Unfortunately, the dog days of summer mean the dog fights of summer.
As the weather heats up, the number of exercise dogs get increases, which in turn means more opportunities for them to play together. When dogs play, they're not just engaging in fun and games, they're also asserting dominance.
This can easily lead to trouble, so it's important to know how to break up a dog fight before things get out of hand.
Why Do Dogs Fight?
Dogs get into fights for a variety of reasons, most of which are rooted in natural canine instincts. And certain situations can turn even the friendliest dog into a vicious fighter.
- Many fights are territorial, such as when a strange dog enters your yard.
- The urge to protect the people in its pack, its food, or some prized possession may provoke your dog to attack another dog.
- Overstimulation and what may have started as friendly play can go too far, and a fight may break out.
- Redirected aggression is common among dogs that are normally friendly or live together. When one dog can't get something it wants or becomes overly frustrated, it may take it out on its best friend simply because it's the closest target. This may happen in a fenced yard when the aggressor can't teach a dog on the other side but can reach its canine family member, for instance.
- Sometimes dogs simply don't get along. There may something about the other dog that an aggressive dog may not like, whether it's the dog's personality, smell, or other.
Prevention of dog fights
Being aware of triggers for dog fights can help you minimize the risk of dangerous fights occurring. Food and toys are two of the most common triggers for fights.
This is because dogs can become possessive of these items, and show aggression when guarding them.
A simple way to reduce the risk of dog fights is to avoid feeding dogs next to each other. It's always best to feed multiple dogs on opposite sides of the room – or even in different rooms.
Another tip is to remove and wash food bowls as soon as dogs have finished eating. Taking these steps will help prevent aggression caused by dogs becoming overly possessive.
Toys and bones can also lead to possessive behavior and aggression.
Never attempt to remove a toy or bone from a dog's mouth using your hand; instead distract the dog with another toy or treat to refocus their attention before taking away the item.
Signs of a dog fight
Another way to prevent dog fights is to observe for warning signs.
Understanding these signs can help you deescalate a potentially dangerous situation.
Here are some signs that dogs feel threatened and may be ready to attack:
- Bared teeth
- Flattened ears
- Raised hackles
If you notice any of these signs, the best course of action is to calmly separate the dogs involved. Once separated, keep the dogs out of each other's sight – in different locations if possible.
Secure the dogs by leashing them to immovable objects or placing them behind closed doors.
Breaking Up a Dog Fight
The process of how to break up a dog fight is fairly straightforward, but in the midst of all of that intensity and aggression, it can be difficult to do and for many, it is downright scary.
Here’s how it should be done if you are the one that has to intervene.
How to Stop a Dogfight
No matter which method you use to stop the fight, remain as calm as possible. Avoid yelling at the dogs and other people (unless you're calling for help).
Take a deep breath and focus on the task at hand. Advise others on the scene to do the same.
Clear the Scene
Remove children from the area and keep crowds of people away. It's best if there are two people (ideally the dogs' owners) involved in breaking up the fight.
All other people should step far away.
Spray Them Down
If available, spraying them down can be considered.
- Spray water from a garden hose at the heads of the dogs. Aim specifically for the eyes and nose of the more aggressive dog, if possible. A bucket or spray bottle filled with water may be less effective but is worth a try if you don't have access to a hose.
- Citronella spray like Spray Shield or vinegar spray in the face may break up a less intense fight but usually not the worst fights. Dog owners may consider carrying citronella spray with them. Dogs really dislike the smell and it could offer a brief distraction. In fact, many veterinary experts recommend citronella sprays over pepper spray. It may be just as effective and doesn't have potentially harmful effects. Pepper spray and CO2 fire extinguishers have been suggested but really should only be used as a last resort as they can cause damage to a dog's eyes, skin, and mucous membranes not to mention potentially harm people nearby.
Make a Lot of Noise
Air horns or the sound of a car horn may be jarring enough to snap fighting dogs out of it. This is less likely to work on intense fights, though.
Shouting and screaming at the dogs rarely works and usually has the opposite effect of intensifying the fight.
Use Objects Strategically
Sometimes you can use objects at hand to break up a fight.
- Throwing a heavy blanket over fighting dogs may momentarily break their focus and help end the fight. It may also give you a chance to more safely separate the dogs.
- A method that's sometimes successful is to open a long automatic umbrella between two fighting dogs. You just need to make sure it's long enough so that your hands stay far away from the dogs' mouths.
- You might also try placing objects like chairs or laundry baskets on top of the dogs to help separate them.
At least the distraction may allow the owners to safely remove their dogs from the fight. However, like the many other commonly advised techniques, these don't usually work well in cases of serious fighting.
This method of breaking up a dogfight is potentially the most dangerous if done incorrectly.
Remember, you should never get in the middle of two fighting dogs and NEVER attempt to grab the collar or head of two fighting dogs as you will get bit even by your own pet.
Some experts, however, have discovered that there's a slightly safer way to separate fighting dogs and this is called the 'wheelbarrow' method.
This method only works if two adults are available to intervene (the dogs' respective owners if possible). If there are more than two dogs involved, there should be one human per dog.
- Each person should approach a dog slowly from behind. At the same time, each person should firmly grab hold of the back legs of their respective dog and walk backward (think of using a wheelbarrow). This must be done at the same time for each dog. If one dog is on top of the other, the top dog should be pulled back first, and the bottom dog should be pulled back as soon as it stands up.
- Staying far away from the other dog(s), quickly begin circling to one side. The idea is to force the dog to keep itself upright by following the circular path with its front paws. If you stop, the dog may be able to flip around and bite you.
- Still walking backward in a circle, move the dog to an enclosure (ideally where it can no longer see the other dog or dogs). If no enclosure is near, continue the motion until the dog has calmed down enough for you to safely attach a leash.
In cases where one or both dogs won't release their jaws, there are recommendations such as pressing on a dog's ribcage or using a special "bite stick" like the blunt end of a broomstick in the jaws of the dog but these methods are best left to the professionals, may not work and can even worsen the situation.
Remember, to never get violent with the dogs. Kicking or punching will not help in these situations.
If you're alone, the physical intervention method is not advised, as the other dog will typically go after the dog you're walking back (and you).
If one dog is seriously injured and the aggressor is on top, you may be able to use this method to get the top dog off the incapacitated dog, though this is particularly risky.
After the Dog Fight
Always keeping everyone's safety in mind, as soon as the dogs are apart, keep them separated and do not release them where they can interact again even if they seem calm.
When they're outside, each dog should be led to its home or placed securely in a car.
If the fight broke out among your dogs at home, put them in separate rooms or, ideally, their respective crates.
Check your dog for injuries, and no matter how minor they seem, contact your vet immediately. Your dog should be examined as the damage from dog bites is not always noticeable to the untrained eye.
Most importantly, take the time now to learn more about dogfights so you're as prepared as possible in the future.
Prevention is ultimately the best way to eliminate fighting and that means being aware of your dog's cues and paying close attention to other dog's cues as well.
Avoid putting your dog in situations where fights can happen.
It's best to learn how to tell when a dogfight is coming and how to prevent one from happening in the first place.
For instance, if you notice two dogs becoming overly aroused or showing signs of aggression or one dog is dominating another too much (e.g. pinning or rolling) during play, it's time to intervene.
Stop the behavior and separate the dogs.
Use distractions like treats and training to change the dynamic. Let the dogs cool off and consider preventing interactions among them in the future.
What to Do If Your Dog is Severely Injured?
Fighting can be brutal, and there is always the risk of dogs being badly injured.
Unfortunately, there are no dog ambulances, so you’ll need to rush your dog to the nearest emergency vet hospital.
It’s a good idea to know where the closest hospital to your house, dog park, and anywhere else you visit frequently is located.
That way, if something ever does happen, you know where to go. Make sure they are a true emergency animal hospital and that they are open 24/7.
Your vet likely will not be able to handle emergencies appropriately.
If your dog is injured, it’s best to carry them, when possible, to your car for transport. However, carrying them may cause them pain and discomfort which could cause them to lash out and bite.
We suggest placing a towel or piece of cloth over their head which will make them feel secure and less likely to bite. If they are bleeding severely, use a towel or shirt to apply firm pressure to the area to control the bleeding.
Try to keep your dog calm and request that someone drive you to the hospital in your car if need be. The worst thing your dog can do in these situations is panic and risk further injury.
Your clothes and car can be cleaned, but your dog’s life may hang in the balance if you wait too long.