How to Help a Dog Recover From a Dog Fight: Behavior Triage Blog Series

March 31, 2022
wooden blocks represent steps. The numbers 1,2, 3 are on the steps in ascending order. An arrow point up the wooden block steps.

Many people don’t know how to help their dog(s) after a dog fight strikes. Let’s change that.

Helping a dog recover from a dog fight begins with meeting your dog’s needs. This advice stands whether the dogs in your household are fighting or you had a dog fight with a stranger’s dog in public and it’s especially important if your dog started the fight in the first place.

Note:

  • This blog contains an affiliate link. I am a participant in the Dogwise Affiliate Program and will receive a portion of your purchase. I have not been paid to recommend specific products. 
  • This blog is the third part of my Behavior Triage Blog Series on Dog Fights. Click Here for the full list of posts in this series.

Today you’ll learn how to help your dog feel safe in the period after a dog fight and how to make a plan that will help your dog recover.

Reducing stress levels and bringing your dog back to their baseline self is a critical foundation for any training that may need to take place later. Dogs who feel better, learn better.

Luckily you don’t have to just sit and wait for it to happen. You can actively help your dog return to the best version of themselves.

Step 1: Create Security to Help Your Dog Recover From a Dog Fight

A yellow traffic sign that says safety first with a blue sky and white clouds behind it.

Your dog needs to feel safe. This is so important to their recovery that I broke this need out separately. Meet this first before thinking about the others.

What that looks like is going to depend greatly on your situation. Below are some general guidelines but the basic idea is to avoid triggers and stressors to help your dog calm down and feel safe.

  1. My dog was attacked by a stranger’s dog in public. 
    1. Temporarily avoid the location where the attack happened if possible.
    2. Provide exercise and enrichment in a location free of other dogs for at least a week.
    3. Allow your dog to heal from any physical wounds and make sure they have proper veterinary treatment.
    4. Support your dog if they show fear of other dogs. Help them move away and get enough distance to calm down.
      1. If fear of other dogs becomes more than a transient issue it’s time to work with a professional to help your dog feel better again.
    5. DO NOT force your dog to interact with other dogs.
  2. My dog attacked a stranger’s dog in public. 
    1. Use the management plan found in the previous blog in this series. Click here to go to “How to Prevent Future Dog Fights Using Management”.
  3. My dog attacked one of my other dogs.
    1. Use the management plan found in the previous blog in this series. Click here to go to “How to Prevent Future Dog Fights Using Management”.

Always remember that dogs experiencing multiple stressors can be more vulnerable to big reactions. Due to this you want to reduce stressors and triggers for other behavior struggles not attached to dog fights. Your dog will recover faster from a BIG stressful event like a dog fight faster if they aren’t also experiencing a pile of smaller stressful events alongside it.

The last thing you need to do here is remember that there are lots of behaviors and body language that lead up to a dog fight. We want to keep those from happening as well in the name of helping your dog feel safe. You can find that information HERE.

Step 2: Meet Dog Needs to Help Your Dog Recover From a Dog Fight

Two German Shepherds Sniff in a Backyard

Meeting your dog’s needs might be the last thing you want to do right now, especially if your dog was the aggressor. You might have a lot of anger or strong emotions toward your dog(s). You might have injuries of your own that you’re contending with. The mental stress alone is enough to level most people. That’s OK. If you need a few days, take them. Use management to keep your dog(s) and the public safe until you’re ready for this step. 

When you feel ready, you can begin learning about your dog’s needs and devise a plan for meeting them. If you want to get nerdy, this is called an enrichment plan. To accomplish this I’m going to teach you the basics of what your dog’s needs are, making a plan, and reevaluating and adjusting that plan.

Think about it this way. Imagine a day where you missed your train for work, got chewed out by your boss, someone at your lunch, and you return home to a burst pipe. You’re not going to be anywhere near your best self. You’re going to be easily angered and frustrated. You might snap at your friends, coworkers or family members. You’re most certainly not going to want to learn anything new. 

This dog fight was that sort of day for your dog. It isn’t the best time to immediately into training and dealing with fears. Your dog needs care and time to decompress and recover. 

Now I want you to think about the things you do to feel better after a REALLY bad day. I know I’m curling up with a book and a cup of tea and making sure I pay special attention to the basics like showering, eating well, sleeping and exercising. Making a plan and helping meet your dog’s needs in the aftermath of a dog fight is the dog equivalent of the self care measures you take to help yourself after a bad day.

While we are talking about self care, be sure you include yourself on the “needs help to recover from a dog fight” list. 

So What Are a Dog’s Needs?

Alright, first things first, you can’t make a plan to meet dog’s needs without understanding what they are. This topic could be an entire series of blog posts on its own and this blog series is already a beast so please uses the resources below to learn more about dog’s needs.

To guide you in learning dog needs I have included my free client handout on the topic:

There are also some wonderful free online resources on the topic of enrichment: and

Finally there’s the book Canine Enrichment for the Real World by Allie Bender and Emily Strong This is a book that I include in all of my MDH 101 Private Training Program Starter Kits:

Make an Enrichment Plan:

Every dog is an individual and needs their own plan. There are no cookie cutter solutions that apply to all dogs! What is enriching for one dog may be miserable for another.

First start from the bottom of Linda Michael’s Hierarchy of Dog Needs and work your way up, prioritizing things in that order. If we fail to meet needs at the bottom of the pyramid everything else we do can fail to make a measurable impact. 

Then think of activities or things you need to do to meet areas where there are needs deficits, bonus points for activities that meet multiple needs at once. If you need ideas for meeting needs fast in a multi dog household you can check out my blog on the topic

Congratulate yourself on where you’re succeeding while you’re at it!

Now you have to plug those activities or tasks into your weekly life. Remember, make a plan you can actually implement and maintain, not the most ideal plan that you will then fail because you don’t have time. You don’t have to change everything all at once.

Help yourself succeed in implementing your plan by settling on specifics: I will provide X activity on A,B,C days of the week at ______ time.

You’re going to need data for the next step. Track the outward expressions of your dog’s stress and any undesirable behaviors. Also track desirable behaviors.

Evaluate the Results of Your Plan:

This is going to take time. Try your plan for a week or more. Then ask yourself:

  1. Am I seeing less body language that indicates stress in my dog? 
  2. Is my dog displaying less undesirable behavior that was triggered by the dog fight?
  3. Am I seeing my dog displaying more desirable behavior?
  4. Is my dog’s body language more relaxed?

You want to see less undesirable behavior and stressed body language in your dog and more desirable behavior and relaxed body language in your dog.

If not, it’s time to adjust the plan.

Even if you did see positive signs, are there opportunities for improvement?

If you’re not sure, make sure you’re documenting and tracking these things in a way that works for you in the next week and reevaluate again. 

Adjust the Plan:

An enrichment plan, meeting needs, isn’t something that is set in stone. Often we start based on the theories of what we think our dog’s need to feel better. Now that you know the results of your plan it’s time to make some changes or add in elements that were too overwhelming to tackle before. Repeat the process of applying, evaluating and adjusting your plan. 

This plan is never set in stone. It can change throughout your dog’s life.

How Long Will it Take My Dog(s) to Recover?

A black mixed breed dog and a GSD puppy playing in a yard

Honestly? I can only tell you how to evaluate your dog’s recovery. Some dogs take a very long time to recover from a big stressor like a dog fight, others rebound in a matter of 48 hours. There are so many factors that go into that that I cannot possibly cover them all here right now.

On average I would say 48 hours-4 weeks depending on your dog and the particulars of the dog fight situation. Use the data from the Evaluate the Results of Your Plan section above. That’s how you gauge your dog’s recovery accurately. Compare those results with your dog’s baseline before the dog fight. 

During this time I don’t try to push forward with encountering strange dogs out in public or actually reintegrating dogs in the same household. 

However I will have clients begin training skills that will be helpful when the time comes. As well as begin to digest the information they need to eventually help their dogs . Whether that involves a plan to help that dog feel safe around strange dogs again, modifying aggression towards other dogs or rebuilding their dogs’ relationships and gaining the skills to manage a multi dog household with confidence.

Stuck or Want Advice?

A German Shepherd lying down in front of pink flowersYou can get help with meeting dog needs, coming up with personalized enrichment plans, and ensuring you create an environment that is conducive to helping a dog recover from a dog fight below:  

Schedule a free consultation .

Schedule an Initial Consultation .

OR (If fights are between dogs in your home.)

Try my Multi Dog Households (MDH) 101 Private Training Programs (Multi Dog Household). You can learn more or register .

Sometimes people are unsure if my MDH 101 Training Programs are for them. For those people you have some options:

  1. Schedule a Free Consult:
  2. Schedule an Initial Consultation ($140): Want to have your problem fully evaluated without immediately committing to a training program? This is for you. If you want an MDH 101 Training Program later you can forgo your behavior evaluation and deduct $140 from your purchase price. Just ask me for the coupon when you’re ready.
  3. Try the DIY version of : Begin learning within the framework I use to reintegrate dogs and if you want to pursue behavior modification with me you can upgrade later just by paying the difference. Email me and I will send you the appropriate link. The lectures and skills in the course can be utilized and taught to individual dogs in an aggression case. I do not recommend that you work past Stage 8 on your own in dog fight cases.

    Ready for the next post in this series? Click Here. You can also sign up below if you would like this information mailed straight to your inbox. 

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