How to Prevent Dog Fights Using Management: Behavior Triage Series

March 31, 2022
White cartoon dogs fight on a black background. A red circle with a red line through it has text that reads "Prevent Future Dog Fights".

Today is the day you go beyond reactively responding to dog fights and shift to preventing them from happening in the first place.

White cartoon dogs fight on a black background. A red circle with a red line through it has text that reads "Prevent Future Dog Fights".

Prevent dog fights the dog trainer’s way, using the magic wand we call management! Education on how to stop an active dog fight is important but it’s an incomplete picture of what it takes to actually prevent dog fights in the future.

Today you will learn what management is, how to use it, and why it’s an important part of ending dog fights for good.

This blog is the second in my Dog Fight Behavior Triage blog series that gives you the basic steps to take until you can work with a dog trainer. You can find links to the complete series by clicking HERE.

 

I will cover management from two perspectives today: 

  1. Your dogs who live in the same household are fighting with each other.
  2. Your dog initiated a fight with another dog in public.

If you want to know things you can do in order to be prepared to respond to a strange off leash dog before an attack I suggest these external resources HERE and HERE. and this free webinar “When Shit Hits the Fan Defensive Handling  for Emergency Scenarios”. If your dog was the victim of an attack by a strange dog you may wish to skip this post for a more relevant one in this series on how to help a dog recover from a dog fight. 

What is Management? 

When dog trainers talk about management we are talking about controlling the environment so we can create a scenario where your dog can practice the behavior we want and none of the behavior we don’t. For example, using gates to keep your dog out of the kitchen so they cannot counter surf would qualify as management. As would taking your reactive dog on a walk in a location where they won’t see people. You probably already use management skills

If we reduce or eliminate the availability of the trigger for the behavior we don’t like, that behavior doesn’t happen.

Now if you’re shaking your head thinking, “Well that doesn’t teach the dog how to practice more appropriate behavior in the kitchen or help the dog learn to walk past people calmly!”, you’re right. That’s not the goal of management, that’s the goal of training. Management and training go hand in hand because it’s hard to change behavior when the one you don’t want continues to be practiced.

Dog Fights as the Behavior We DON’T Want: 

A brown and black dog stands with its mouth open and teeth bared. Green grass is in the background.

If you’re reading this blog, I know the behavior you don’t want, and that’s a dog fight. Equally important are all of the behaviors and body language that can come BEFORE a dog fight. We have to prevent these behaviors through management as well!

Many of the items listed below are seen in situations of high energy and arousal and do not always indicate a dog fight is imminent. However, if you have already experienced a dog fight, and see these things in relation to another dog, it’s time to change the environment.

Behaviors: 
  • Panting/Rapid Breathing
  • Humping/Mounting
  • Jumping Up 
  • Destructive Behaviors
  • Vocalization
  • “Hard Mouth” Treat Taking
  • Unresponsive to cues
  • Easily startled
  • Hard Stares at Another Dog
Body Language:
  • Dilated Pupils
    • The black portion of your dog’s eyes looks abnormally large. 
  • Tension Ridges
    • These look like ridges in the face and head that aren’t normally there. The dog is holding themselves so tightly that these ridges of skin appear. 
  • Rapid Movement
    • Pacing, running, lunging etc.
  • Piloerection
    • This is when the hair along your dog’s shoulders and back stands on end. 
  • Ears Forward 
    • Natural ear position varies by breed. Think about YOUR dog’s normal ear set when evaluating if the ears are being held in a forward position. 
  • Spatulate tongue
    • Your dog’s tongue is hanging straight out, not sticking out the side of the mouth. AND: The tongue almost looks like it’s forming a divot or cup. 
  • Tense musculature
    • Imagine a dog who is very still and tense. The muscles and movements aren’t loose or bouncy. Often you’ll find the dog pointed toward the source of their stress like an arrow about to be shot from a bow.
  • Weight Shifts
    • The dog is standing with their weight shifted toward the other dog.

This is not an exhaustive list, if you would like to learn more about canine body language I highly recommend the resources found here.

Using Management to Prevent Dog Fights:

Dogs who fight with dogs outside the home: 

  1. Stop taking your dog to locations with other dogs.
  2. Find locations where your dog can be exercised on leash, without other dogs around.
  3. Find exercise alternatives for dogs who cannot be walked without displaying the behavior above or when you cannot find a safe location to walk them.
  4. Muzzle train your dog for the moments where you cannot control whether dogs are in the environment.
  5. Block your dogs view of other dogs through the windows of your home.
  6. Muffle the sounds of dogs outside your home with background music, a TV, or white noise machine.

Dogs who fight with other dogs in their household: 

This is the main type of client I see here at Wise Mind Canine. I have a thorough plan for management solutions and the training process for reintegrating dogs via my online course Multi Dog Households 101.

You can learn about the barriers I use in intrahousehold dog aggression cases in this sample lecture from my online course MDH 101 Dog-Dog Introductions and relationship building here.

Initial management setups largely depend on whether your dogs can remain relaxed, calm, and safe within visual range of one another.

My Dogs CAN See Each Other: 

Your setup should have:

  1. At least 2 layers of secure barriers between dogs with a bubble of space in between.
  2. Minimum of 5 feet between barriers.
  3. The barriers do not have to block the dogs’ view of each other.
  4. Use additional layers of secure barriers and maximize distance between barriers if:
    1. Your dogs have done damage to each other requiring veterinary care.
    2. You have children in the home of a forgetful member of the family.
  5. A means to take the dogs in and out of the house without them coming into contact.
  6. Separate sleeping arrangements.
My Dogs CAN’T See Each Other:

Your setup should have:

  1. At least 2 layers of secure barriers between dogs with a bubble of space in between.
  2. Maximize distance between barriers.
    1. Especially if the sound of the other dog is also an issue.
  3. At least 1 barrier must be covered or solid (not see through) to block visual of the other dog.
  4. Use additional layers of secure barriers and maximize distance between barriers if:
    1. Your dogs have done damage to each other requiring veterinary care.
    2. You have children in the home of a forgetful member of the family.
  5. A means to take the dogs in and out of the house without them coming into contact.
  6. Separate sleeping arrangements.

Why Do I Need to Use Management to Prevent Dog Fights: 

The top half of a woman's face is in the lower left hand corner. She looks up at the word "Why" with a question mark afterward.

First, the more a behavior is practiced, the harder it is to change. When dog fights become a regular part of your dog(s) life we need to do everything possible to stop the reinforcement of these behaviors.

Second, in cases where dogs are fighting with other dogs, we have have to change their emotional state upon seeing other dogs to help make training possible. In order to do this we have to slowly shift negative feelings to neutral and finally positive feelings. Every time there’s an aggressive outburst, we inch ourselves farther from the ultimate goal.

Third, dog fights come with significant liability whether they are in your home or outside of it. People can and do get injured trying to break up dog fights. The costs of medical bills for dogs and people can quickly add up. Not to mention dog bites to people or stranger’s dogs can put your dog on animal control’s radar and a dangerous dog designation can impact your home insurance.

Fourth, you need time to teach your dog the skills you are going to use to prevent dog fights long term. You need to teach new skills outside the problem scenario so you can create strong behaviors. Then you can work up to using those new behaviors in the presence of other dogs.

Finally, dog fights between dogs in the same household degrade their relationships. Your dogs can reach a point where they cannot live safely together. To avoid this outcome you need to stop dog fights in their tracks until you can work with a trainer. Early intervention can make all the difference! Please see my MDH 101: Dog-Dog Introductions and Relationship Building Training Programs or schedule a free consultation for help.

Continue learning things you can do to help your dog(s) who fight(s) until you can work with a dog training professional in the next post in this Behavior Triage Series HERE.

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