How to Stop Your Dog From Fighting

Two black dogs fighting
Lynn Koenig / Getty Images

If you've ever witnessed a fight between two dogs, you know how frightening it can be. Dogs can do serious harm to each other during a fight or attack. In some cases, the injuries can even lead to death.

When it's your dog that's involved, it's hard to resist the natural instinct to jump in and stop a fight. However, trying to break up an altercation in the wrong way could land you in the hospital.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to pulling the dogs apart. 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.
  • What may have started out as friendly play can go too far, and a fight may break out. This tends to happen most often when more than two dogs are around.
  • 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 something about the other dog that an aggressive dog may not like, whether it's the dog's personality or just its smell.

How to Stop a Dogfight

An illustration of how to safely break up a dog fight
Illustration: The Spruce / Evan Polenghi

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 from a hospital bed.​

There are a few ways you can try to break up a dogfight and keep yourself safe at the same time.

Remain Calm

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, 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 or vinegar spray in the face may break up a less-intense fight but usually not the worst fights. Dogs really dislike the smell of either, 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 the potentially harmful effects.
  • Pepper spray may work in some cases, but it may make things worse by further agitating the dogs. Either way, these sprays may cause lasting damage to a dog's eyes, skin, and mucous membranes and may also affect people and other dogs standing nearby.
  • Some animal experts suggest spraying a CO2 fire extinguisher at fighting dogs as a distraction. This method is recommended for severe dogfights only. These particular fire extinguishers may emit bits of dry ice, but they don't leave chemical residues behind. Even so, any type of fire extinguisher can cause physical damage to dogs and people, and it's critically important to avoid contact with the eyes.

    Make a Lot of Noise

    The sound of a car horn or a loud slamming door 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.

    In general, noise may not the best way to break up a dogfight. However, if you decide to try it, it's more likely to work if it's loud and somewhat high pitched (like an air horn or house alarm).

    Use Objects Strategically

    Sometimes you can use objects at hand to break up a fight. At least the distraction may give the owners an opportunity to safely grab the dogs' collars. However, like the many other commonly advised techniques, these don't usually work well in cases of serious fighting.

    • 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.

    Intervene Physically

    This method of breaking up a dogfight is potentially the most dangerous, especially if done incorrectly. Remember, you should never get in the middle of two fighting dogs.

    Some experts, however, have discovered that there's a slightly safer way to separate fighting dogs. 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.

    1. 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 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 "break stick" in the jaws of the dog. These methods may be effective in some cases, but also put you at a greater risk of injury. Such methods are best left to professionals.

    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. 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 important, take the time now to learn more about dogfights so you're as prepared as possible in the future. 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 completely before they're allowed to see each other again.

    If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.