How to Stop a Dog Fight- Behavior Triage Blog Series

March 31, 2022
A medium sized black and white dog stares at the camera with teeth bared and tension lines on the face.

If you want to know how to stop an active dog fight, help has arrived!

A medium sized black and white dog stares at the camera with teeth bared and tension lines on the face.

Today you’ll leave with the knowledge necessary to stop a dog fight that is already in progress whether it’s in your home, on a walk, or at the dog park.

This blog is part of my Dog Fight Behavior Triage Series. You can see the complete list of posts in this series HERE.

Before we can begin we have to get a few things out of the way: 

Affiliate Links: Wise Mind Canine LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This blog contains affiliate links. 

Credit: I learned a lot of the information in this blog in Michael Shikashio CDBC’s Aggression in Dogs Master Course and through the free presentation linked further on in this blog with Trish McMillan M.Sc.,CDBC, CPDT-KA and Michael Shikashio CDBC.

Disclaimer: There is always a risk of injury to dogs or people when stopping a dog fight. Yes, even when you understand techniques that will help you do so more safely. Professionals who work in the world of dog aggression can and do get injured despite this knowledge. Use this information at your own risk and understand that there is no such thing as a 100% safe way to stop a dog fight. 

Using the information in this blog post: 

Please note that everything I’m asking you to do here is for EMERGENCIES where dogs are in an active fight. This is not for growls, snarls, or lunges but
rather a true fight where dogs are making physical contact. If a dog fight isn’t an emergency, but rather a regular occurrence for you then you also really need this blog post from the Dog Fight Behavior Triage Series.

The skills and tools in this blog post are like the airbag in your car. You want to first and foremost create an environment where you never need them but you’ll be glad they are there if shit hits the fan. Remember, you wouldn’t drive your car around knowing the brakes don’t work because the air bag will save you when you crash. So don’t put your dog(s) who fight into a situation where they can fight just because you know how to stop one. Work with a trainer to fix the brakes instead!

Tools and strategies in this lecture can be aversive and scary to dogs!

I am an Accredited Dog Trainer with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. That means that I have a code of ethics to follow when it comes to dog training. That code of ethics includes things like LIMA and the Humane Hierarchy which I will link to but not go into for sake of time. This is one of the only times I will recommend anything aversive.

At this point we you are stopping dogs from inflicting damage on each other that could result in irreparable harm.

If you are experiencing a dog fight and are using these strategies I’m going to assume all else has failed:

Management to prevent the fight from occurring in the first place has failed.

Interrupting the dogs positively has failed.

Trained behaviors that would allow you to call the dogs off have failed.

Alternatively you have determined that the risk of bodily harm is such that there is no time for the above. Safety matters. 

The behavioral fallout of having to use these strategies on a regular basis could escalate the intensity of the aggressive behavior over time. This is why this blog series doesn’t end here and has an emphasis on preventing future fights through management, identifying underlying causes for the behavior, helping dogs recover emotionally and connecting with a dog trainer.

MICHAEL SHIKASHIO’S (CDBC) RULES OF FIGHT CLUB:

Before we talk about what to do, let’s talk about what NOT to do in a dog fight. Making these mistakes can put you and the dogs at risk. This is great information I learned from Michael Shikashio CDBC.

  1. Don’t stick your hands between two fighting dogs!!
  2.  Don’t scream or yell.
    a. This can escalate a fight.
  3. Don’t hit or kick the dogs.
    a. This can escalate a fight
  4. Don’t grab collars.
  5. Don’t pick up small dogs.
    a. If you are holding a dog in your arms you may become a target.
    b. One exception, you can pick up a small dog to put them in a safe and
    unreachable place. Watch this clip, from 14:46 to 16:09
  6. Don’t pry open mouths with your hands.

You want to first implement strategies that do not involve physical contact with the dogs. Any dog fight can turn into a case of a redirected bite to a person. Again, I cannot emphasize enough that even with proper skills you can still be injured in a dog fight. Proceed with caution!

What to use to break up a dog fight?

What you use to break up a dog fight will largely depend on how prepared you are and what environment you are in when you need to stop a dog fight. If you know your dog(s) have a tendency to get involved in dog fights or regularly experience off leash dogs you should build your own dog fight kit. Dog fight kits are also an important safety measure in multi dog households whether you have a had a fight or not.

In general, a dog fight kit should be composed of items from different categories (see list below) in order to maximize the chance that something in the kit will work.

Below you will find a list of items you can use to stop a dog fight and some short instructions regarding their use. The goal of these items is typically to startle dogs out of the fight or to act as a physical barrier between dogs . It’s critical to remember that you have to be able to separate the dogs after using these items so the dogs do not re-engage.

Environmental Options for Breaking up a Dog Fight:

If you don’t have a dog fight kit then you need to look exclusively to your environment for anything that can be useful for using as a barrier to separate dogs or to startle the dogs out of a conflict. This will not be an exhaustive list but can be used as inspiration when thinking about what to use. Always remember that you have to get away to break up the fight.

  • Barriers: If you can get a barrier between dogs you can more easily separate them.
    • Doors
    • Gates
    • Fences
    • Chairs and other furniture
    • Garbage can lids or the can itself
    • Blankets
    • Pillows
    • Jackets
    • Hoodies
    • Benches
    • Playground Equipment
    • Mailboxes
    • Bus Shelters
    • Cars
    • Trees
    • Dog Beds
    • Platform beds
    • Klimbs
    • Cato Boards
  • Leashes: Use an extra leash as a slip leash to dogs from re-engaging in the fight or when using a dog fight interruption method. Don’t try and reach for a collar or harness to leash a dog, you may get bit. Simply put the clasp of the leash through the looped handle and tighten around the dog.
  • Anything that can make a sudden sound.
    • Try a car horn
    • Shaking your keys loudly.
    • Tipping a garbage can over.
    • Banging on metal.
    • Throwing something at the concrete.
    • Cue up something loud and jarring on your smartphone.
    • Bang on a fence.
  • Water or liquid you’re carrying (obviously hot liquid would risk burning dogs)
    • Hoses
    • Buckets
    • Water bottle.
    • Bowl of Water.
    • Kick water out of a puddle.
  • Find the high ground:
    • If you have a little dog and can put them out of harms way by raising them up (not in your arms) do so.
  • Look for anything you can put a dog inside of to protect it from the other dog. Usually only works for small dogs.

Can you think of other examples?

EMERGENCY Fight Kit Materials 

*Disclosure: This list contains Amazon Affiliate links for which I receive a small commission. It does not change the price for you*

  • Slip Lead

    (Minimum of 2 or 1 per dog in the house):

  • Water:

    See what is available to you then splash over the dogs to startle them out of a dog fight. Use a barrier to separate dogs afterward.

    • Spray Bottle
    • Water Bottle
    • Hose
    • Water Dish
    • Bucket etc
  • Spray Deterrents:

    Please read carefully since one of these options may be illegal where you live and comes with complications. Ensure that you are familiar with how to engage the spray and how the spray is dispensed. If the dogs disengage as a result of the spray you must separate them.

    • Pet Safe Spray Shield: https://amzn.to/2UmHF6u
      • This is a citronella based spray and dogs should not require treatment if
        you use it. I have this in my personal kit.
    • Halt: https://amzn.to/37LwXJJ
      • USE CAUTION. This is a pepper spray consequently you will have to check if it is legal in your area. It can require medical care for people and dogs it effects.  However, if you have a history of dog fights that you struggle to break up, with a high degree of damage youmight consider it. Use with extreme caution and keep away from children.
  • Compressed Air Sprays:

In a similar vein to other strategies on this list, the resulting sound and feel of the air can startle dogs out of conflicts.

These create a more powerful sound than the air sprays above.

This item is for dog fights where the dog bites down and does not let go. Teeth can be broken as a result of misuse of a break stick. See the “When Sh*t Hits the Fan: Defensive Handling ofEmergency Scenarios” video for details later in this lecture. This is an important item if your dog(s) has (have) a history of fighting with a grip style, and have not disengaged via other means

Types of Dog Fight: 

Scissor Fight:

  • Noisy
  •  Air snaps
  • Lots of movement
  • Engaging and disengaging
  •  No sustained grip bite

Grip Fight:

  • Quieter
  • At least one dog bites down and HOLDS.

Methods to Stop an Active Dog Fight: 

This is a free webinar from Michael Shikashio CDBC and Trish McMillan M.Sc.,CDBC, CPDT-KA that is available on YouTube. I have very intentionally not written up a lot of the information on how to stop a dog fight here because I really want you to watch this video. It is la long webinar with a lot of valuable information on how to act defensively during dog attacks and fights.

If you only have time for part of the video right now try 1:05:00 to 1:13:04 and check out the rest at a later time.

10 minutes to about 18 minutes has good info for emergency situations where an aggressive dog is approaching you and your dog. Especially relevant for those of you who got here because you and your dog were attacked by a stranger’s dog out in public and want ways to prevent that in the future.

Take me to “When Shit Hits the Fan Defensive Handling For Emergency Scenarios” Video

Here are some questions to guide you through that first section of the video that I noted:

  1. What can be used in the environment to break up a dog fight?
  2. When does she use drag leashes?
  3. How quickly do dog fights need to be broken up? Do you typically have time to get to your fight
    kit?
  4. What are the exceptions where you might not have time to get your kit?
  5. What are some ways to make noise that don’t involve purchasing something special like an air
    horn?
  6. What is your goal once you startle dogs out of a fight using noise or use some other technique
    to temporarily disengage the fight? Where do you hold a dog when using a wheelbarrow technique to stop a dog fight? What kind
    of fight is the technique NOT appropriate for?
  7. In what kind of fight would you use a break stick?
  8. What is the control position? Why do you need it?
  9. What level of technique is the control position? (Hint: This is not something you want to have
    to do yourself unless absolutely necessary. These are experts in this video)
  10. What are the potential consequences of using a break stick?
  11. What are the potential consequences of not using the control position when breaking a grip
    fight?

DOG FIGHT TAKEAWAYS:

  • IF you break up a fight you ARE at risk for a redirected bite. First seek out Emergency
    Fight Kit Items that stop the fight while allowing you to avoid physical contact.
  • Your safest options to end a dog fight are those that don’t require you to touch a dog.
  •  Do not grab a collar in a dog fight!
  •  Be prepared by having a dog fight kit in your home, for your walks, and for the dog park.
  •  The MOST important rule of fight club is DO NOT GET BETWEEN DOGS.
  • Use your strategies and tools, not your hands to break up a fight.
  • Typical fights of equally matched dogs leave you with enough time to run and get your
    fight kit tools and make safe decisions.

     

    • Exceptions can be
      •  Small dog vs Large dog
      • Airway blocked
      • Bloodflow blocked.
  • Don’t pick up a small dog unless you can deliver them to a safe place. Holding a small
    dog makes the dog and yourself vulnerable.
  • If it’s a grip fight, never pull the dogs apart.
  •  Once the fight breaks, separate dogs using barriers as quickly as is safely possible so
    the fight cannot restart.
  • If your dog is starting fights in your home or in public it’s time to get a behavior modification plan (blog post in this series).

Want to learn more? Here are a few other resources on how to stop a dog fight:

Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Dog Fight Resource Page

Separating Fighting Dogs from the San Francisco SPCA

Continue your learning with the rest of Wise Mind Canine’s Dog Fight Behavior Triage Blog Series:

Stopping an active dog fight is great, but how do you stop dog fights in the near future and end the problem for good through training? Check out the rest of the Dog Fight Behavior Triage Blog Series!

Next Post: How to Prevent Dog Fights Using Management

Complete Series list: Dog Fight Behavior Triage Blog Series

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