged fences can lead to damaged relationships.

My neighbor owns a French Bulldog. I own a Labrador Retriever mix. I’m the sort of guy who’s proud to own the sort of dog who’s incapable of harming a flea. And my fence is sturdy. But, hypothetically speaking, if a storm blew a hole in the fence and my neighbor’s dog wandered into my yard, I can’t imagine my dog would hurt him. But if my dog did hurt the neighbor’s dog, I imagine I’d want to help out with the vet bills — I’m the sort of guy who would feel bad about that sort of thing.

But owners of Frenchies, Yorkies, Cockapoos, Chihuahuas, and other small dogs should take note: There are some people out there who are proud not to own dogs incapable of harming fleas. They are glad that their dogs defend their territory. And, in my experience, the type of people who are happy to have dogs protecting their yards generally aren’t especially keen on helping out with vet bills when the fences come down and dustups between dogs occur. Your neighbor might be this type of person.

A “dustup” between a very large dog and a very small dog never ends well for the small dog. These fights are common enough that they have their own veterinary acronym: BDLD (short for “big dog-little dog”).

Most injuries to the little dog in a BDLD fall into two groups — those sustained during the bite, and those sustained during the shake.

Bite wounds, when inflicted by a big dog on a small dog, can be catastrophic. They can penetrate the body wall into the chest or abdomen, causing life-threatening internal injuries. They can fracture bones, leading to broken legs, spinal injuries, and crushed skulls. All animals’ teeth are coated in bacteria, so bite wounds always carry the risk of major infection.

Worse than the bite in many instances is the shake. Small dogs are often shaken by the large, biting dogs. This shaking causes the skin to be torn away from the tissue underneath it. Large (or even massive) lacerations can occur. Trauma to the bones, lungs, heart, spleen, liver, bladder, and nervous systems can occur.

Dogs injured but not killed in BDLD fights generally face lengthy surgeries and prolonged, painful recoveries. I recently spent three hours trying to piece together a Yorkshire Terrier who found a hole in the fence and wound up in the mouth of the neighbor’s Malamute. The Yorkie was on the road to recovery when I last spoke with his owner, but the owner’s neighborly relations were probably forever soured. The matter was going to legal action, and in my experience the only individuals who come out well off in situations like these are the lawyers.

Everyone involved in that case would have benefitted from a thorough fence inspection and repair. It bears repeating: For dog owners, the old adage is especially true. Good fences make good neighbors.

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

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