Breaking up a dog fight

The best way to break up a dog fight is to prevent it from happening. Photo courtesy of Google images

Doggie Dialogues
By Doris Dressler, CPDT-KA  

  Doris Dressler

Last month, we talked about having fun at the dog park. But what happens when playtime goes bad? How do you prevent or stop a dog fight?

Selecting the right playmates
Start by selecting appropriate playmates for your dog.

  • Younger dogs tend to be more energetic and generally play better with dogs their own age. Older dogs find puppies to be annoying at best and often will ask the younger dog to back off with a warning growl. If the younger dog doesn’t take the hint, it’s best to stop the play date.
  • Some trainers believe dogs of the opposite sex make better playmates, though there are plenty of exceptions to this rule.

  • Size matters; while small and large dogs can play well together, accidents happen and a large dog can accidentally hurt a small dog.

  • What is your dog’s play style? Some dogs like to stalk and chase. Other dogs love body contact—bumping, jumping, wrestling and/or mouthing. Some dogs like toys and playing keep away. Think about matching your dog with dogs of similar play styles.

Understanding the difference between playing and fighting
What is normal, rowdy play can often look terrifying to dog owners; it often is hard to tell if the barking and growling is normal or getting out of hand.

  • Know what your dog’s normal play style is; this will make it easier for you to ascertain whether it’s time to remove your dog from play before it escalates into a dog fight.

  • Observe body language. If the dogs are looking loose and relaxed, they are probably playing. If the dog’s bodies are becoming stiff and tense, it might be time to step in.

  • If play is building in intensity without the dogs taking a break, it’s time to intervene. Separate the dogs and put them into a short timeout to allow their adrenaline level to go down.

  • If you’re not sure if your dog is enjoying himself, pull him away from the other dog for a few seconds. Release your dog; if he runs back for more, he is having a good time. If he runs in the other direction or tries to hide behind you, it’s time to stop play.

Breaking up a fight
At the beginning of any dog interaction, it’s always good to remember the scout motto: “Be prepared.” At the start of each group class I teach, I think about what I would do if a dog fight did break out; I try to have my citronella spray and air horn handy.

  • Avoid grabbing for the dog’s collar; this could result in your getting bitten if the dog whips around and blindly bites.

  • If there is a high-powered water hose handy, try spraying the dogs. Pat Miller, in a recent Whole Dog Journal article also suggested lemon juice in a spray bottle or even a fire extinguisher, as a last resort.

  • If the fight hasn’t gotten too out of hand, often spraying the dogs with a product like Sprayshield Animal Deterrent can distract the dogs enough to allow you to grab and pull them apart. Sprayshield is a citronella-based spray that doesn’t harm the dog or make them more aggressive.

  • A loud noise also could startle the dogs enough for them to back away from each other and give you the opportunity to separate them. I have a marine air horn that is incredibly loud but effective. Beating pots and pans together or dropping them on the floor may work. A lit match under a smoke detector alarm also might do the trick.

  • Use some type of barrier to try to split the dogs apart like a garbage can lid, a strong piece of cardboard or wood or a big stick.

  • Throw a blanket, towel or tarp over the dogs. Some dogs may stop fighting when they can’t see each other.

  • If nothing else is working, try cutting off the air supply of the aggressor dog, but note this can be more difficult than it sounds. Try wrapping a leash around the dog’s neck, if you can do so without getting bit. Grabbing and twisting the collar is dangerous as it’s easy for the dog to bite.

  • If there are two of you, each person could approach a dog from behind, grab the dogs by the legs and lift their bottoms off the ground, keeping their front paws on the ground so they are in a wheelbarrow-type position. If you can do this quickly, the dogs may let go of each other long enough for you to back them away from each other. Wheel the dogs around in a circle (to keep them from biting you) until they calm down.

Preventing a dog fight
The best piece of advice is to prevent a dog fight from occurring in the first place. If you don’t know the dogs, it’s best to put treats and toys away to prevent possessive behavior. Teach your dog to play nicely; if your dog’s behavior is escalating, it’s time for play to end before something bad happens. Have a good recall in place, so you can quickly call your dog off and prevent a situation from spiraling out of control.
Happy training!

Doris Dressler is a CPDT-KA (certified professional dog trainer, knowledge assessed) with over 16 years’ experience training service dogs and family pet dogs. She also volunteers training rescued dogs at Big Canoe Animal Rescue.

The best way to break up a dog fight is to prevent it from happening.



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