How to Break Up a Dog Fight: 3 Safe & Effective Ways | Pupford
March 13th, 2023
Filed under Podcasts
Learning how to break up a dog fight is unfortunately a necessary skill for every pup parent. While I hope you don’t actually have to use this information, you likely will.
In this episode, we’ll break down the ins and outs of dog fights. And while the information can feel startling and somewhat scary, it’s vital to learn what to do if your dog is involved in a fight.
This article will focus more on fights between dogs in different households, but many of the principles can apply to multi-dog households.
Important note on safety. Any time a dog fight occurs and you try to break it up, there is a high risk of you getting bit or injured. Exercise caution and ideally, work with a local positive-reinforcement-based dog trainer to better understand how to stop a dog fight.
Here is what we will cover:
- Why dog fights happen (and how to avoid them)
- How to break up a dog fight safely
- What NOT to do
- What to do once you break up the fight
Let’s get to it 👇
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WHY DOG FIGHTS HAPPEN
Dog fights happen for a variety of reasons. And while we’ll cover some, we often don’t know exactly why a dog fight occurs. It can be challenging to understand completely.
And truthfully, some dogs just don’t get along.
Here are some of the main reasons dog fights happen.
RESOURCE GUARDING & TERRITORY GUARDING
Dogs are territorial animals. When they feel that something important to them is threatened, they react accordingly.
Dogs can “guard” many different things. Here are some common things dogs guard that can end up turning into fights with other dogs.
- Treats and any food
- Territory (ie, your home)
- Other dogs in your home (ie, your dog #1 defends your dog #2 against a random dog)
- Their humans
Again, not a comprehensive list but you get the picture.
If your dog feels like a dog is infringing on their territory or trying to steal their favorite toy, it can be a trigger for a fight.
HOW TO AVOID RESOURCE GUARDING FIGHTS
If your dog is around other dogs, especially ones they don’t know well, limit toys, treats, and bones. If your dog isn’t ever presented with something they’ll want to guard you’ve ultimately avoided a potential fight.
If you have another dog over to your home, don’t feed them in the same room.
When in doubt, leave the toy or on the shelf and avoid a potential fight.
Another reason dogs fight is due to overstimulation. Again, that can come in many forms but it generally happens when
As your dog plays, they may want to take a break and the other dog may not read those signals (more on that later). In the moment of amped-up play, decision-making skills often decline.
It can be a good rule of thumb to give your dog some space to decompress from other dogs, especially if play is starting to get too rough.
Parks and dog outings can be very fun for our dogs, but they can also be a lot for them to handle. So pay attention to body language!
And that’s our next point ⬇️
POOR SOCIAL SKILLS
Have you ever been around someone who just doesn’t seem to notice (or care about) your personal space? Even when you kindly give hints that you’re uncomfortable…
It can be infuriating.
Our dogs experience that as well! Dog-to-dog interactions are filled with mini-moments of cues, body language, and communication.
Some dogs (for many reasons) aren’t good at reading other dogs’ cues and body language. This is often due to being under-socialized. You see this a LOT with the influx of “pandemic puppies” recently.
Here’s a breakdown of what poor social skills can look like and how they can lead to a fight.
Dog #1 approaches dog #2. They approach slowly and not “directly” face to face (aka curving).
Both dogs seem fine.
Dog #1 moves further toward the back of dog #2 to sniff. Dog #2 isn’t comfortable and tries to move away to alleviate the situation.
Dog #1 doesn’t notice or understand and goes back in to try and sniff dog #2.
Dog #2 licks their lips (stress signal) and potentially gives a low, short growl.
Dog #1 continues to try to sniff dog #2’s rear end.
Dog #2 starts to stiffen up. Their tail may stand up straighter, and some of the hair on their back may raise.
Ideally, at this point dog #1 would read these signals and not continue engaging.
Unfortunately, dog #2 is starting to get into a stressful situation and their instincts of fight or flight may start to kick in.
If dog #1 continues to insist on sniffing dog #2’s rear end, what may happen next?
Unfortunately, dog #2 is frustrated and may likely resort to more “intense” measures to communicate to dog #1 that they are stressed.
You may see deep growls, curled lips, baring teeth, etc.
Again, hopefully, those signals are picked up.
If not, you’ll likely see dog #2 snap and/or bite next.
While this is quite an oversimplification of what can occur, hopefully, you get the point. Dogs are constantly giving cues and signals to the world around them (including dogs and humans).
For many reasons, those cues aren’t always picked up. When that occurs, fights can break out.
In situations like this, it would be amazing if both pup parents were aware of the dog's body language signals occurring. They could step in, remove their dogs from the situation, and no fight occurs.
With all that being said, all of us pup parents should do more to learn about dog body language. It is a skill that takes time, practice, and learning from an expert to really get right!
When I’m at a park or on a walk with my dogs, I’m constantly scanning them (and the dogs around them) to pick up on body language signals.
Being proactive and identifying stress signals is the easiest way to avoid a dog fight!
We teamed up with Traci Madson, CPDT-KA with almost two decades of experience, to create a Dog Body Language Course! I can say personally that this course helped me learn signals that I’ve used to keep my dogs safe on a daily basis.
HOW TO BREAK UP A DOG FIGHT SAFELY
If your dog gets involved in a fight you have a few options to try and break it up safely. As mentioned before, anytime you try to break up a dog fight you put yourself at risk of being attacked and/or bitten.
And while there are other methods that other people may recommend, these are what we feel are the safest and most effective options for stopping a dog fight.
1- NOISE, DISTRACTIONS & WATER
When dogs start fighting, they get in a “zone” and it can be hard to get them out of it.
One method to stop a dog fight is to use noise, distractions, or something similar to break them out of that “zone”, even if just for a moment to allow you to get your dog and move to safety.
Here are some ways you can break your dog’s attention during a fight 👇
- Giving a loud clap and/or yelp/shout
- Dumping water on the dogs (this can be surprisingly effective)
- Using an airhorn or something similar
- Banging on a nearby tree/wall/garbage/etc
- Spraying citronella toward the dogs (NOT condoning this as a normal training method, just for this type of emergency)
- Blowing a whistle (carrying one on your keychain is great)
Those are just some ideas, but the principle is to be as loud and distracting as possible to try and break the dogs’ attention. If you can get a 1-2 second pause, you can likely get your dog out of the situation.
2- PUT SOMETHING (NOT you) BETWEEN THE DOGS
Another safe way to break up a dog fight is to get something in between your dogs.
I understand that you likely may not have anything readily available, but in some instances, you can get creative. The idea is to create a physical barrier between the dogs.
Here are some things you could use to get space between two dogs.
- A backpack or something similar (be careful to not get your hands too close)
- A skateboard, bicycle, or other similar objects
- An opened umbrella (again, mind your hands)
While this method may not always be feasible, if you do have access to a large object it can be one of the most effective ways to break up a dog fight.
Once you have an object in between the dogs you can leash/pull the dog away accordingly and hopefully de-escalate the fight.
3- THE WHEELBARROW METHOD FOR BREAKING UP DOG FIGHTS (can be risky)
Some people disagree with this method, while others swear by it (that’s life, right?). Generally, the “wheelbarrow method” can be a good way to separate fighting dogs.
It requires two people to work in unison, which in a high-intensity situation like a dog fight can be quite difficult. Regardless, here is how it works.
- Ideally, at the same time, each person grabs a dog by the hind legs and quickly lifts the back legs up (it’s best if you grab above knees, but anywhere works)
- With the dogs hind legs up, walk backwards (like a wheelbarrow)
- As you both walk backward, walk in a somewhat circular motion. This motion makes it more difficult for your dog to reach back and snap at or bite you
- Continue walking the dogs backward to either a safe space (ie on a different side of a fence, etc) or where you are far enough away from each other and you can leash up your dog
It’s important to note again that the circular motion is important to keep your dog from being able to reach you.
NOTE: This method does present an inherent risk. Anytime you try to break up a dog fight and you get physically involved, you risk being bitten or attacked.
SOME OTHER METHODS
I will note that some people recommend giving a quick, loud clap and shout and then going in to grab the dog by the collar/scruff area. I think this is risky since you’re putting your hands near the dog’s head, but it has worked for people in these situations.
Others will recommend grabbing the dog by the collar and lifting them up, and then walking them backward away from each other. Again, risky but it can work.
I only mention these methods so you have “backup plans” if the other methods above don’t work.
3 THINGS NOT TO DO WHEN DOG FIGHTS HAPPEN
While knowing what to do is important, knowing what not to do can be equally important. Here are some things to avoid doing to try and stop a dog fight.
1- DON'T USE YOUR HANDS
If you try to put your hands in between the dogs, you’re going to get bit. It’s that simple.
Even if you want to believe your dog would never bite you, in the heat of the moment they might. It can be a very unpredictable experience.
My wife used to work in the Emergency Room and she has treated people who lost fingers, suffered major bites, and other traumatic injuries from trying to break up dog fights.
If you get your hands involved in the thick of it, a bite may occur.
2- DON'T GET IN BETWEEN THE DOGS
Point #2 above was using an object to separate the dogs, that object should not be you. If you think that your body is enough of a barrier to stop dogs from fighting, you’re probably wrong.
They will go around or through you. What can make that even more dangerous is that you risk being knocked over. And the last you want to be during a dog fight is on the ground near the fight.
It isn’t worth the risk of trying to be the barrier between two fighting dogs. You will likely end up in a very bad situation.
3- DON'T KICK, HIT, OR YANK THE DOGS
Similar to the other points above, you don’t want to hit, kick, or yank the dogs.
This will aggravate them more, perceive you as a threat, and likely lead to you being attacked.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A DOG FIGHT HAS ENDED
Once you are able to separate the dog fight, there is still more to be done. Here is what you should do after a dog fight has ended.
GET TO A SAFE SPACE
Don’t stay in the area. Do NOT think that a 10-15 second break and then letting the dogs go back to playing is a good option.
You should leave the area as completely as possible. Go outside the fence, get in a car, walk far away, whatever it takes.
Leaving the same dogs in close proximity is just asking for trouble.
CHECK FOR INJURIES & CALM YOUR PUP
Once in a safe space, do your best to calm your dog.
Even if you are upset and believe your dog was at fault, there is no point in scolding them. That will make things worse. Your goal should be to calm your dog down and help them get back to a level head.
You’ll also want to check your dog for injuries. It’s best to wait until your dog has calmed down to decrease the likelihood of you touching an injured area and startling your dog. Again, if they are in fight mode it can lead to a bite.
Most often injuries will be sustained near the head and neck area. But be sure to run your hand over your pup’s back, belly, and legs to check for injuries.
If your dog is injured, it is likely worth taking them to the vet or an emergency animal hospital. Of course, this will depend on the severity of the injury, but it’s often best to get it handled earlier rather than later.
EXCHANGE INFORMATION WITH THE OTHER PUP PARENT (if possible)
Depending on the severity of the fight, injuries to dogs, and potential injuries to the humans, you may want to exchange information with the other pup parent.
I won’t be naive and think that this will always go over well. Many pup parents could be defensive and angry, especially if they believe your dog was at fault. So if it’s going to cause more problems, don’t stress this part and just leave the situation as is.
But, it can be very beneficial to exchange information. Depending on the situation, you may need to file a report with local animal authorities, especially if injuries were sustained to either dog or human.
RECAP OF HOW TO BREAK UP A DOG FIGHT SAFELY
Honestly, I hated writing this article. I hate dog fights. They are extremely alarming experiences and can leave you and your pup emotionally shaken.
If you have one takeaway from this article I would hope it would be to learn more about dog body language. That is the single most important way to avoid dog fights and keep your dog safe.
Have you tried other methods to break up a dog fight that worked? Do you disagree with these methods?
Let me know in the ! This is a topic that needs more discussion and attention in the dog community!