There are no gruesome pictures to be found here so don’t worry, read on…
Even as a responsible, sensible owner with a well socialised dog, at some point you’re likely to see a dog fight.
Unfortunately, there are irresponsible owners out there that you might come up against. You may cross paths with rescued dog who are still learning how to behave but have been let run freely with other dogs too soon. In the worse case scenario you may find an escaped dog with no handler present and be faced with handling the problem on your own.
Even normally good dogs can be involved; a moments jealousy over a toy, an accidental collision during play, a dog reacting to protect a friend-dog from a perceived threat… Misunderstandings happen.
In taking your dog walking every day, at some point over the years you’re bound to run into a problem, or you may have to step in to help where another owner is not able help their dog themselves. Problems don’t happen often and if you’re lucky they may pass you buy, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
Breaking up a fight between two small dogs fighting is a relatively easy task. With small dogs the other owner is almost sure to step in and help with their half, the dogs strengths aren’t a problem in restraining them and being able to just pick the dogs up and away from the situation makes things easy. You might get a nip but no one is going to lose a finger.
In this article we’re going to focus on separating medium and large dogs.
Once dogs reach about the 15kg or 20kg mark (30 to 45 lbs) things start to get more difficult. The dogs are strong enough that separating them on your own isn’t a walk in the park, and mouths are getting big enough that serious bites are possible.
Once we’re talking about dogs weighing 30kg, 40kg (65 lbs, 90 lbs) and heavier as you get into the large breeds things get serious. Restraining one dog by yourself becomes difficult, think you can just stroll in, grab the collars of two Mastiffs and sit them down yourself? No chance (not highlighting Mastiffs as a fight-prone dog here, just an example of size).
Another problem you may encounter with larger dogs is owners who are too startled or frightened to assist you. It’s unfortunate but some owners react to fights by flailing their arms in the air and going in the opposite direction, leaving someone else (you) to restore order.
The best way to stop a fight is of course to avoid it completely; see who else is in the park before you let your dog off the leash, manage all introductions to new dogs on lead before letting them run free together, if another dog is being too rambunctious, dominant or exhibiting other undesirable behaviour that’s likely to cause a problem, that’s the day to go for a long walk instead of a run at the park.
If there is any sign of two dogs sizing each other up they should be separated immediately. Don’t charge in screaming at them not to fight, calmly but quickly approach, leash one dog and walk it out of the situation. In the vast majority of cases once the dog being removed isn’t able to square off properly against the other and it’s back is turned, both will quickly lose interest in the challenge .
I’m pleased to say I haven’t had as issue with my girl (a rescue who needed some behavioural rehab) in a couple of years because I know her and the other local dogs well and can act accordingly. She has a good group of locals she regularly runs with at our park but on the odd day when there is a dog there that may be an issue we go for a walk and a splash in the lake which is almost as good. I do still step into the occasional scuffle with other folks dogs though if I happen to be closest at the time.
One point of contention before we continue; some people will advise that if your not “trained” in separating fighting dogs that you should never attempt to separate fighting dogs. According to such advise you should just let them fight it out, severe injury and possibly the death of one of the dogs is just the price you pay for not risking your own safety.
Personally I disagree, and on the rare occasion when something does occur I will risk some skin to stop it as quickly as possible rather than let it play out. Even if it’s not my dog, I don’t have it in me to stand there and let it continue. The advice here is written from this point of view, what you do in these situations is of course up to you and will depend on your abilities and the dogs involved.
A few things to remember in breaking up any fight:
- You’re going to need to step in. Crossing your fingers and hoping for the best isn’t going to make a fight spontaneously stop.
- Have a leash with you, always. Even if your dog normally walks perfectly off leash and one isn’t needed on a good day you should always carry one with you. If you’re forced to separate two dogs by yourself you will need a leash to anchor one while you remove the other.
- Save your breath. 99 times out of 100 yelling to break up a fight won’t help at all.
- Forget “shock-collars” as a fight-stopping tool. Remote collars when used correctly (and they’re often not, but that’s another conversation) are a training tool only. If two dogs are squaring off against each other triggering the collar at the wrong time will more likely start a fight than stop one. Sending a correction mid-fight will only make the dog feel like it is under further attack, in the case of two large dogs the pinch from a collar will pale in comparison to the strength of it’s opponents bite and it won’t even be noticed.
- Some owners employ spray bottles filled with plain or sometime slightly soapy water. This is fine for extending your reach to give the dog a little correction or keep them away from something they’re curious about but for the same reasons explained with remote collars a splash of water isn’t going to break up a fight.
- Keep calm but move fast, don’t wait. If you’re lucky and intervene in the opening seconds of a fight you may be able to separate the dogs without either landing a bite or at least not a serious one. The longer a fight goes on the more likely injuries will be sustained by both dogs.
Separating a fight with the help of another handler.
Best case scenario another handler comes to help and you only have one dog to deal with each.
Don’t approach a fight from the side. Fighting dogs don’t attack directly head-on like butting goats , a typical bite attempt will come from the side as the dog aims to go up and over onto the back of the neck of the other. This means lots of side to side snapping while each dog tries to find purchase on the other and if you reach in to grab the collars from the side, snapping jaws will be headed towards your fingers any moment.
If your dog is involved you should move to restrain it while the other handler is responsible for their dog. If both dogs are strangers to you move to whichever dog you can get behind the quickest. Fighting dogs are focussed almost entirely on each other and usually won’t try to bite an intervening person but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. In the thrashing around and snapping you may simply get in the way of a pair of teeth even if a bite wasn’t directed at you. Purely out of reaction a dog may turn and snap when it feels you grab it from behind. If you’re grabbing a dog which doesn’t know you it may view you as another aggressor and attempt to bite, at least in grabbing your own dog if they are involved you reduce the risk of the last possibility if they recognise you as they turn.
Once behind the dog you have two options; grab the collar or the hind legs of the dog. Grabbing the collar is good for control as you can stop the dog thrashing but you risk your fingers going too far forward and being bitten; owners have lost fingers in this situation. The collar may also have come off in the fight ruling that option out. For more powerful or fast thrashing dogs, or where no collar is available, you may be better off grabbing the hind legs so you can walk them out backwards like a wheelbarrow while staying away from the pointy end. You can also lasso your leash around the dogs waste instead of grabbing the legs which creates a little more distance between you.
Hopefully as soon as the dogs are separated they will calm down and you can switch your grasp to the collar or get a lead around them before releasing the hind legs. In the event that the dog continues to try and attack you while you’re holding it, continuing to walk backwards will force the dog to keep walking with its front half and prevent it from turning to bite. After not too long it should calm down or you can at least get to a gate to put the dog through or a fence to get yourself over and release the dog (if it’s safe to do so for those on the dogs side of the fence, if that’s the plan you need to communicate it to others obviously.).
Separating a fight by yourself.
There are two kinds of fights. Either two dogs attacking, or one dog attacking while one is just reacting to defend itself. Hopefully you get the later.
In the situation of one dog attacking and one defending, follow the same process as above by moving to restrain the attacking dog. There is no point grabbing the dog that is on the defensive as the attacking dog will pursue it as you back out and all you’re doing is holding the defensive dog still making it a more vulnerable target. By restraining the attacking dog, the dog on the defensive will flee once given the opportunity.
Worst case scenario when you’re on your own is two dogs attacking, not one just defending.
If the dogs are on the smaller-medium size, after approaching one from the rear you may be able straddle one dog, holding it in place with your legs for extra support while you reach forward to grab it’s collar and the collar of the other dog to separate them. In such cases you should straddle the stronger of the two dogs so you have the most control with your legs, while holding back the other with your free arm. This is very situation dependant however. Problems with this include not giving you much room to hold the dogs apart so if no one else is there to grab the other dog you may not be able to do much more than hold them apart for a few seconds before they get to each other again, the dogs may simply be too big to do this, and reaching towards the other dog from the front could potentially result in a bite.
When the above is not an option you’ll need your leash. As above, pick up your “wheelbarrow” and start backing towards a fence, pole or something else you can tether the dog to. Leash dog number one to the fence, release them, get behind dog number two and repeat the process. Due to the time being required to complete the break up, time spent walking and switching between dogs some injury is almost unavoidable in this situation but unfortunately there isn’t much you can do.
Once a fight has been broken up it’s time to go for the day. After separation and a some calming down emotions will still be running high in the dogs involved and if let them run together again so soon isn’t worth the risk of a repeat incident.
Keywords: How to stop fighting dogs. How to break up a dog fight. Dogs fighting.