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How to stop dogs fighting: Should I intervene?

two jack russells fighting

You should never put yourself in harm's way to stop dogs fighting

© Alexandr Jitarev - Shutterstock

Dog fights are extremely scary, and if your pup is ever involved in one, you’ll want to know how to react safely for both you and them. Here’s exactly how. 

By Justine Seraphin

Updated on the

Dog fights are rare, but when they do break out, it can be difficult to stop them. 

In the heat of the moment, dogs target each other and may be oblivious to anything else - which is very dangerous for you if you try to get involved. Here’s exactly how to break up a dog fight without getting hurt.

How to tell if dogs are fighting or playing

Firstly, are you sure your dog is fighting? Often, dogs will play-fight. While there tends to be growling and biting involved, it’s just a game and neither dog is getting hurt. If you see your dog ‘fighting’ with another one, ask yourself these questions before worrying:

  • Are the dogs relaxed and floppy (play) or tense and stiff (fight)?
  • Are the dogs’ mouths hanging open (play) or are their lips tight or snarling (fight)? 
  • Are the dogs bouncing around with big movements (play) or moving fast and efficiently (fight)?
  • Are the dogs play-bowing every once in a while? (play)
  • Are the dogs taking turns being the aggressor; doing the chasing, slamming, and biting (play)? 

How to break up a dog fight by yourself

If you’re sure your dog is involved in a serious dog fight, you may have to break it up. Putting your hands in to grab your dog may be your first reaction, but it’s definitely the worst! In the heat of the moment, your dog won’t know friend from foe and could seriously injure you. Here are some safe ways to separate two fighting dogs:

Wait it out if you can

Your main goal when intervening in a dog fight is to get the dogs as far away from each other as possible. Dog fights don’t tend to last long; sometimes only a few seconds. Wait until the dogs have had their interaction, then call your dog over to you and remove them from the situation as quickly as possible. This is the safest way to break up a dog fight, or to prevent it from becoming too serious. 

Distract the dogs

If the dogs don’t stop by themselves, you’ll have to distract them from each other. A loud noise could do the trick - try shouting out loudly, or grabbing pots and pans and clanging them together. If you have a water bottle or hose nearby, try dousing them with water - the shock of the cold will encourage them to release each other and calm down. You could also throw a jacket, blanket, or tarp over them. This will not only surprise them, but it’ll also impair their vision, thus encouraging them to stop fighting. 

If the dogs are very small, you can try stepping between them to block their view of each other - however, this comes with some risk, so only do it if you’re sure the dogs can’t cause any serious injuries to you.

Use tools to break up the fight

If distractions haven’t worked, you may have to use physical means to separate the two dogs. You can use a metal garbage lid, a chair, a large broom, or if you’re in a park, a long stick. Dogs are very sensitive on their sides - try poking gently at the aggressor dog to see if they’ll release the other dog. If not, you can place these tools between the two dogs to try and block their view from each other and make it harder for them to continue fighting - without getting injured yourself. 

How to break up a dog fight with someone else’s help

Breaking up a dog fight is always safer if you have someone else’s help. Assuming none of the above methods have worked, here’s something else you can try:

The wheelbarrow technique

Each owner grabs their dogs by their back legs and starts to pull away. In this way, you’re separating the dogs while keeping yourself safe. Only release the dogs’ legs once you’re far away enough from the other dog and they can no longer see each other.

How do you get a dog to release a bite?

If the aggressor dog has a tight hold of the other dog (also known as lockjaw), you’re going to have to get them to release the bite before you can separate the dogs safely. If distractions haven’t worked, here’s what you can do.

Grab a long, thick stick and pass it horizontally through the aggressor dog’s mouth. Pull the stick as far as you can toward the back of the dog’s mouth, then push up or down on your end of the stick - this will force the dog to twist and release their grip. You’ll have to act quickly after this, as dogs will quickly go back to fighting if they’re still in each other’s view. 

What to do after a dog fight

As mentioned above, the first thing to do is to make sure the dogs involved are immediately out of each others’ sight and as far away from each other as possible. When dogs have escalated so much, it’s hard for them to stop, so make sure you block their view of each other after they’ve been separated.

Once your dog has been removed safely from the situation, put them in a calm, quiet place and reassure them. Dogs that have just been in a fight can be traumatized - so give them lots of pets and kind words!

Once you’ve helped your dog to calm down, you should immediately take them to the vet. While it may not look like anything’s wrong, you always want to double check with a professional. There could be internal injuries that you can’t see!

As time passes, you might see that your dog continues to be nervous around other dogs or going to the place where they were attacked. If this is the case, don’t hesitate to consult an animal behaviourist to help your dog get past these negative emotions.

How to prevent dog fights

The best method to stop dogs fighting? Prevention! Let’s start at the bottom. 

Socialise your dog properly 

Whether you get your dog as a puppy or an adult, socialisation is very important. Take your dog out to meet other dogs frequently and always reward positive behaviours. Contrary to popular belief, the dog park may not be the best place to socialise a dog, especially if they are socially anxious. Having too many excitable dogs around them could get a negative response out of them, and that’s exactly what you should be avoiding! 

Set them up for success

Don’t put dogs in a situation where they might feel the need to get aggressive with others. Even the sweetest of dogs can display some resource guarding behaviours when it comes to their favourite food, toy, or even person! Don’t take any risks and stay very neutral when your dog is around other dogs. 

It goes without saying that if your dog is uncomfortable around other dogs and/or has a tendency to be aggressive with them, you should avoid canine encounters altogether. Don’t take your dog to highly-visited dog parks, and try to walk them outside of peak times. If your dog is particularly unpredictable, you may want to consider walking them with a muzzle to keep others safe. 

On the other hand, if your dog is super friendly, but you see another dog wearing a muzzle - or even just wearing a lead - call your dog back to you and put them on a lead as well. There could be a good reason why that other dog is attached, and it’s best not to find out the hard way.

Teach them recall

Have a solid recall with your pup! Make sure they come back to you every time - no matter the distractions. That way, once you see your dog (or another dog) starting to feel stressed, you can immediately remove your dog from the situation before it’s too late.

Know the signs of stress

This brings us to our next point: It’s important to recognise the signs of stress in dogs so you can stop a fight before it happens. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Cowering
  • Licking lips
  • Yawning
  • Turning away
  • Flattening the ears
  • Stiffening the body
  • Tucking the tail
  • Whale eye (the whites of the eyes are visible)
  • Piloerection (the hair stiffens down the spine)

If you see any of these signs, immediately try to call your dog to you and remove them from the situation.

Hopefully, it’ll never go beyond this point!

Frequently asked questions

Can you break up a dog fight with pepper spray?

When attempting to break up a dog fight you should never?

What to do if your dogs are fighting?

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