How to Break Up a Dog Fight

by Jennifer Wheeler and Ovidiu Stoica

Dog Fights. We’ve all been there, and we all know the characters involved.

There’s the high-strung lady with a sweet-faced, poorly trained, mid-sized pure-bred who believes her darling can do no wrong. At any sign of a scuffle, high-strung lady’s nerves go into overdrive, and she instantly transforms the scene from dramedy to horror by playing the terrorized victim. She makes a lot of unhelpful noise from the sidelines.

There’s the big dude with the really big unfixed dude-dog who tells everyone to chill out, perches himself in prime viewing position, and in his holier-than-though way announces that everything will work itself out, even when things turn bloody.

And then, of course, there’s the angry one. This is the vigilante who, instead of helping to break up the fight, chases people around with a pitchfork blaming them for the aggression, the mess and the bad weather.

The truth is, dog fights happen, they can be dangerous, and it is the responsibility of every dog owner to know how to properly handle the situation. If your dog is involved in a fight, whether or not he is the aggressor, it is never okay to aggravate the situation by panicking, to sit back and do nothing, or to incite hostility with the other owner by allocating blame instead of acting.

The best way to be prepared for safely handling a dog fight is to be familiar with:
1) things you should never do,
2) the actions available to you for regaining control of the dogs, and
3) the situational variables that will determine what kind of action you need to take.

The Don’ts of Breaking Up a Dog Fight:

Dog trainer Ovidiu provides the following advice on what not to do when breaking up a dog fight:

– Do not panic or scream. Being agitated will only make the situation worse.
– Do not try to separate fighting dogs by putting yourself or your hand between them, or by grabbing the collar. Even if it is your dog who is acting aggressively and you think there is no way she would dare to bite you, you are wrong! While engaged in a fight, dogs will bite whatever is within their reach and placing your hand in the fight zone is extremely dangerous.
– If only one dog is the aggressor, do not act on the dog being attacked. The aggressive dog will continue to attack, but you have immobilized the other dog who can no longer defend himself. This is true especially with respect to picking up the dog in one’s arms. Not only are you immobilizing him, but you are placing your body in the fight zone.
– Do not run and hide. If your dog is involved, it is your responsibility to act.
– Do not focus on the other owner – focus on safely resolving the fight between the dogs before picking a human fight.
– If a dog is holding a bite on your dog, do not try to pull your dog from the other dog’s mouth. You will cause an even greater injury to your dog by tearing his flesh. Act on the aggressor dog to make him release his bite.

The Do’s of Breaking Up a Dog Fight

Ovidiu’s advice on the proper actions to take when breaking up a dog fight:

The actions a person should take to safely prevent or separate a dog fight, are described here in an order that is loosely applicable to ascending levels of aggression.

1) Use your voice and body language to regain control of your dog. This is usually appropriate before a fight actually starts, when the dogs are just posturing and displaying signs of aggression. Make a sudden noise to create a distraction; advance towards the dogs (but not in between them) and act tough in voice and posture; give your dog a warning nudge on his behind; if possible, do something unpleasant like spray water on the dogs.

2) If the dogs have begun fighting, grab the aggressor by his tail and pull up and backwards. When grabbed by their tail, most dogs will also release a bite grip. Continue moving backwards, pulling the dog by its tail so that he cannot turn around and bite you. If you are not the owner of that dog, continue holding the dog by its tail until he has calmed down or the owner arrived to take control of him.

break up a dog fight
3) If the aggressor dog does not release the bite grip when pulled by his tail, grab his back legs and flip him on his back. 95% of the dogs will release a bite grip when flipped on the back. It is very important that this is done correctly so that the action is safe and effective. Firmly grab one back leg with your opposite hand, while positioning the other hand on his croup. With an upwards sweeping motion, swiftly pull the dog’s leg from under him, while pushing on his croup the other way. As soon as the dog is on his back, grab the other leg with your free hand so that you are firmly holding both of the dog’s legs. From this position you can control the dog so that he cannot bite you. Continue to hold and maneuver the dog until he stops putting up a fight, or the owner of the dog arrives to take control of him.

Under normal circumstances, the back leg flip can be scary and unpleasant for a dog. However, when dogs are fighting, they are in a different psychological state, completely consumed by the adrenaline and aggression of the fight. In this situation, the flipping action is not traumatic for the dog; rather, it serves to remove him physically and mentally from the fight.

Applying the Correct Set of Actions to the Specific Situation:

In an “ideal” dog fight situation, both owners will act simultaneously and will know what to do. The owners will use the actions discussed above to gain control of their own dogs.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Usually, only one person takes action to separate the fight, and this person may or may not be the owner of one of the dogs involved.

If one dog is attacking and the other is defending and trying to get away, the person should act on the aggressor dog, using the actions described above.

If both dogs are attacking each other, it is best to try to separate them using non physical methods (described above). If you act alone and phisically immobilize only one dog, the other dog will take advantage of the situation and could potentially hurt his adversary a lot more than if they were left alone, to handle their own dispute. In most dog fights, after a few seconds, one dog will acknowledge he is weaker and try to get away. At this point one dog will become the aggressor and the other will become the victim. If the aggressor doesn’t stop and goes in pursuit of the other dog, the person should take the appropriate actions (described above) to stop him.

In some cases, the victim dog may take advantage of the fact that the aggressor is immobilized and try to bite him. In this situation, if nobody is there to help, the dog being restrained should be released so that he can protect himself.

Dog fights can be very loud and very scary, and it is unfortunate that people often only make the situation worse. You can’t stop Mr. Hysterical or Ms. Crusader but you can learn how to stop a dog fight. Familiarize yourself with these techniques, use a little common sense, and you will be able to keep yourself and your dog safe.

Have you ever had to deal with a situation like this? What worked best for you?