Watching dogs fight, especially if your pup is the one under attack, can be very scary. Dog fights happen often and can occur at your local dog park, while on a neighborhood walk, at the home of a friend or family member, or even inside your own home. People often don’t know how to safely stop a fight or handle the hounds afterward.
When you see a skirmish break out, you might have an urge to jump in the middle, hoping that you can “snap the dogs out of it” and end the fight. Unfortunately, this is often a sure-fire way to get yourself bitten or otherwise injured and possibly wind up going to the hospital.
Prevention is the best way to prevent dog fights, but things often happen when you least expect them. It’s essential to know the steps for how to break up a dog fight quickly to reduce the chance of injuries or even the death of yours or someone else’s beloved pet. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively stop fighting dogs and remove them to a safer, more calm place.
Why Do Dogs Fight?
When your dog gets into an angry, adrenaline-fueled fight, both canines will likely display some fear and aggression. When it comes to the root cause, studies show that almost 50 percent of aggressive dogs also have signs of separation anxiety, while another 30 percent have generalized anxiety or phobia symptoms. A general theory says that dogs use aggression to deal with situations where they might feel afraid, uncertain, or anxious.
When canines don’t feel comfortable, they experience a range of emotions that could escalate into dog fights. While anxiety and fear play a large part, many of these reactive behaviors have roots in basic canine instincts.
Some dogs go to combat with unfamiliar canines invading their territory, or perhaps to protect something that the pooch prizes. This could be a favorite toy, food, or people that the dog considers as its pack. At home, pups may fight over who gets attention first from their owner or because one pup wants to be dominant in the group.
Some dogs can even become worked up while playing aggressively, and that overstimulation turns playing into a fight. At times, one dog that lives with another canine might get upset about something, such as a strange dog outside of its yard. Because it can’t reach the strange dog, it turns its aggression onto its best canine friend, the one it lives with. Finally, some dogs just don’t like each other, whether because of their smell, demeanor, or other factors.
The Best Way: How to Break Up a Dog Fight
If you run into a situation where your dog or another pup is growling or exhibiting aggressive behavior, this could signal an impending fight. How to break up a dog fight in this scenario, once the fighting starts, involves a move called the wheelbarrow technique.
When dogs are in the midst of a brawl, they don’t have the capacity to respond to any outside influences, such as your voice or pulls on the leash. Suppose your dog is growling or behaving aggressively but no fighting has begun. In that case, it’s best to immediately remove it far away from the situation and calm the pup down before things escalate.
If a fight does start, use the wheelbarrow technique to break up the fight. Begin by grabbing the dog’s two hind legs and pulling the dog back toward you, like you would a wheelbarrow. Ideally, each of the fighting dogs has an owner present who can grab its back legs and pull it out of the fight.
After grabbing the dog’s hind legs, pull the canine backward away from the other dog and turn it around. Make the hound stay upright and walking on its two front paws so that it can’t reach around and bite your arms or hands. Use a calm yet commanding tone of voice while speaking to your dog during this maneuver.
Once you have broken up the fight, remove the dog quickly and put as much distance between you and the other dog as possible. Most dog fights don’t last very long, but the damage to one or both dogs can be severe and possibly life-threatening, so it’s crucial to work fast.
What if You are Alone?
If you and your pet run into another dog without its owner close by, you can still apply the wheelbarrow technique to break up a dog fight with some modifications.
Importantly, identify which dog is the aggressor. Often, one dog is the attacker while the other canine is defending itself. Grab the hind legs of the aggressor and pull the dogs apart. The fighting should end as long as you keep the aggressor from attacking again.
You can also wrap a leash around the aggressive dog’s abdomen by looping your leash end through its handle. Think of it like roping a cattle. Use the leash to help pull the dog backward and away. If the dog is not yours, you can detain the hound on the leash until its owner can take control of it.
In either case, know your limits if you choose to intervene, and take care to keep away from the dog’s head and mouth to reduce your risk of injury. If you feel unsafe attempting to break up a fight, get help as quickly as possible since at least one of the dogs could become seriously injured and in need of medical care.
Prevention is the Key
You can keep your precious, furry friend from getting hurt in a dog fight by taking preventative measures from the beginning. Keep an eye out for growling, baring of teeth, flattened ears, exaggerated yawns, anxious panting, fur standing up on your pup’s back, or any other physical or behavioral signs that your furry friend feels threatened anxious, or aggressive.
Keep a close eye on your pup when you visit the dog park, sports fields for a game of fetch or on walks. Some owners like to let their hound off the leash at the local soccer field, and the owner might yell ahead to say, “oh, don’t worry, he’s friendly!” as the dog runs toward your pet. That person doesn’t know your dog, and neither of you knows how both dogs will interact. Always keep a safe distance between your dog and any approaching dogs until you know that they are both calm, don’t feel scared or threatened, and don’t feel an intense need to protect you or their favorite toy.
If you find that your dog seems aggressive toward other dogs often, consider investing in a dog trainer specializing in working with aggression issues so that your dog can enjoy a more safe and peaceful social life. Otherwise, avoid taking your pooch out any place around other animals if you know it has an aggressive personality. If your dog becomes aggressive when watching other dogs walk by its property, make sure that you have secure, protective fencing around your yard to keep your pup from engaging physically with any other pooches.
Dogs won’t start fighting if they have nothing to provoke them. More than likely, dogs that fight displayed some fear or aggressive behavior that went unnoticed and then progressed to a physical altercation.
Less-Effective Ways to Break Up Fights
Angry, fighting dogs will not listen to their humans. Screaming at a dog to stop fighting will reward you with a sore throat but won’t put an end to the battle. Take care never to grab your dog’s collar when trying to stop a dog fight. Your hand is too close to its mouth, and you risk getting bitten. Likewise, getting in the middle of two dogs in an active fight doesn’t make sense either, as the hounds can easily bite you by mistake and then continue to fight. Violence, such as kicking or hitting, won’t work either and can cause harm or injury to all parties involved.
Some owners try pulling on their dog’s leash, but this often fails to end the altercation because the dog is too caught up in the battle even to notice. If both dogs are on leashes, they can become tangled up, which can cause injuries and make it harder to end the battle. If your dog is actively engaged in a fight, it’s best to drop the leash and immediately use the wheelbarrow method to get the dogs apart.
People have tried other techniques, and while some or all of them might deter dogs before they have started fighting, they will not effectively stop a fight once it has begun.
For example, spraying dogs with water from a hose lets you keep a safe distance away but won’t likely be enough of a distraction for pups already engaged in a fight. The same goes for using an airhorn; a can filled with coins, yelling, or other distraction attempts. Pepper spray and taser guns can deter dogs and can end a fight in some cases. However, you must use them at pretty close range to the dog. Pepper spray can blowback in your face, and neither method works as quickly and humanely for the pups as the wheelbarrow method.
If you notice that one dog has bitten down on the other and won’t let go, do not try to separate the dogs, as this could cause serious injury. Most dogs bite and hold, then release, then bite down again. Watch closely and remove your dog when the other dog releases.
What Happens After a Fight?
After breaking up a dog fight, take steps to immediately put some distance between the dogs. Bring your dog to a quiet place and talk to it soothingly to help calm the dog down. If you can remove your pooch to an enclosed area out of sight of the other dog, that works even better. Keep the dogs separated, even if they seem to have calmed down. If the dogs are both in your own home, keep them in separate rooms or crates.
Look over the dog’s body for any signs of injury or bleeding. Even if you don’t spot any injuries, a veterinarian visit could uncover internal or other injuries not visible to the untrained eye.
If a dog needs immediate medical care, be careful about picking it up because a wounded pup in pain may snap at or bite you. Placing a towel over a dog’s head will calm it down and keep you safe while moving the injured pup and getting it to a veterinarian.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Following are quick answers to some of the more common questions relating to dog fights.
1. What is the best way to break up a dog fight?
Approach cautiously and use the wheelbarrow technique. Grab the hind legs and pull the dog back toward you. The dog should stop fighting within a few seconds. Turn the dog around and direct it away from the other dog. Put as much distance as possible between the two dogs. Make sure that the dog is in a quiet, safe place, and check it for any injuries or bleeding that may require veterinarian care.
2. Will dogs kill each other in a fight?
Dogs can get very aggressive and vicious in a dog fight. They most likely do not have an intention to kill their opponent because fighting often happens as a defensive or protective measure. However, fighting dogs can sustain terrible injuries, which could cause death immediately, or a canine victim could succumb to its injuries later.
3. How do you break up a pit bull dog fight?
A Pitbull fight is, in many ways, just like any other dog fight. You would stop pit bulls by using the wheelbarrow technique to separate the dogs. The main difference with pit bulls is the tenacious way they bite down and hold on to another dog. You would never want to pull your dog away while a pit bull has its teeth locked on your dog’s ear, for example.
According to Pitbull Rescue Central, pit bulls don’t have any special jaw that “locks” once they bite down. The only difference between pit bulls and other dogs is their terrier tenacity. Most breeds bite, let go and then bite again. Pitbull’s, on the other hand, bite down and hold on for dear life.
Pitbull Rescue Central recommends a tool called a break stick to help release a Pitbull’s bite. This wooden tool must be used with extreme caution. You would insert it into a Pitbull’s mouth, as far back toward its throat as possible. Then you would twist the stick, using the leverage to open the dog’s mouth and release the other dog. This tool, while useful, works best in the hands of an experienced trainer or professional handler.
If you know how to handle this tool, it’s good to keep it on hand, especially if you have more than one Pitbull or a Pitbull and other dogs. Because most other dogs do not latch on in the same manner as a Pitbull, it’s not appropriate to use this kind of stick on any other dog breeds.
4. How do you stop a dog fight in a household?
Dog fights can occur in a household, usually when there are several dogs that live together as a pack. If a fight breaks out and you are alone, use the wheelbarrow technique as described above. Determine which dog is the aggressor and pull its hind legs back to disengage it from the fight. Immediately get some distance between the two dogs so that they don’t start fighting again. Then calm the dogs down, talk in a soothing manner, and check for any bleeding or injuries.