Dog fights have an extremely high risk of injury, not only to the dogs involved, but also to the people who are caught in the middle trying to break up the fight.
Whether you’re walking your leashed dog and are approached by another dog ready to attack, or you’re at the dog park and your dog and another suddenly end up in a heated scuffle, how you react next can determine the fate and safety of both you and your dog.
Why Dog Fights Happen
Dog fights can break out due to a variety of reasons, but mainly occur due to a dog’s natural canine instincts and built-in desire to maintain hierarchy within a pack, This is why territorial fights around food, toys, and even owners are common, and the risk for a fight is elevated amongst dogs that are not spayed and neutered.
Other times, more physical fights can break out between dogs if a dog that has been a victim of a previous attack and is suffering from severe anxiety, which can turn into aggression and lead to an attack on other dogs (or even humans). Additionally, anxious dogs are more prone to cause fights with unfamiliar dogs given an underlying anxiety or fear that provokes attacks.
Finally, the overall environment is a major contributing factor to whether or not a dog fight is more likely to break out. Places with many dogs together in tight quarters – like dog parks and kennels – are more likely to trigger fights, since “pack mentality” comes into play. When dogs don’t have a hierarchy established, this can lead to aggression as they try to define it amongst the group.
How to Differentiate Between Friendly Play and Fighting
It can sometimes be difficult to decipher the difference between dogs playing and fighting, but their body language can be a good indicator of what’s really going on. Dogs who are wrestling or playing can be quite vocal, usually through loud, exaggerated play growling, and move excitedly with a bit of a bounce in their step, taking turns chasing and interacting with another dog.
Alternatively, dogs in attack mode will exhibit stiffer body language, and will move quickly and efficiently. The victim in the attack will also be trying to get away from the other dog – a sure sign they’re having anything but fun.
How to Prevent a Dog Fight
The best way to stop a dog fight is to prevent it from happening in the first place. If you notice your dog’s body language is off, follow your gut feeling and remove your dog from the situation. This means if you’re at a dog park, put your pup back on their leash and take them away from the dog group. If you’re walking, be sure your dog is leashed and redirect them away from any potential threats.
A well-trained dog can be the difference between a prevented fight and a trip to the emergency vet. By conditioning your dog to respond to your commands under even the worst of circumstances, you can help safely remove them from a threatening confrontation.
Additionally, ensure your dog is spayed or neutered. In male dogs, the hormone testosterone can lead to inter-dog aggression. Once spayed or neutered, these hormones diminish and lessen inter-dog aggression that can lead to fighting.
What to Do if Your Dog Gets in a Fight
Sometimes, certain situations can’t be avoided, and can transform even the most well-behaved dog into a fighter. For example, if an unleashed, aggressive dog approaches you and your leashed dog on a walk, your pup’s natural instincts will kick into “fight or flight” mode.
If you and your dog fall victim to this type of scary situation, start by trying to distract the dogs and divert their attention with loud noises or clapping so you and your dog can safely escape. American Kennel Club even suggests taking off your jacket to throw over the dogs so they can no longer see each other. If a large object is nearby, you can try and use it to separate the dogs, but be sure to keep your hands and face far away from the dog’s mouths to avoid injury to yourself.
As a last resort, you may need to physically intervene to separate the dogs. If there are other people around to help, you can use the “wheelbarrow method” to do this. This is where two people grab onto the back legs of their dogs and physically pull the dogs away from one another, making it impossible to keep fighting.
At the end of the day, it’s important to understand that no amount of socialization or training can override a dog’s true nature to fight and establish dominance. Just like humans, not every dog will get along. Because of this, be sure to stay tuned into your dog’s moods and body language, and be ready to intervene if needed to keep your pet safe from harm.