I recently had a situation with my own dog that reminded me how important it is for everyone who works with, or owns dogs to know how to break up a dogfight without getting hurt. The incident has inspired me to write this piece.
I was just finishing up a very successful training session with a client and their dog. I was using my own dog to help her dog work through some behavior issues and everything was going fine. We were just about to wrap up the session, when her dog lunged at my dog and grabbed him by the neck and proceeded to go for the kill. My dog and I were completely taken by surprise, as just a very short time ago, they were getting along just fine. This attack seemed to come out of no-where! The other dogs’ owner froze and it was up to me to break up the fight. I did exactly what I tell you to do in this manual and both my dog and I came out of this unscathed. We were shaken, as the attack was very sudden and violent, but no one was injured. If I had acted any other way, I would have been bitten and my dog would be way worse off than he was. Because my dog did not want to do anything but get away, I was able to break up the fight by myself.
I will start with a warning. Unless you have a lot of experience do not try and break up a dog fight by yourself. Never step in the middle of two dogs and try and grab them by the collar to stop a dog fight. If you try this, the chances
of you being badly bitten are extremely high. People don’t understand that 2 animals in the middle of a fight are in an adrenalized state of mind and any rational thought processes are shut down. They are in survival drive. If they see you at all, they don’t look at you as their loving owner. When you charge in and grab them they either react out of a fight reflex and bite, or they see you as another aggressor. When they are in fight or flight mode they will bite you, guaranteed. And there is nothing worse than getting bitten by your own dog!
The safest way to break up a dogfight requires 2 people. Each person grabs the back feet of one of the dogs. The dogs back feet are then picked up like a wheelbarrow. With the legs up, both dogs are then pulled apart.
Once the dog fight is broken up and the dogs pulled apart it is critical that the people do not release the dogs or the dog fight will begin again. The two people need to start turning in a circle, or slowly swinging the dogs in a circle while they back away from the other dog. This disorientates the dog and stops them from curling and coming back to bite the person holding their legs.
By circling, the dog has to sidestep with its front feet or it will fall on its chin. As long as you slowly continue to walk backwards and circle, the dog cannot do any damage to you. To insure that the fight will not begin all over again when you release the dogs, one of the dogs needs to be dragged into an enclosure (i.e. a kennel, the garage, another room), or tied out, before the dog is released. If you do not do this, the dogs will often charge back and start fighting again or if you release the dog to quickly the dog will turn and attack the person who had his feet.
Dog fights are a very dangerous thing to try and break up alone. You should never rush in and try and grab the dogs to pull them apart. They are in high “fight drive”, are adrenalized and not thinking clearly when fighting. If someone grabs them they will bite without a second thought about who or what they are biting. This is how your sweet, loving pet can bite the living crap out of you in about a second and a half. In reality your dog probably doesn’t even know it’s you they are biting.
The worst case scenario is that you are alone when a serious fight breaks out. There are a couple things that you must keep in mind:
- Keep your cool you have a job to do. Do not panic, scream or get angry. Stay as calm as possible and move with purpose.
- Do not waste time yelling at the dogs. It hardly ever works.
- Your goal is still the same; you must break up the fight without getting hurt.
- Go get a leash (allow the fight to continue while you do this).
- Dogs are almost always locked onto
one another. Walk up and loop the leash around the back half of the dog by either threading the leash through the handle or use the clip. I prefer the thread method.
- Now slowly back away and drag the dog to a fence or to an object that you can tie the leash to. By doing this, you effectively create an anchor for one of the dogs.
- Then walk around and grab the back legs of the second dog and drag it away from
the dog that is tied up. Remember to turn and circle as they release.
- Drag the dog away from the scene, into a dog pen or another room, or tie him out before you release the back legs.
- Go back and take the dog off the fence and put him or her into a dog kennel.
- Sit down and have a stiff drink (or two). People often ask about using e-collars to break up 2 pets that fight. I can tell
you that many times this is not going to work. The e- collar will only put the dogs into higher fight drive. When they are shocked they will think the other dog is causing the pain and they will fight harder. An electric collar is best used in conditioning training, but not during an actual dogfight.
Funny story… I actually had someone tell me that if you stick a finger up a dogs’ bum during the fight, it will cause them to stop fighting. Well, I really don’t know about that, or am I willing to try and see if that works. I did everything in my power to try and not laugh in his face, as he was dead serious and was suggesting that he had tried it with “Some success”. Hey… whatever works for you! I DON’T RECOMMEND THIS TECHNIQUE.
Learn how to train and measure your dog, and pick the right muzzle. Here are two links to very good videos on how to do that.
A point I would like to make is that if you see two dogs out there squaring off through body posturing (i.e. one dog with stiff legs and tail straight up in the air putting his head over the shoulders of the other to show dominance) do not run out there screaming “NO NO NO!!!!” Most of the time this is going to trigger the fight.
A lot of times dogs will posture and one will give
in and back away. They settle their dominance issue without a battle. I NEVER recommend testing this situation. It’s not worth the fight that erupts if you are wrong. But I can tell you of a couple of situations where I’ve been at dog parks and 2 males were loose that I would have thought would fight to the death. Obviously they determined that today is not the day to argue. I also know that if had I gone out screaming before they settled it themselves there would have been a nasty fight.
If you have 2 dogs that you are having a difficult time learning how to live together, it is best to make them wear muzzles all the time. Try the Jafco, or Baskerville muzzles. They are not expensive but very effective for this work.
With muzzles on, you can test your training and if the dogs become aggressive you can safely step in and correct the dogs. It is important to make sure the muzzles are properly fit and on securely. It is also a good idea to have the dogs wear 18- inch draglines, or indoor leashes.
When one of the dogs even acts like it is going to challenge the other dog you need to INSTANTLY get after that dog. You are the pack leader and pack leaders are the ones who determine when to fight or be aggressive.
If dogs continue to show aggression I will use an electronic collar (e-Collar) in their training. If you’ve never used an e-collar, we teach low-level e-collar training for per owners in a private class. *With serious dog aggression a dog needs to receive high level stimulation for even looking at another dog. The key is for your timing to be for LOOKING and not for AGGRESSION. Many times by the time a dog has elevated to the point of aggression it will not react to a normal levels of stimulation.
People make mistakes with remote collars and dog aggression by starting at a low level of stimulation and then waiting until the dog is actually being aggressive to stimulate the dog. By that time the dog is so keyed up it will fight through the correction. With many dogs they learn how to take higher and higher levels of stimulation – where as had the owner used the highest level at first they can often quickly go to lower levels.
*When dealing with dominant and aggressive dogs, we highly recommend working with a professional trainer to get control of their behavior. NEVER put yourself, or your family at risk by trying to work with these types of dogs yourself. Dog training can be dangerous and dominance and aggression only takes this danger to a whole other level!
Remember that females usually fight with females and males usually fight with males. It’s seldom that a male and female will fight. When a male fights with a female it is usually a very dominant male displaying his dominance over the female and she wants nothing to do with it. This usually
is going to happen with a dominant male who
is very self confident, and thinks that he is the pack leader. You will also have males with strong sex drive go after a female that is not receptive to them.
The bottom line on dog fights is that unless you are trained it is best to never step into the middle of them.
In the worst case, let them fight. It may result in death or severe injury to one of the dogs, but it’s not worth the damage it could cause to you if you make a mistake trying to end the fight.
Basic Dog Obedience
The best way to eliminate dog fights is to
never let them happen in the first place. This is accomplished by controlling the environment you take your dog too and then train your dog to mind under extreme distraction. If you cannot call your dog back when it is walking or running towards another dog then your dog is not fully trained.
If you take your dog to a dog park before it is trained in basic obedience, you are putting your dog at risk and setting them up for failure. I am not a fan of dog parks, or off leash designated dog areas. I have seen more fights at these types of places than I can count. Most of the time, people are not paying attention to their dogs behavior, or the way it is being treated by other dogs. Some dogs are not comfortable in such environments and become susceptible to bullying by other dogs. There is no structure at these places and sometimes a pre-ordained pack structure between the dogs that know each other. When you bring an unfamiliar dog to a dog park and they are ganged up on by “the pack” they may react and trigger a fight. This is especially relevant to puppies and shy dogs that haven’t been properly socialized.