Anyone who has ever experienced one can attest that dog fights can be anxiety-inducing and downright frightening. The growls and snarls, bites and yipes, fur everywhere, and if it’s bad enough, the blood, is enough to make anyone freak out. Not only is it a scary experience, but the resulting vet bills can do some severe damage as well.
It can be dangerous to break up a dog fight, but sometimes there isn’t another option. Read on to find out what to look out for and steps to take if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation.
Is it a Dog Fight or Not?
One key aspect in determining whether dogs are rough-housing or fighting is knowing a canine’s body language. Unfortunately, with some dogs, even people who’ve been around pups their entire lives can have a hard time differentiating play from anger.
When dogs play, they often have wide-open mouths, take turns’ biting,’ and are noisy. In addition, their movements are exaggerated as they bounce around one another. A situation like this is often not a cause for concern. However, it still needs to be monitored, as it can turn into a fight, especially when it involves dogs unaccustomed to this type of play.
On the other hand, fighting signals often include the following:
- A dominating dog that is always the one chasing or on top of another
- One dog showing calming signals such as laid-back ears, whale eyes (where you can see the white of the animal’s eyes), licking, yawning, etc.
- Taut lips
- Controlled and efficient movements instead of playful bouncing around
- Stiff and high tail wags
- Lunging at the other animal’s head and throat
- Forward stance
It can be difficult even for experienced trainers to distinguish between playing and fighting. The above list is certainly not a comprehensive one. Erring on the side of safety is always a wise choice. For instance, if your dog is not socialized, taking him to the dog park may not be a good start. Instead, try to find dogs you are comfortable around and begin with slowly introducing them, such as a friend’s or family member’s pets— these are the first steps on how to socialize your dog.
Different Varieties of Dog Fights
It is also important to note that there are different types of fights in the canine world. Recognizing the type you are facing can help you deal with it more effectively. Experts recognize two in particular, snappy and grab-and-hold.
Snappy fights can be scary, as they are loud, with the dogs lunging at one another while growling and snapping their jaws. These fights are sometimes over quickly but can easily turn into the second type of fight if not broken up quickly enough. While the animals are snapping and then letting go, they can still do damage to each other.
Grab-and-hold fights are not as common as snappy ones but are far more dangerous. These fights are often not as loud as the first type, as one or both dogs have bitten down and locked on to the other. It is difficult to stop a dog fight like this. Have you ever seen a video of dogs not letting go even when humans try to pull them apart or even resort to beating or tasing them? If so, this is the type of fight you are witnessing. (Please do not try any of these methods to break up a fight, though!)
What Causes Dog Fights
There are many reasons why dog fights start. Nonetheless, knowing what the warning signs and situations are and avoiding a battle in the first place is the best course of action.
Dogs don’t like to share, so fights over resources are common. For this reason, it is never a good idea to bring treats, toys, or food to a dog park. Likewise, never introduce those items or something like a favorite sleeping space to a new dog. You may notice your dog stiffen up when another dog comes around a prized possession or coveted space of hers. This behavior signifies that resource guarding can be an issue that can get out of hand.
Poor Social Skills:
As any shelter employee can tell you, a dog that is not socialized can spell trouble for themselves and others. The animal may be excitable around fellow dogs and will likely miss or misinterpret their newfound companion’s social cues.
The predatory drift fight occurs when one dog stalks another as if they are prey before attacking them. Dogs that are more primitive, like huskies, and those bred for killing, like terriers, often engage in this predatory behavior. Some dog breeds, like border collies and labradors, have been long trained in specific predatory sequences:
- Eye –> Orient –> Stalk –> Chase –> Bite –> Grab
- Bite –> Kill
- Bite –> Dissect –> Consume
Depending on the dog’s job, they will stop at various points. For instance, hunters who use dogs won’t want their game maimed, while a shepherd will not want his sheep harmed at all.
You can recognize predatory behavior by a dog’s movements. In particular, they will lower their head and crouch down while staring at and slowly moving towards their perceived prey.
Unfortunately, tiny and smaller dogs are at the most significant risk of being victims of these larger predators. Because of this, it is unwise to take your small dog to a park where the larger canines are not cordoned off in another area. A husky going for a chihuahua’s throat can end in tragedy very quickly!
For this reason, it is critical always to keep an eye on your dog when he is around others and introduce new animals appropriately and with plenty of supervision. Sometimes it is impossible to know why a fight breaks out, as we cannot read their minds. However, learning to read body language and not being afraid of removing your pet from a situation is essential to avoiding fights. Even just moving across the street from a dog that makes you uncomfortable can stave off a catastrophe.
How to Break up a Dog Fight
The first thing to always remember when faced with an emergency of two fighting dogs is not to become a victim yourself. In other words, never insert yourself in between them! The dogs are not paying attention to you, and putting your hand in the middle of two snarling and biting dogs will only get you hurt. Unfortunately, many dog-caused severe injuries to humans have come from this mistake.
If your dog is on a leash when the fight breaks out, you may be able to pull them apart. It’s not an ideal solution, but it can work. That said, it can also backfire, so be cautious.
Tools for Breaking Up a Dog Fight
Loud noises work well for breaking up snappy fights. Causing a disruptive ruckus by screaming and shouting often startles the dogs long enough to be separated. If you have an air horn, even better. They are effective because they are very loud, which is why many shelters and kennels utilize them.
Other effective ways to break up a dog fight are:
If you take your dog for walks often, you should invest in citronella spray. Dogs don’t like it, which is why citronella collars are often used for bark prevention training. The spray can be an excellent deterrent to stop an unknown dog from coming towards you and your pet. All you have to do is point and squirt.
Anything that keeps your body away from the fighting animals is good. A board, branch, or even a skateboard can all be used. Note that these are for wedging between the dogs to break up the fight, not for hitting them with.
Throwing a blanket over fighting dogs can often startle them out of the situation. If you do not have a blanket on hand, try your jacket or anything else that may be lying around.
Some dog parks have hoses, but this method is mainly for breaking up a fight in your own yard. Shelters sometimes use this method if the air horn fails because the water spray is shocking enough to separate the dogs.
How to Break Up a Dog Fight – Advanced Techniques
The following are two of the best methods of breaking up a more dangerous grab-and-hold type of fight. However, they are only recommended for more experienced owners and trainers. If you find yourself in this precarious situation and have the ability to perform these, use common sense and good judgment.
Break sticks are not something most dog owners have on hand, but they are often the only effective method of breaking up a dog fight of the grab-and-hold type.
You place the stick between the animal’s jaws and twist to force the dog to open its mouth and release the hold. This method places your hand close to the animal; however, so it is not for novices. Once this is done, the wheelbarrow method can be employed to pull the animals apart.
The wheelbarrow method requires two people and can be dangerous. Each person grabs the hind legs of either dog and physically pulls them apart. While it can be effective, it is not recommended for inexperienced handlers. For one, the dogs can perceive the grab as another attack and turn and bite. Two, if the dogs are really latched on to one another, pulling them apart can cause a lot of harm if a break stick is not successfully used first .
While you want to protect your dog, you want to protect yourself as well. So try not to put your hands on the animals when breaking up a dog fight. Even after you have managed to separate the dogs by one of the tools above, they will still be stressed, so take care before handling them at all for a time afterward, so they have a chance to calm down.
What to Do After Breaking Up a Dog Fight
After the fight is over, you may be thinking, ‘what now?’ First, take a deep breath to calm yourself, then check both dogs for injuries once they are calm enough to do so. Secondly, if the other dog’s owner is there, exchange contact information in case an incident needs to be filed.
If you own both dogs that were involved, separate them completely. Determine what caused the fight if at all possible. This way, you will know what situation not to have them in again. Was it over food? Maybe a favorite toy or rawhide was the cause? Whatever it was, you will not want to leave these dogs alone until the trust is built back up. Unfortunately, rebuilding this trust could take days, weeks, months – or may not happen at all.
If there was no discernible cause, hiring an animal behavior consultant may be warranted. This professional can help you reintroduce the dogs safely and advise you in determining if the animals are safe in each other’s company.
If the fight was between dogs who are around one another regularly but do not live together, it might be wise to keep them apart in the future. If you choose to try to reintroduce them, do so as if they have never met after giving them a cool-down period of a few days or longer to be safe.
Just as you would with two dogs that have never met, choose a neutral location with as little outside stimuli as possible. If you are lucky, everything will be fine when they see one another again. However, if one or both acts scared or aggressive try again at another date. If they continue to react to each other in this way, it is best to keep the dogs apart.
Will a Fight Traumatize My Dog?
Some animals will act differently after a fight, such as becoming more timid or hostile. In this case, you may want to hire a professional to help you and your dog through the anxiety.
Furthermore, the last thing you want to do is punish your dog after a fight. Even if you were the one to break up the fight between your pet and another dog, you want to be the safe haven your stressed-out dog desperately needs at that moment.
Dog Fight FAQ
1. What is a safe way to break up a dog fight?
The safest way to break up a fight between dogs is to keep yourself physically out of it. Use your voice, an airhorn, a hose, blanket, or other means to startle the animals.
2. When attempting to break up a dog fight, you should never?
Never physically get in between two fighting dogs. Instead, use a board or something to that effect as a barrier. Moreover, never hit, tase, or use an aggressive action like these, as the dogs may turn on you.
3. Can dog live together after fighting?
Some dogs can live together peacefully, even after a fight. Try to determine what caused the kerfuffle in the first place, and remove the stimuli. Always take time to reintroduce the animals while staying close. Hire a dog behavioral expert if necessary to determine if the situation is safe if you are having difficulties.