Although dog fights look and sound frightening, most of the time they end with no damage or injuries to either dog. Dogs are capable of seriously injuring each other and they know this.
Photo Credit: insane photoholic
Arguing dogs might growl, bark, snap, nip, show their teeth, or even bite each other. Although there may be a lot of posturing and noise between socialized dogs, there is typically no serious damage aside from a scratch or scrape. Most aggressive behavior is more like a heated argument.
How to Tell If a Dog Fight Is Serious
Normal dog play can seem violent, especially to a new dog parent. When some dogs play, they can often look and sound like they’re trying to hurt each other. Dogs use their mouths to interact, communicate, and explore their world, and a certain amount of growling, snapping and biting is to be expected when they play.
We see the same with kids playing at a sword fight. If your dog is playing with another and you can’t tell if you’re witnessing rough play or an actual battle, watch the dogs’ bodies. Dogs at play won’t look rigid or stiff, they will appear loose and happy. Dogs that are fighting often stop breathing at times after taking half a dozen quick breaths. It can be a signal for bad intentions.
If you are unsure if two dogs are interested in playing roughly and you feel like it looks as though one is picking on the other, try separating them. Take the aggressor by the collar or loop a leash or kennel lead over his neck, and gently lead him away. If you can do this easily, it isn't a fight.
Using obedience can also be helpful if you are unsure if it's a fight or play. If you've taught your dog to reliably come when called and he comes during the altercation, it was most likely play. If this is the case, there is probably no need to separate them.
Another indicator that this is just play is if the other dog follows the two of you after you separate them, trying to engage in play again. If this is the case, the dogs were most likely fine and should be given a chance to play again.
If the overexuberant behavior continues, play can be getting out of hand. If this is the case, simply interrupt play when you think your dogs have become too rowdy or vocal. After you’ve interrupted the play session, you have a number of options. You can use a time out, putting them in separate areas for 5 minutes so that they can cool down, and then let them play again. You can also take them for a leash walk instead of a time out. This helps expend some of their pent-up energy. Both these methods can prevent a fight.
Breaking up a Dog Fight
Despite your best efforts, dogs can get into fights. Luckily, most fights last less than a few seconds, and you can often interrupt them by simply shouting at the dogs. Breaking up a dog fight can be dangerous. Your first step is to not panic. Making noise yourself rarely helps. Remember that most dog fights are noisy but harmless.(Photo Credit: siwiaszczyk )
The first thing to do is call for someone's assistance. DO NOT grab dogs by the collar if they start to fight. Although this is usually your first instinct, it’s a not a safe idea. Dogs might inadvertently bite you because it is a natural reflex. They react to the feeling of being grabbed and bite without any common sense. By having your hands close to the collar you will also be too close to the dogs mouth and may unintentionally become part of the fight.
A better plan is to use an air horn or a sudden, loud sound (drop a metal object) to interrupt a fight. If there are multiple dogs who get into scuffles, keep your air horn in an easily accessible place. Put it in your back pocket before taking the dogs out for a play session.
Use a citronella spray and spray the fighting dogs from four to six feet away. You will need a preloaded aerosol can to get the right spray pressure. Another option is putting something between the fighting dogs as a barrier. This could be a piece of plywood, baby gate, trash can, or fold up chair. It both separates the dogs and blocks their view of each other. If water is available (a handy hose or bucket) try spraying the dogs or dumping the bucket of water on their heads.
If all else fails, you can physically separate the dogs. You and a helper would approach the dogs, and take hold of each of their back legs at the very top, just under the hips, right where the legs connect to the body. Lift up the back end with your hand under the belly so that the back legs come off of the ground (like you’d lift a wheelbarrow).
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Once you have the weight, move backwards away from the other dog and hold on until the dogs let go. At this point you are simply preventing any further damage. By holding a dog off balance in the safest position for you (away from their mouths), it stops the dogs thrashing and they just hold on. Someone else can spray water on them as you are holding.
You hold this position until the dogs tire out and/or let go. This could take three or four minutes. As soon as this happens, take a few steps away, and spin around in a 180-degree turn so that face the dogs away from each other. Maintain the hold and walk them away. Don't drop the back legs because you could lose control and the dogs may start the fight again. It's easy to move them this way because they are very tired at this time.
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 into another room or area so you can keep them apart until they calm down.
Once two dogs have been in fight, it will become more likely that they will fight again. If this the case, you will want to spend time taking them for multiple leash walks together over the next couple of weeks to get rid of any tension between them caused by the fight. This is why the best solution for a dog fight is to prevent it from happening.
Academy for Canine Educators
Dr. Jeff Grognet is a veterinarian, and Mike Annan is a canine obedience instructor and behaviorist. Together they have created the ACE Academy for Canine Educators. They have produced a free course for shelter and rescue (though anyone can benefit from it) as well as a weekly newsletter that educates on canine (and feline) health, obedience, and behavior issues.
This article is an excerpt from the shelter course Dr. Jeff Grognet and Mike Annanwe are teaching at their academy. You can subscribe to the newsletter and webinars at their website.