(The following information is borrowed from the ASPCA’s Virtual Behaviorist webpage.)
Although dogfights look and sound frightening, most of them end with no damage to either party. Because dogs are capable of seriously injuring each other, much of their aggression is ritualized. Arguing dogs might growl fiercely, bark, snap and show their teeth—or even bite each other’s faces or loose neck skin. However, most dogfights, especially those between well-socialized dogs, don’t result in injury. A dogfight is usually the equivalent of a brief, heated argument with a friend or family member. There may be a lot of spit and noise, but actual damage, aside from the odd scratch or scrape, is relatively rare.
Avoid Competition over Food and Valued Objects
If you have multiple dogs in your home, it’s a good policy to feed them in separate rooms or crates. There is no reason to add extra stress around feeding time. Let your dogs eat in peace. It’s also wise to keep track of toys, chewies and other valuable resources. If you suspect that your dogs might fight over something, pick it up when you’re not able to supervise.
Breaking up a Dog Fight
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to monitor their interactions, dogs get into fights. Luckily, most fights last less than a few seconds, and you can often interrupt them by simply shouting at the dogs. If the fight continues, however, you should be prepared to physically separate them.
Breaking up a dogfight can be dangerous. To reduce the likelihood of injury to all parties, follow the guidelines below.
- Have a plan. Decide in advance exactly what you’ll do if a fight happens. If you live with multiple dogs and other people, make sure everyone living in your home knows about the plan.
- Don’t panic. Remember that most dogfights are noisy but harmless. If you stay calm, you’ll be able to separate two fighting dogs more safely and efficiently.
- DO NOT grab your dog by the collar if she starts to fight with another dog. It seems like the natural thing to do, but it’s a bad idea. Your dog might whip around to bite you. This kind of bite, called redirected aggression, is like a reflex. The dog simply reacts to the feeling of being grabbed and bites without thinking. Many pet parents get bitten this way—even when their dogs haven’t shown any signs of aggression in the past. Another reason to avoid grabbing your dog’s collar is that it puts your hands way too close to the action! You might be on the receiving end of a bite that was intended for your dog.
Plan A: Startle the Dogs or Use a Barrier
Before you physically separate two fighting dogs, try these methods:
- A sudden, loud sound will often interrupt a fight. Clap, yell and stomp your feet. If you have two metal bowls, bang them together near the dogs’ heads. You can also purchase a small air horn and keep that handy. Put it in your back pocket before taking your dog somewhere to play with other dogs. If you have multiple dogs that get into scuffles, keep your air horn in an easily accessible place. If a startling noise works to stop a fight, the noise is effective almost immediately. If your noise=making doesn’t stop the fight within about three seconds, try another method.
- If there’s a hose or water bowl handy, you can try spraying the dogs with water or dumping the bowl of water on their heads.
- Try putting something between the fighting dogs. A large, flat, opaque object, like a piece of plywood, is ideal because it both separates the dogs and blocks their view of each other. If such an object isn’t available, you can make do with a baby gate, a trash can or folded lawn chair. Throwing a large blanket over both dogs is another option. The covered dogs may stop fighting if they can no longer see each other.
Plan B: Physically Separate the Dogs
If other methods don’t work or aren’t possible, it’s time for Plan B. If you’re wearing pants and boots or shoes, use your lower body instead of your hands to break up the fight. If they’re covered, your legs and your feet are much more protected than your hands, and your legs are the strongest part of your body.
If you feel that it’s necessary to grab the dogs, use this method:
1. You and a helper or the other dog’s pet parent should approach the dogs together. Try to separate them at the same time.
2. Take hold of your dog’s back legs at the very top, just under her hips, right where her legs connect to her body. (Avoid grabbing her lower legs. If grab a dog’s legs at the knees, her ankles or her paws, you can cause serious injury.)
3. Like you’d lift a wheelbarrow; lift your dog’s back end so that her back legs come off of the ground. Then move backwards, away from the other dog. As soon as you’re a few steps away, do a 180-degree turn, spinning your dog around so that she’s facing the opposite direction and can no longer see other dog.
After the fight stops, immediately separate the dogs. Don’t give them another chance to fight. It’s important to make sure that they can’t see each other. If necessary, take one or both dogs into another room or area. If the dogs are friends and you’ve interrupted a minor squabble, keep them apart until they calm down.
If you have specific concerns regarding your pet’s behavior or are experiencing repeated dog fights in your home, it may be time to seek professional help. Rita Ranch Pet Hospital recommends Dr. Vanya Moreno of Animal Magnetism. She is a PhD level behaviorist who can come into your home to observe your pets and assist you in creating a more peaceful environment. Her phone number is (520) 440-5040 and you can learn more about her practice at her website, www.animalmagnetism.biz