The dog fight is the dread of every dog carer. Even if your dog is a little angel who wouldn’t hurt a fly, s/he could be victim to an attack. Knowing how to prevent, predict and even intervene safely is important because doing it wrong could make the situation worse, and you could be seriously hurt in the process.
Are you sure you can:
- Keep calm? This will improve your judgement, technique and positive impact on the situation.
- Keep your distance? “Never physically get in the middle of two dogs fighting or try to grab their collars,” Jenna Stregowski warns in TheSprucePets.com.
If you can stay relatively focused and out of bite range, the next step is to assess the situation.
ALWAYS ASK: Is it a dog fight or a dog argument?
Serious dog fights are often silent, as the dogs focus on each other. One animal may scream in pain or fright, while the aggressor is quiet. “Some dogs may dart in and out, slashing at each other’s legs and bellies; others latch on and grind down,” pro dog trainer Jolanta Benal tells QuickandDirtyTips.com. “The victim may break free and try to escape, only to have the attacker go after him again.”
Dog arguments are usually loud and swift (up to a minute), may involve some contact and though they might result in minor puncture wounds, getting involved could make it much worse. “Once the dogs are done, they’ll shake out their bodies and offer each other social reconciliation behaviours or just go about their business, paying each other no more mind,” Jolanta advises.
Learn to tell the difference between an ordinary squabble of two territorial pack animals who don’t know each, and a full-blown dog fight to the death. Knowing the difference and when not to get involved could save lives before any are in danger at all.
BEFORE: What are the signs that a dog fight might break out?
Petsit.com warns that the following signs signal a likely confrontation.
- Bared teeth
- Flattened ears
- Raised hackles
The Central California SPCA (CCSPCA) says to also look for:
- Licking lips
- Exaggerated yawn
- Turning away
- Tail tucking, standing straight out, flickering
- Whale eye—turned head but with an eye still looking at the perceived threat
If you see these signs, try to move the dogs away from each other, and even retreat to the safety of a closed car or go indoors if necessary.
If a dog fight ensues despite your efforts to prevent one, there are a few methods to try depending on the situation and tools available.
DURING: How to break up a dog fight with the least fallout
- Do the wheelbarrow:
While effective, this does require some skill and a calm, calculated approach. Ideally, you need two humans – one for each dog. At the same time, approach each dog from behind, grab its hind legs and lift them up while walking backwards (as you would reversing a wheelbarrow).
“It’s important to raise the dogs’ hind legs far enough off the ground to force them to stand on their front legs,” Richard Rowlands tells Petsit.com. “This will restrict their movements and make it difficult to fight.”
The next crucial step is to turn in a circle once the dogs aren’t making contact anymore until you are facing away from each other.
“The idea is to force the dog to keep itself upright by following the circular path with its front paws,” Jenna advises. “If you stop, the dog may be able to flip around and bite you.”
Then use a barrier if you can, like a garbage can lid, a chair, or even a table to isolate them. Separate them completely if you can. This way the fight cannot resume.
- Other methods:
These require you to have equipment around.
The hosepipe. Spray the dogs directly to disrupt their contact, then separate, using a break stick. If the fight is less frenzied, and if you can tell who the aggressor actually is, try to spray the head of the attacking dog but avoid the eyes, especially if the spray is strong or the hose is at close range. You don’t want to blind the pooches!
Citronella spray. For less intense fights, or escalating signs before a fight begins, the overpowering scent of natural citronella oil can distract the dogs long enough to separate them.
A break stick. A long, flat stick used to separate a jaw grip. “In the case of a dog who has latched on to another, it’s vital that you release the dog’s grip before attempting to pull them away, otherwise you risk injuring the other dog further,” warns CCSPCA. Then remove the dogs from the area so that the attack cannot resume.
An air horn (or car hooter). For less intense fights. Loud sounds can distract the dogs long enough to separate them. Take care here, though. In intense fights it simply adds to the furore and can fuel the fight even more.
An Umbrella. If yours has a long enough shaft, this can break up less intense confrontations. Keep your hands away, though.
A blanket. This can obstruct access, but it can also blind the victim dog and result in worse injuries. Try to cover both dogs at once for full effectiveness, then separate using a barrier.
- What to avoid:
Be strategic and avoid the following:
Don’t get tangled. “If your dog is on leash and he gets into a fight with a dog off-leash,” Julie Leroy advises in TheDodo.com, “drop the leash before you or the dog become tangled in it.”
Don’t shout. The dogs are unlikely to focus on anything outside of them, and your voice isn’t as loud as you might hope. Try using something louder (like a vuvuzela). Save your voice and the situation.
Do not get between fighting dogs. Even if they don’t mean to, they might bite you, and badly.
Do not put your bare hands and arms between fighting dogs. Bite wounds, broken or severed fingers, and even permanent damage, could result.
Do not let your face near a dog fight. Most of your senses are on your face, including your irreplaceable eyes.
Do not pull on a fighting dog’s tail. You could be bitten or break the tail.
Do not use pepper spray or a fire extinguisher instead of citronella oil. It can harm the dogs, especially their eyes!
- When you can’t:
Sometimes a fight is simply too aggressive – or you are simply too nervous – to intervene without the danger of grievous bodily harm to your person. Use your discretion. “People end up with severe lacerations, crushed bones, and sometimes far worse when the dogs accidentally turn their attack on them.” If a fight is beyond intervention, you may still feel the impulse to intervene, but remember you’re the one who’s going to be helping right after, and if you’re injured, your assistance will be limited.
AFTER: Assess and act
- Immediately assess both dogs for injuries.
- If there’s time, swap personal details with the other dog’s human and gather proof (somebody may have recorded a video of how the situation came about and escalated).
- If you see any injuries or a dog is acting oddly, get straight to a veterinary hospital and call them on the way to alert them that you are coming. Injuries don’t necessarily involve blood. An old dog could have a heart attack as a result of the anxiety, for example, or simply an anxiety attack (which can look like asphyxiation).
- You may have to apply emergency first aid beforehand. Do you have a first aid kit in the car or at home? Our blog on emergency care for dogs when help isn’t there can help you to be prepared.
NEVER FORGET: You could be hurt trying to break up a dog fight…
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- Speaking of the USA, if you’re moving abroad, here’s how to reduce the stress for your pets.