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Dealing with Dog Fights

If a dog fight were to occur, would you know what to do to keep yourself and the dogs safe?


Experiencing a dog fight, even if your own dog is not involved, can be a very stressful event. Many times when fights occur, you will hear a lot of noises and see extreme agitated behaviors between the dogs, but once the dogs are separated, the only "damage" you will find is a lot of saliva on the dogs and ruffled fur. However, dog fights can also cause serious and even fatal damage, and lead to injury to yourself as well, so knowing what to do is critical.

Paying attention to your surroundings is always important when you're in an area with a lot of dogs, such as an agility trial. While the dogs at a trial should be well socialized with other dogs, situations where a dog may be over-excited can escalate into a fight. Bystanders may also show up with dogs they think are social and find out to their (and your!) dismay that they are not. It's always a good idea to keep your eyes on your dog at all times and step in immediately if you see body language that is concerning and/or increased agitation and reactivity. Regardless of whether your dog was the one displaying aggression or was trying to get away from the attacking dog, move your dog away to a quieter area to calm down, or remove altogether from the scene if necessary.

It's important to remain as calm as possible, as your dog may sense that you are upset which will make him or her even more scared or agitated. Granted, it's difficult to stay calm in these situations, so do your best to take controlled, calm breaths and focus on the steps you need to take to keep everyone safe. Avoid also hitting or kicking the dogs because this can make them even more agitated and cause the dog attacking your dog to clamp down even harder. 

If one or both dogs bite down and hold on each other, it's time to get them separated right away. You may simply be able to distract some dogs out of a fight by banging two steel dog bowls together or use an air horn if you have one (there are actually air horn apps you can get on your smartphone that are just as good as the real thing!) If you have access to a hose or even a cooler or bucket full of water, this may be enough to split some dogs up as well. Throwing a blanket or tarp over them might also work.

If the above steps don't work, you can try to separate them by moving something physically between them, such as a heavy coat or a chair or a folded table - whatever you might have on hand that is sturdy and large enough to move them apart.

Finally if all else fails, then you must split them up yourself. The first thing to remember above all else is do not put your hands in between the dogs to split them up, or grab on their collars or move near their heads. This is a sure way to get bitten, even by your own dogs. When a dog is in a fight, they are in a highly agitated state and can redirect a bite onto you within seconds. If you are by yourself, you can grab the back legs of one of the dogs and move backwards and away, as if you are moving the dog in a "wheelbarrow" formation. You still have a risk of being bitten so continuing to move backwards helps to keep the dog off balance. Hopefully in this situation the dog that is off balance will let go of the other dog and that dog will back away. If you are with other people, then have one person grab one dog's back legs and you can grab the others and then move away from each other, continuously moving backwards until the dogs let go of each other.

Another variation of the wheelbarrow method is to take a leash and loop it under one of the dogs and through the handle and pull so that you basically have a taut leash around their stomach. Then lift their back legs, while holding the leash and move them back to a place you can tie them up, such as tree. Depending on where the dogs are, you may not even need to lift their back legs if you can reach the leash over to something close enough to tie the dog to it. Then go back around and pull the other dog off, either with the leash method or simply "wheelbarrowing" their back legs.

If one of the dogs in the fight is a small dog, the instinct is often to pick the small dog up. This may work, but be very careful as the other dog may continue to lunge and jump at the small dog and you could find yourself bitten on the arm or stomach area. If you lift up the small dog, turn your back away from the other dog and move away as quickly as you can and find a higher area where you can put the small dog to prevent the other dog from getting to him or her.

If you anticipate that a fight might happen at an event, you can bring items with you to split up fights, such as the aforementioned air horn. Another option is citronella spray. Using pepper spray is not recommended as it can be physically painful to the dogs, and if you don't aim it correctly, which is likely in a time of high stress, you can easily end up with pepper spray in your eyes and mouth and affect others in the area as well.  

Once the fight is over, make sure that both dogs are looked over for injuries. Run your hands over your dog, particularly if they have thicker fur, as injuries may not be readily apparent if you are just using your eyes. If there are any injuries, collect contact information from the other person as one of you may be responsible for the other dog's injuries. Using a smartphone to take pictures of injuries can be helpful later on. If you see any injuries you should bring your dog to a vet immediately. Even if all you see are minor cuts and scratches, these can become easily infected if not cleaned and dressed properly, and your veterinary clinic staff can treat your dog and provide you with painkillers and antibiotics if they feel it is necessary.

Remember that dealing with a dog fight can be a traumatic experience for you and the dogs - making sure you know what to do can help you to think quicker if it happens and move to split the fight up and minimize damage as soon as possible.

Photo credit: intimidation via photopin (license)

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