How to Break Up a Neighborhood Dogfight Safely

Aggressive Dog barking

A dogfight can erupt suddenly. A neighbor may forget to shut the front door completely, and his territorial-minded dog can dash out and charge you and your dog while on a walk. Or a pair of dogs can tangle at your local dog park or when walking by you. Or your own dogs may battle over a chew toy in your living room. And in each scenario, different canine dynamics may be in play.

I don't have to tell you that even being near a dogfight is dangerous. And choosing to intervene puts you right in harm's way. But I also know that most pet owners won't be able to help themselves and will jump into the fray anyway, trying to protect their pet or stop the fight. That's why it's good to have a basic understanding of what's going on in a dogfight and know some steps you can take to try and deal with this dangerous situation.

What's important to know is that your first impulse — grabbing your dog's collar or yelling at the other dog — may not be the right one. I've owned pets for 30-plus years, but last year I became a certified pet first-aid instructor and learned important basics of what to do in these situations. Within days of getting certified, I found myself breaking up not one, but two dogfights. The knowledge I gained from the Pet Tech program enabled me to not panic and to better protect myself. Luckily, my quick intervention also prevented any of the dogs from incurring serious injuries.

Being prepared for how to react is vital in minimizing injuries to the dogs and to you. With the help of Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, a world-renowned veterinary behaviorist from San Francisco, we've pulled together advice on how to deal with an aggressive, unleashed dog when you are walking your dog.

1. Avoid the Conflict Entirely

Aggressive-minded dogs feel the need to defend their territories — which in their minds, may extend past their owners' property lines.

  • Know the dogs in your neighborhood. Walk on the opposite side of the street, and position yourself between your dog and the other dog to create a greater distance between you and the neighbor’s fight-minded dog.
  • When you are out and about with your dog, enjoy the walk but pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t be distracted by talking on your cell phone or by listening to music on your iPod.
  • Look ahead for possible dangers, and change your route if necessary.

2. Try to Deflect or Redirect the Aggressive Dog

  • Bring a bag of treats in small pieces that you can toss away from you for the charging dog as a way to distract him. Try speaking in a happy tone and announce “treats” to try to improve the dog’s mood.
  • If however, the aggressive dog looks like he may start wandering toward you, speak in an “I-mean-business” tone and command the unleashed dog to sit or stay in his yard.
  • If your dog is small, pick him up, stand still and turn your back to the charging dog. Be calm and do your best to keep your dog from yapping in a high-pitched tone.
  • Bring citronella spray or other dog-deterrent spray, but aim carefully.
  • Do not attempt to run away — you will only heighten the dog’s prey drive.
  • Do not scream in a high-pitched tone.
  • Do not attempt to grab the dog by the collar because you risk getting your hand bit.
  • If you have a large dog who is on a leash, give him a command and try to keep him calm. If you sense a fight is about to ensue, drop the leash.

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