IUCN Otter Specialist Group . . . leading global otter conservation Last Update: Tuesday January 3, 2012
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We live on Barber Lake in northern Wisconsin and see groups of otters fairy often. The other day, as both of our dogs were standing on our pier barking, a group of 4 otters started swimming directly to them! I called the dogs and they came to me on the shore and the otters swam off. But one dog (big black lab) went back in the water to play. All otters swam towards him and then one broke off to meet my dog face to face. I was screaming his name to "come" but he's a very friendly dog. The otter swam under water, the dog yelped loudly, and he swam to shore, crying all the way. He ran to me and he didn't appear to have any injuries. An hour later I saw he had a very small bite/scratch just below his butt-hole! I suppose this is what happened when the otter went down under water! He stayed far away from the water after that! This happened on 10-12-11. Any comments? Was it playful or aggressive? The otters kept coming toward us so I guess the dogs thought they were wanting to play. 

Frank and Diane Lenarchich, Barber Lake, Wisconsin, USA, 13 October 2011

Response from Lesley Wright

Your dog was very lucky to have gotten away so lightly!

Four otters would have been a mother and three young otters - otters stay with their mother till they are 18 months old and look full-grown. It would have been the mother that approached your dog, definitely not playing but defending her young and territory. Like most predators, otters go for the weakest point when trying to drive away an enemy - and the butt is very vulnerable. It is typical for the otter to go underwater and attack from below because she knows this is her advantage over anything else.

Remember, she doesn't know about dogs - she is designed to cope with wolves and coyotes, and to get her bite in first. So she would not even think that the dog was trying to play - all she could see was two dogs plus a tall thing that to her would look a bit like a bear on its back legs! Pretty scary for a low slung animal ! But otters fight far above their weight - there are records in Yellowstone of a female killing three wolves that threatened her (but that was in winter and she was defending her open bit of water and food too).

So overall otters are nice to watch but best to keep your dogs leashed if you see them. The good thing is that the mother otter will have a real big territory, and move her family around it, not staying anyplace longer than a couple days.

Generally, healthy otters do not carry infections in their bite, so hopefully your dog will be OK. In some areas they do carry rabies but that doesn't sound like a rabid animal, just a normal natural one. You might want to have your veterinarian check him out though.

Lesley Wright

Yes this is VERY helpful and extremely interesting! Thank-you so much for your quick reply!! The dogs are doing well and the one with the bite shows that the wound is healing quickly. I sprayed "Veteracin" on it and that acts pretty quick to heal. (Used it on a horse's injury with much success.) I thought to take him to the vet but we're keeping an eye on it for now. But nothing is more important than the health of "my boys" so we will reconsider having him checked. I was glad that I didn't jump in the water to intervene after reading the articles on your web site!

Sincerely, Diane Lenarchich

Response provided 13 October 2011