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Do You Know the Best Way to Break Up a Dogfight and Come Out Unscathed?

If you’re a dog lover and see two dogs fighting, your natural response is to want to physically separate them before someone gets hurt. And this is especially true when one or both dogs belong to you.

However, as many, many people who have come before you will attest, it can be very risky business to try to break up a serious dogfight.

Even though they evolved as pack animals and are genetically programmed to get along in social groups, unfortunately, dogs do occasionally fight. When it happens, it can be a harrowing, dangerous situation for both the dueling dogs and their humans.

The first response of many people who encounter a dogfight is to scream at the top of their lungs to try to put a halt to the action. If this doesn’t work - and it usually doesn’t, and can even cause an escalation in the fighting - the next reflexive move is to try to reach between the dogs to rescue the one who’s getting the worst of it.

Attempts to physically separate fighting dogs very often results in serious injury to the human, sometimes inflicted by his or her own dog – which only makes a bad situation worse.

However, it’s not realistic to expect a dog lover to simply stand back and watch a vicious dogfight play out. So what’s a person to do if and when a fight breaks out?

The Spit-and-Drool Match vs. the Serious Dogfight

According to acclaimed dog behaviorist, the late Dr. Sophia Yin, most fights between unfamiliar dogs or first fights between dogs who are housemates are simply “spit and drool matches” even if there’s a lot of noise and fur flying. If either dog goes further, it’s typically a quick bite-and-release.1

The major concern in these situations is to get the dogs separated without being bitten, when means you must avoid grabbing the head or neck area of either animal. According to Dr. Yin, the safest method is to grab the dogs by the rear end and quickly pull them away from each other.

Alternatively, and depending on where you’re standing or how fast the dogs are changing position, you can place your foot on the rib cage of one of the dogs and push him away. This is NOT a kick to the dog - it’s simply using your foot against his side as leverage to push him away.

This approach is much safer than bending over either dog while trying to push them apart with your hands. It also leaves your hands free to get control of the other dog if possible.

If you have dog leashes close by, looping the leash under the back two legs of both dogs and pulling them apart from their back ends can also work.

Other Methods of Breaking Up a Dogfight

Other methods of separating fighting dogs involve distractions, including:

* Placing a board or other object between them

* Spraying the dogs with water

* Banging a noisy object near them; blowing an air horn

* Using an aversive spray like citronella (brand name Direct Stop™)

* Tossing a blanket over one or both dogs

* Quickly inviting one of the dogs to go for a walk or a ride in the car

* Lightly popping one or both dogs on the top of the head with a newspaper or magazine

* Ringing the doorbell or opening a door to the outside (if you have a fenced in backyard)

Dr. Yin stresses that in all cases it’s important to avoid taking any action that may cause the dogs to redirect aggression to you.

It’s also important to remember that no technique for breaking up a dogfight is foolproof, and all involve a certain degree of risk to both the dogs and the humans who try to intervene. It’s up to you to understand the risks, weigh the odds, and decide if the risks outweigh the potential for injury.

Once the dogs are separated, it’s important to pay attention to whether one or both dogs want to keep battling, whether they calm down right away, or try to get away. If one dog clearly wants to keep fighting, he’s in need of intensive positive behavior modification training to prevent fights in the future.

Low-level tussles can progress to more dangerous fights in dogs with undiagnosed or unchecked aggression. Also keep in mind that most dogfights can be prevented by attentive guardians who notice when one dog is tense around another, and take immediate action to separate the dogs.

Signs of Interdog Aggression

Interdog aggression becomes a problem when a dog behaves aggressively with dogs in the same household, or more commonly, with unfamiliar dogs.