If you’ve ever taken your dog to a dog park, or have multiple dogs, you’ve probably seen two dogs get into a fight at some point. Many dog owners immediately panic & react the wrong way…often leading to a very unsafe situation for both the dogs and the humans. Typically, people’s first reaction is panicking and yelling. Everybody immediately tries to dive in to grab their scuffling dog’s collars, putting their hands very close to the dogs’ faces, trying to pull them out of harms way. Despite owners best intentions of looking out for their dog, this VERY dangerous – and i’ve often seen it result in owners getting bit or knocked to the ground. It also makes breaking up the fight much harder than need be.
1st thing learn to recognize the difference between a real fight and play fight. Just because two dogs are making violent sounding noises & baring teeth while wrestling, this doesn’t mean they aren’t just playing. Mock fighting is perfectly normal and harmless dog behavior. Many owners freak out as soon as their dog starts rough housing…which can lead to poor socialization & a nervous pooch.
How to know the difference? Watch your dog closely during play – if you see they’re growling, baring teeth and nipping at each other, but not actually fully clamping down…they’re usually just playing. Also, during play, when one dog submits, the other dog should back off immediately. Dogs can nip at each other without really hurting eachother. They will try to go for the neck…this is just instinctual dog behavior, and they aren’t necessarily trying to hurt the other dog. However, if one dog has attached himself to the other dog’s neck and won’t let go, this is no longer safe playing. If you start yelling at the dogs during play fight, this can actually egg them on to actually start going at it – so don’t automatically freak out.
2. This is the most important rule which everybody forgets. Don’t panic. Chances are the fight looks & sounds a lot worst than it actually is. In any case, jumping into a fight too soon can lead to you getting bit. Dogs will feed off your panic, and the fight will get worse. Before doing anything, take a second to access the situation & figure out the best approach.
3. DO:Try making a loud noise to startle them into breaking up fight, this is often all it takes. Make sure its loud enough to surprise them. A few very loud claps along with a stern BACK OFF should do the trick. Or a loud “FIDO NO, BACK OFF”. Sound confident, not afraid. Dogs can sense your fear & feed off of this. Edit As several people have mentioned, a loud whistle is a great tool to use in this situation. Dumping a water bottle/bowl or spraying a hose can also sometimes be a good first defense if you have them readily accessible. DON’T: Keep yelling if the loud noise doesn’t work. Almost every owner makes the mistake of continually screaming. “FIDO NOOO NOOOO NOOOO FIDO NOOO”. This not only doesn’t help, it will actually make the fight worse since dogs are egged on by your yelling. They feed off your screaming as a cue to increase their aggression. To them, your yelling is no difference than other dogs barking at them.
4. ALWAYS approach the fighting dogs from the rear…stay as far away from their heads as you possibly can.
DON’T: Try to grab their collars. In the heat of a dog fight, they will both interpret this as you jumping into the scrum. This is a bad idea…once you pull your dogs head away, there is nothing stoping the other aggressive dog from latching onto you. Even your own dog will not recognize you while fighting, & can turn around and bite you. I’ve seen dozens of people get bit trying to pull dogs apart by their collars.
5. DO Grab your dog by his hind legs, near the thighs, and lift his legs into the air like hes a wheelbarrow. If you can, instruct the other dogs owner to do the same with their dog. This puts you in complete control of your dog, while staying far away from their teeth. They will be unable to turn around to bite you in this position, & physically unable to lunge at the other dog.
6. Still grabbing his hind legs, start quickly backing up in a zig zag motion. If they’re latched on biting each other, this will force him to break off. Without the use of his back legs, he will soon realize you are in complete control, and submit to you.
7 Keep backing your dog up until youre well away from the other dog, and the other owner has control over them. Don’t stop backing up until the other dog is completely under control by their owners. As soon as you can, yell “NO, BAD DOG”, flip your dog onto their back, and hold them down with your knee. Your dog is now in submission. Keep them held down until their breathing slows and they are completely calm. While they’re on their back, talk to them in a soothing voice to diffuse the tension. This may take several minutes…if you let your dog up before he’s completely calm, he will likely run right back towards the other dog to attempt and attempt to continue the fight.
8.As they calm down, rub their belly and tell them “Good boy”. Reward & praise them for being calm.
9. After you release your dog, keep a close eye on them. At this point you should keep them completely separated from the dog they were just fighting with. Either you or the other owner should leave the park. If you don’t there is a very good chance they will get back into it.
Last, ALWAYS watch your dog closely during play so you can de-escalate a situation before it turns into a full blown fight. If you see tension building during a play sesion, teach your dog the “BACK OFF” command. Loudly and forcefully tell your dog to BACK OFF along with a clap. Keep him separated from the other dog, and roll him on his back to submit. Then praise him once he’s on the ground. Make sure to tell the other dog owner to grab their dog as well.
Follow these rules and you will find breaking up a dog fight is much safer and MUCH easier.
This video is a good example of exactly what not to do in a dog fight..but is an all too common sight at the park:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKqyMQ4LqTw As you can see, the guy was knocked down, causing him to get bit on the leg. He then tried to pull them apart while still on the ground, and you can see around the 10 second mark how the one dog turns around & snaps at him.