How to Safely Break Up a Dog Fight

There are few things as scary as a loud, vicious dog fight and every dog owner lives in fear of their beloved pet becoming involved in a fight one day. What would you do? How could you break up the fight safely?

First, a Word of Warning…

Before you even think of intervening in a dog fight, be sure to understand that breaking up a dog fight is a very serious and risky endeavour and no matter what methods you use, there is a very high chance that you may get bitten, even by your own pet. Ultimately, there is no 100% safe method of breaking up a dog fight. Therefore, think carefully before getting involved. Dog bites can lead to severe injuries, sometimes requiring hospitalisation and occasionally fatal – so no matter how much you love your pooch, remember to consider your own safety as well.

In addition, unless you have a lot of experience with fighting dogs (or have no choice), do not attempt to break up a fight by yourself. Shout for help so that there is at least one person to restrain each dog. Otherwise, even if you manage to separate the dogs initially, you may not be able to hold them apart to stop the fight continuing.

Lastly, NEVER, EVER just wade in and try to pull the dogs apart with your bare hands. You are almost guaranteed to get bitten – and badly. Remember, no matter how affectionate and loyal your pet may be normally, during a fight, they will be in survival mode, with high adrenalin levels pumping through their bodies, and acting purely on their reflexes. They will react instinctively to any perceived threat, which includes any foreign object (e.g.. your hand) coming towards them. They will bite!

Don’t Panic!

While it is easier said than done, the most important thing is not to panic. The only way you can get control over the situation is if you remain calm and collected. Obviously, the sooner you can stop the fight, the less likely there will be any severe injuries but having said that, take time to assess the situation and think about the best method to use, before just plunging in.

If the dogs are still just circling, posturing, growling and snarling, don’t just run up to them, screaming and shouting, as you may actually trigger the fight with your panicked behaviour. Dogs use a lot of intimidation and will often settle things through posturing, without actually engaging in physical battle – so there is a chance that one of them may back down and the whole thing can be resolved peacefully. Nevertheless, rather than just wait and see if it develops into a fight, try to distract the dogs with a strange noise or by waving a toy or other distraction, so that their attention is diverted and they break their focus on each other. Then you can try to separate them in a calm manner, using food lures and/or obedience commands if they have been trained to respond to them.

Ways to Break Up a Fight

If the dogs are already engaged, then here is a selection of methods for breaking up the fight (keeping in mind that all of them come with risks attached):

  • While shouting at them usually has no effect, occasionally some dogs can be stopped or at least momentarily distracted by a loud, stern “NO!” – thus giving you a chance to separate them. Similarly, fighting dogs can sometimes be startled by a very loud, sudden noise (e.g.. An airhorn) which will help to interrupt the fight and enable you to separate them.
  • Throwing a bucket of water over the dogs (or using a garden hose if accessible) is often a very effective and safe way of breaking apart fighting dogs. It also keeps you at a safe distance so that there is little chance of the dogs redirecting their aggression at you. In most cases, getting soaked by water will quickly calm the dogs down!
  • If you do not have water to hand, enlist the help of another person and try to separate the dogs. Try to find an object that you can wedge between them to separate them momentarily and allow you to get hold of each and restrain them – for example, a broom. Be aware though that in the heat of the moment, you may hurt the dogs with your object and there is also a high chance that the dogs will redirect their aggression to the object and on to you.
  • Alternatively, you and your helper can grab the hind legs of each dog and lift them up, whilst walking backwards (wheelbarrow fashion). This will usually cause the dogs to let go of each other so that you can pull them apart. Be careful though – do not release your dog immediately as he could easily turn around and redirect his attack on you – or even run over to attack the other dog again. Instead, walk slowly backwards in a circle – this will force the dog to side step with its front feet and be unable to swing around to attack you. Separate the dogs as far as possible and either tie them to something solid or contain them within an enclosure, such as another room, in a car, crate or even cupboard.
  • If one of the dogs has locked its teeth onto the other, you may need to use a “breaking stick” to wedge into the side of his mouth (just behind the canine teeth) in order to get him to release the other dog. However, be aware that it takes substantial training and experience to be able to use a “breaking stick” properly and efficiently.
  • Sometimes, people suggest using cattle prods or stun guns to break up fighting dogs. While these may work, be aware that they can also cause each dog to think that the pain is coming from the other dog and that will just cause them to fight harder. In addition, their higher levels of adrenaline means that their pain tolerance will be much higher than normal and therefore, they may not respond to the shocks.

Once the dogs are separated, have them secured and ideally, out of sight of each other so everyone can calm down and you have a chance to assess any injuries.

The Best Way to Deal With Dog Fights…

…is never to let them happen in the first place. This means being vigilant and responsible about your dog and his behaviour, as well as learning to read his body language and the body language of dogs around him. Be aware of the environment around him and any potentially tense interactions that may develop. Remember, dogs often fight over things like territory and competition over resources such as food, toys and attention; they can also react aggressively when they are feeling insecure or threatened, particularly if they are restrained and feel that they cannot get away.

Finally, train your dog and practise under extreme distractions to “proof” his training. If you do not have a dog that will come back to you when called, especially when it is approaching another dog, then you do not have a fully trained dog. In addition, make sure your dog is well-socialised with other dogs, especially in early puppyhood, so that he learns the correct way to behave around other canines and how to read canine body language. Lastly, be careful of any signals you are sending to your dog – such as tightening the leash – which can trigger him into attack mode.

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