How to Break Up a Neighborhood Dogfight Safely
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.
3. If the two dogs do engage in a fight, here are some tactics to use if you feel you must break up the dogs:
Even the sweetest dog faces two choices in a fight: stay and battle, or try to flee. The survival instinct kicks in, and you may be surprised by the sudden shift in your dog's demeanor from easygoing to snarling, lunging and biting to protect himself. In a fight, both dogs are moving so quickly that they are biting at anything touching them — including your hands. They are concentrating so much on each other that they can't or won't listen to you. Breaking that concentration can help stop the fight.
- Throw a sweatshirt or jacket on the dogs to distract them.
- Position a backpack, board or any big object in between the two dogs.
- Spray the dogs with water if a garden hose is near.
- Pull the back legs of the dog starting the fight. Use your elbow on his shoulders to pin him. Ideally, if someone else is present, use this "wheelbarrow" maneuver on both dogs at the same time.
- Make a loud noise by stomping your feet, yelling in a deep voice or, if available, banging two metal garbage can lids.
After separating the sparring dogs, move your dog away as quickly as possible, and definitely out of eyesight of the other dog, before inspecting your dog for injuries. This tactic can help diminish the prey drive, because if the dogs can't see each other, they can more easily focus on other things. Even though you may be rattled, speak in a calm, confident tone to keep your dog from being reagitated.
“Most dog-to-dog altercations are using what I describe as spit-and-drool fights with a lot of bravado, but not any real bites,” says Dr. Yin. “But if a big dog bites a small dog, it can be fatal.”
After a fight, do a complete head-to-tail inspection of your dog and be sure to examine inside his mouth for any injuries. Take your dog to your veterinarian if you seen any bites, even minor ones. Dog bites can be easily disguised by fur, involve deep layers of skin and muscle, and become infected. And if you are injured in a dogfight — especially if you are bitten — you should get yourself checked out by a medical professional as well.
Remember, you are always taking a safety risk if you try to breakup a dogfight but smart preparation can help you and your dog.