Dogs fight over territory, to protect their perceived pack, and because of overstimulation. Despite how it may seem to humans, dogs do not fight for no reason at all. Dogs can do serious harm to each other during a fight or attack. In some cases, the injuries can even lead to death. If you're put in the situation of trying to stop dogs from fighting, it's important that you resist the instinct to jump in physically, which would put you at risk. As a dog owner, you need to know safe ways to break up fights in case you're ever in this situation.
Why Do Dogs Fight?
Dogs get into fights for a variety of reasons, most of which are rooted in natural canine instincts. And there are certain situations that 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 out 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 reach a dog on the other side but can reach its canine family member, for instance.
- Sometimes dogs simply don't get along. There may be something about the other dog that an aggressive dog may not like, whether it's the dog's personality, smell, or other.
How to Stop a Dogfight
First things first: Never physically get in the middle of two dogs fighting or try to grab their collars. If you put your hand (or any other body part) anywhere near the dogs' heads, you will be injured.
Don't be foolish enough to think that a dog won't bite its beloved owner, either. In the heat of a dogfight, your dog doesn't see who's intervening and will bite anything in its way. Don't underestimate your dog. It's not personal. Remember, if your dog is injured, it will need you to take care of it, and you can't do that if you have been injured in breaking up a fight.
There are a few ways you can try to break up a dogfight and keep yourself safe at the same time.
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 harming 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 give the owners an opportunity 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). It's important that this is 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 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 dogs' 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.