How to Safely Break up a Dogfight

Two black dogs fighting
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If you have ever witnessed a fight between two dogs, you know how frightening it can be. Dogs can do serious harm to one another during a fight or attack. In some cases, dogfight injuries can even lead to death. This instinct to jump in and stop a dogfight can be hard to resist, but trying to break up a dogfight the wrong way could land you in the hospital. What's a concerned dog owner to do?

Stopping a Dogfight

First things first: NEVER physically get in the middle of two dogs fighting. If you put your hand (or any other body part) anywhere near the heads of these dogs, you WILL be injured. This includes trying to grab their collars. Don't be foolish enough think a dog will not bite its beloved owner. In the heat of a dogfight, your dog does not see who is intervening. He will bite any and everything in his way. Do not underestimate your dog. It's not personal. Remember, if your dog is injured, he will need you to take care of him. You can't do this from a hospital bed.​

There are a few ways to try and break up a dogfight. No matter what method you use, be sure to remain as calm as possible. Avoid yelling at the dogs and other people (unless you are calling out for help). Take a deep breath and focus on the task at hand. Advise others on the scene to do the same. Remove children from the area and keep crowds of people away. It is best for there to be two people (ideally the dogs' owners) involved in breaking up the fight. All other people should step far away. Here are several ways to break up a dogfight (some better than others):

  • Sprays: If available, spray water from a garden hose at the heads of the dogs (specifically in the eyes and nose of the most aggressive dog, if possible). A bucket of water or bottle of water is usually less effective but worth a try. Citronella spray in the face may break up a less intense fight but usually not the worst of fights (same with vinegar). Pepper spray may work in some cases, but it can alternatively make things worse by further agitating the dogs. Either way, the pepper spray may cause lasting damage to a dog's eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Some sources suggest spraying a fire extinguisher at the dogs' faces, but these chemicals can also cause lasting damage to dogs (and people).
  • Sounds: The sound of an air horn or a loud slamming door may be jarring enough for fighting dogs to "snap out of it," but this is less likely to work on intense fights. Shouting and screaming at the dogs rarely works and usually has the opposite effect: it intensifies the fight. In general, noise may not the best way to try and break up a dogfight. However, if you decide to try it, it is more likely to work if it's loud and somewhat high pitched (like an air horn or house alarm).
  • Objects: Throwing a heavy blanket over fighting dogs may momentarily break their focus and help end the fight. A sometimes successful method is to take a long automatic umbrella and open it between the two dogs (make sure it's long enough so your hands will be far away from the dogs' mouths). In addition, placing objects like chairs or laundry baskets on top of the dogs may help separate them. However, like the many other commonly advised techniques, these don't usually work well in cases of serious fighting.
  • Physical Intervention: This method of breaking up a dogfight is potentially the most dangerous one, especially if done incorrectly. Remember, you should never get in the middle of two fighting dogs. Some experts, however, have discovered that there is a slightly safer way to separate two 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. Here's how:
    • 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 is 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 he 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 himself upright by following the circular pattern with his front paws. If you stop, the dog will be able to flip around and bite you.
    • Still walking backward in a circle, move the dog to an enclosure (ideally where he can no longer see the other dog). 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 will not release its 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. These methods are best left to professionals.

    If you are alone, the physical intervention method is not advised, as the other dog will typically go after the dog you are pulling 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 of the incapacitated dog, though it is particularly risky.

    What to Do After the Fight

    Remember to be safe when trying to break up a dogfight. As soon as the dogs are apart, they should be put in separate rooms or, ideally, their respective crates. No matter how minor the injuries seem, it is important to 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. It is best to learn how to tell a dogfight is coming and how to prevent one from happening in the first place.