Why Dogs Fight and How to Identify Your Dog’s Triggers: Behavior Triage Blog Series

March 31, 2022
A red gas can sits over a black background with flames. A lit match is in contact with the gas can. A cartoon of dogs fighting is over the flames in the upper left hand corner.

Why Dogs Fight? This is probably a burning question swirling its way through your head after experiencing one for yourself.

Why dogs fight is the million dollar question. I know it is for many of my clients reeling from their dog fight experience. Especially when a dog relationship suddenly goes sideways in a dog rendition of Jekyll and Hyde.

Understanding why dogs fight in general, can help you begin to find your dog’s triggers. Knowing your dog’s triggers both helps you manage the problem and helps your dog trainer make a training plan. 

Why Dogs Fight:

Here’s a rundown of some of the most common culprits behind dog fights:

  1. Resource Guarding: If a dog values it, they can fight for it. This includes things like: People, Sleeping Locations, Food, Toys, Water, Chews, Treats, Barriers/Thresholds to the Outdoors etc
  2. Fear: Bet you weren’t expecting that one. Many dogs who initiate fights can actually be fearful of the other dog.
  3. Untreated Medical Issues, Especially Pain: Dogs who hurt have a tendency to lash out and dogs with mental health issues can have lower tolerance for social missteps and can display intense reactions.
  4. Hyperarousal: It’s all fun and games until the teeth come out. Play, excitement, and frustration can sometimes tilt into dog fights.
  5. Unmet Needs: I’m not talking about a single day where you couldn’t walk the dogs, but rather systemic unmet needs that stack over time and create distress and anxiety in the dog.
  6. Poor Social Skills: Dogs can cause conflict by failing to respect the social signals of other dogs. Even the most socially savvy dog can lose their temper if ignored too many times.
  7. Restricted Movement: Conflict is more likely when dogs are in tight spaces or confined to a leash.
  8. Environmental Stressors: Noise sensitivities, reactivity, moving, construction, new family members, new schedules and routines etc
  9. Rushed Introductions: The classic advice on introducing dogs begins and ends with taking a parallel walk in a neutral location. More thorough information than that has been hard to come boy The question of “Now What?” in days 2-400+ hasn’t been answered in a comprehensive manner, until now, with my course . This leaves pet owners with little guidance on how to take a proactive and methodical approach to dog introduction resulting in high risk errors that let aggression develop over time. If you are already experiencing fights between dogs you need Dog Fight Rehab instead.

Gas Cans and Matches:

A red gas can sits over a black background with flames. A lit match is in contact with the gas can. A cartoon of dogs fighting is over the flames in the upper left hand corner.Yesterday you learned about meeting dog needs. Unmet needs, negative interactions between dogs, environmental stressors and medical problems are all gasoline filling up the gas can that primes your dogs to fight.

The moment you see a dog fight isn’t completely about that one moment, it’s just the moment where a match finally lit the gasoline on fire. Boom. You get a dog fight.

While you’re preparing to work with a trainer I want you to think about all of the ways you prevent gasoline being added to your dogs’ gas can. Sometimes this alone takes us halfway to your goals of preventing future dog fights.

Identifying Your Dog’s Triggers

For every dog fight you can remember I want you to write out four things. Keep this in a safe place and bring it to the dog trainer you decide to work with on this issue.

Describe What Happened Immediately Before the Fight?

Now, What Happened During the Fight? (What Observable Behavior Did You See With Your EYES!? )

What Happened Immediately After the Fight? (How did you respond? How did the dogs respond? What did you do with/to the dogs after they fought?)

Bonus: What other Stressors Have Happened to Your Dog(s) Recently? What other behavior struggles does (do) your dog(s) have?

This will speed up your dog trainer’s ability to get to the heart of your problem and come up with a plan that modifies any problematic behavior so that you can say goodbye to dog fights for good. 

You can continue to the next post in my Dog Fight Behavior Triage Blog Series HERE. If you want this information to go straight to your inbox for safe keeping you can join the mailing list below.


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