ABC’s OF Dog Behavior: “F” Is For Fighting

*Before I begin today’s post, as always, I want to make clear that this and any information I share on Paws Give Me Purpose is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own Veterinarian, Behaviorist or Trainer.*

As a dog owner and lover like me, if you see two dogs fighting, your natural response is to want to physically separate them before someone gets hurt; this especially reins true when one or both dogs belong to you. I have been in this situation many times and believe me it’s easier said than done. I can tell you from my own personal experiences that it can be a very risky business to try to break up a serious dogfight.

Even though dogs evolved as pack animals and are genetically programmed to get along in social groups, they do occasionally fight. When this happens, it can be a harrowing, dangerous situation for both the dogs and their humans.

The first response of many people who encounter a dogfight is to scream at the top of their lungs to try to stop it – and it usually doesn’t, and can even cause an escalation in the fighting due to the noise. The next move most people try is to reach between the dogs to rescue the one who’s getting the worst of it. Trying to physically separate fighting dogs very often results in serious injury to the human, inflicted by his or her own dog – which only makes a bad situation worse.

So what’s a person to do if and when a fight breaks out?

Most fights between unfamiliar dogs or even first fights between dogs who are housemates can simply be classified as “spit and drool matches” even if there’s a lot of noise and fur flying. If either dog goes further, it’s typically a quick bite-and-release type of fight.

The major concern in this situations is to get the dogs separated without being bitten, which means you must avoid grabbing the head or neck area of either animal. The safest method is to grab the dogs by the rear end and quickly pull them away from each other or grab their rear legs and lift them into the air which generally ‘shocks’ the dog into releasing simply because they don’t expect it. A close alternative to this method can be looping a leash under the back two legs of both dogs and pulling them apart from their back ends.

Another method you can try is to place your foot on the rib cage of one of the dogs and push him away. This is NOT kicking the dog – it is simply using your foot against the dog’s side as leverage to push them away. This is a much safer approach than bending over either dog while trying to push them apart with your hands. This method also leaves your hands free to get control of the other dog if you’re doing this alone.

Other methods I have heard of for separating fighting dogs involve distractions, including:

  • putting a board or other object between them
  • spraying the dogs with water
  • banging a noisy object near them
  • blowing an air horn
  • throwing a blanket over one or both dogs

Honestly, the fights I have had here have required much more forceful intervention so it is extremely important to remember that no technique for breaking up a dogfight is foolproof. No two dogs may react the same way to a specific method and they all do involve a certain degree of risk to both the dogs and the humans who try to intervene. It’s up to you to understand the risks, weigh the odds, and decide if the risks outweigh the potential for injury. In all cases it’s important to avoid taking any action that may cause the dogs to redirect aggression to you.

Once you get the dogs separated, it’s important to pay attention to whether one or both dogs want to keep fighting, whether they calm down right away, or if they try to run away. If one dog clearly wants to keep fighting, you will definitely need intensive behavior modification training to prevent fights in the future.

Unfortunately, small dog tussles can progress into more dangerous fights if there’s undiagnosed or unchecked aggression.

In case you missed the recent post on dog aggression and you are interested in reading it you can find it at this link:

Most importantly, keep in mind that most dogfights may be prevented by attentive guardians who notice when one dog is tense around another, and take immediate action to separate the dogs which can hopefully avoid the fight altogether.