Dog fights are terrifying. Know how to respond if they happen.
Perhaps your dog is attacked at the dog park or on a walk by a loose dog. Or, maybe your dog starts a fight with another dog at a play date or training class. How do you (safely) break up the fight?
A quick lesson in dog fights: Dogs don’t want to fight. It’s almost always a last resort, and most fights end on their own quickly. In the instances when the dogs are skirmishing, usually a loud shout—HEY!—or stomping your feet can put a stop to it before it escalates into a full-blown fight. If it does escalate, or if one of the dogs skips that preliminary “back off” stage, here’s how to safely stop a dog fight.
Don’t Reach In
It’s likely your first instinct to reach in and grab your dog’s collar to drag him out of the fray. Don’t. That is the most dangerous method of attempting to break up a fight because one or both of the dogs can easily bite your incoming hand, or one of the dogs can whip around and snap as his aggression is redirected onto you. Avoid your instinct to go for the collar.
Try to Disrupt
Before trying to separate the dogs, attempt to disrupt the fight. It’s unlikely that you’ll be totally prepared for a dog fight, but in case you are, some good things to have on hand include an air horn, a spray deterrent like Direct Stop, or a garden hose. Or, use a board to separate them. But, unless you’re anticipating a fight, it’s unlikely that you’ll have any of these things on hand. In her post on breaking up dog fights, Dr. Sophia Yin suggested several creative distraction techniques, including one trainer who enticed her dog to jump into her car.
Separate the Dogs with a Partner
To separate the fighting dogs, ideally you and another person can tag-team. Circle around the dogs so that each of you is behind one. Simultaneously, you should each grab the hind legs of one of the dogs and lift. This forces the dogs onto the front legs, which causes them to cease fighting. Drag the dogs backwards away from each other. If possible, aim for a solid distance of around 20 feet. Once the dogs have begun to settle, then you can shift one hand to the dog’s collar to attach a leash.
Separate the Dogs Alone
It’s much more difficult and much more dangerous to break up a dog fight alone. Shout for help first, but if no one is around, first find a leash—even if that means letting the fight continue while you locate one. Then, loop the leash under the hind legs and belly of one of the dogs. Stick the clip end through the handle end so that the leash forms a noose around the dog’s waist. Drag the dog away from the other dog until you can find somewhere to secure the leash, like a fence post. Then, if the dogs are still engaged, grab the free dog by his hind legs and drag him backwards until the dogs are separated. Then call the police or animal control for help.
After the fight is broken up, do not let the dogs reengage. It’s ideal to block their vision from seeing each other, too. If it was a minor skirmish, especially among previously-friendly dogs or even loving housemates, keep them leashed up, and after both are totally calm, carefully let them interact again under close supervision.