Monday, November 22, 2010

Dog Behavior: Understanding Dog Fights

By Linda Cole

Breaking up a dog fight can be difficult and potentially dangerous. If your canine family includes two or more dogs, they may all get into a fight at one time or another. It's a scary situation, especially if you're alone and there's no time to think about what to do in the heat of the battle. Even a dog who is quiet and docile can turn into a raging bull when pushed too far. Breaking up a dog fight is one of the hardest things you may have to do. It’s a good idea to have a plan in place; even better, learn about the body language of dogs to prevent fights before they begin. Dog behavior that might lead to a fight is clear and easy to see, if you know what to look for.

I share my home with multiple dogs of different breeds, personalities and sizes, and I have had to break up dog fights. Smaller dogs are easier to deal with, but it doesn't matter if the dogs are small or large; any dog fight is dangerous because one or both of the dogs could turn on the person trying to break them up. However, there are warning signs before a fight begins.

Most dog fights can be stopped before it erupts into a full blown battle if you understand what the dog's body language and warning growls are saying. Read this article for more information on a dog's body language. Dogs give warning signals that tell you what their state of mind is. You may think a dog just attacked another dog out of the blue, but if you were paying attention to the dog's behavior, there were signs. Dogs don't hide their feelings, and knowing your dog's personality and breed characteristics can help you understand the signals your dog sends to you and other dogs.

When trying to stop a dog fight, you have to be prepared to do whatever it takes, and do it as safely as you can for yourself and the dogs. Grabbing their back legs and turning the dogs until they let go of each other may work for smaller breeds, but it won't work for all dogs. Turning a garden hose on fighting dogs or spraying a solution of water and vinegar in the face might work; however, no one solution will work for all dogs and you may find that none of the expert advice works for your dogs.

You need to think about how you would break up a dog fight before it happens and how you would control the dogs’ behavior after breaking them up. I’ve written an article with tips on how to break up a dog fight, which you can read here. It's like knowing what to do in a tornado, fire or other emergency in the home. Preparation may not stop a fight, but it will help you stay calmer and be less likely to panic.

Fighting dogs will not listen to you. They only have one thing on their mind and that's fighting. Yelling does no good, and kicking or hitting them will not stop a fight. By interacting with them in an aggressive matter, you risk having one or more of the dogs turn on you. You can use a piece of plywood, a garbage can or a lawn chair to put between the fighting dogs. For some dogs, throwing a heavy blanket or rug over them can stop the fight, but not always. It depends on the size of dog and the intensity of the fight. Keep in mind, when dogs are fighting, they are in a fight to the death, as far as they are concerned. Consider the number of dogs you have, their size and breed and how capable you are in breaking up a dog fight, especially if you're alone.

There are no simple solutions for breaking up dog fights that will work for all dogs, all of the time. Your best defense is to have a good understanding of a dog's body language and pay attention to warning growls. When you know your dogs well, you can look at them and see warning signs. You can see it in their body movements, their eyes, the hair standing up on their back and neck. They will give you plenty of signals that indicate a dog fight is about to happen. By assuming the leadership role with your dogs, you have the ability to stop the fight before it gets out of hand. Taking the time to learn what your dogs are saying with their body language is safer for them and for you.

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. I constantly run into problems because people who have friendly dogs let them off leash. Those dogs than run up to my dog who is on leash and not dog friendly and a fight ensues. Please take your dogs to the dog park if you feel it is necessary to have it off leash.

  2. My dog is only 2.5 years old and even though she is always on a leash in public areas (we have a leash law), she is constantly being attacked by off leash dogs and by dogs on Flexi-leads. She is not an aggressive dog and her response is to try to run away from these aggressive dogs, but she sometimes still gets hurt. I am tired of irresponsible people who claim their dogs are "friendly" or who try to justify that dog-dog aggression is not a problem. We were attacked just 2 days ago by a Rottweiler mix and the dog walker said "lets be clear, this dog is dog-aggressive, but he didn't go after you." As if that makes it somehow acceptable. I agree with the above post. Keep your dog on a real leash (NOT a Flexi-lead) unless you are in a fenced-in off leash area.

  3. My little puppy who is eleven weeks took his first walk in the outside world and a pitbull just came from nowhere and jumped on him! He is now scared to step outside thanks to a careless owner. IF YOU HAVE A ROUGH DOG KEEP IT ON A LEASH FOR THE SAFETY OF OTHER DOGS AND PEOPLE!!

  4. Yesterday I had my dogs at an off leash park. We had been there for 45mins.The dogs had been playing fine with all the dogs there. Another dog owner came in with her two dogs. My little wired fox terrier went to greet them at the gate. The other dogs growled some and then calmed down and all dogs were wagging thier tails. Her dogs went to the side to go potty. As they were doing so many other dogs came running up to her dogs to sniff and greet them. One of these dogs was my boxer. I was at a distance watching and starting to walk over. My boxer and one of her dogs started to have a problem, but calmed down. The owner said she thought it was just because her dog was trying to go potty. I turned to check on my wired fox terrier, and as I did so my boxer and the other dog were in another altercation. By the time I got to the dogs my boxer was on top of the other dog biting it and not releasing it. Unfortunately, I was not close enough to know what happened to cause him to attack if he was the one to attack first. Unfortunately, another dog owner took pictures of my dog as the aggressor. The other dog appeared to be ok. My question is, how do you safely break up a dog fight, especially with other unleashed dogs around. The other owner managed to get them apart, but we were both panicked. Someone told me a breaker bar shoved up the dogs rear end. That just doesn't sound like a good idea to me. Has anyone else ever encountered there dog unexpectly aggressive with another dog?

  5. For the past week my neighbor's dog has been coming into my yard several times. Him and my dog used to be friends along time ago but both have matured ( males) and no longer like each other. My neighbor's dog is completely fence aggressive to my dog biting and growling at the fence. Lastnight i let my dog into his own fenced in backyard and he was attacked by my neighbors pitbull who had gotten into my yard. I have told my neighbors 3 times in the past week about this issue and ask them to please keep their dog home. My dog is much larger than their dog and was not too seriously hurt just a few bites to the leg. I have already told them today that if they can't control their dog I have a 38 that will my question is if their dog comes into my yard and attacksi me my child or my animals am I legally allowed to shoot it?


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