Dog fight!!! What to do when your dog is in a dog fight…

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What should we do when our dog is attacked? What should we do when our dog attacks another dog? How do we safely intervene? How can we fix the situation?

Dear readers, here are some guidelines to consider concerning when dogs fight.

1.Stay calm.

2. Please re-read and actually follow rule number 1!  

If everyone involved were to actually follow my first two rules the world would be a better place for people and our furry companions. I bring up calmness because it would imply that you are operating with a clear mind and not one exploding with fight/flight adrenaline. If you aren’t calm you aren’t in charge. End of story. If you aren’t calm how do you expect to handle conflict resolution? If you aren’t calm whatever actions you take will just usually INTENSIFY the situation.

Example: Imagine if you were stabbed or shot and then as you arrived at the hospital the doctors and nurses were shocked, and yelling, and flipping out; some crying, some severely angered, others simply stunned. Would they be of much help to you? Also keep in mind most fights (dog or human) last a very short time (many just seconds) Panic never helps in any situation.

Keep in mind you were the one who thought it was a good idea to bring a domesticated predator into your home.  A domesticated predator whose mighty ancestors still roam the mountains and plains and hunt, kill, and feast on prey animals up to 2000 pounds!A wolf from the Canyon Pack stalks an ailing bison at Otter Creek in Yellowstone National Park. (©Meg Sommers - click to enlarge)

 

3. Be prepared to take action.  Semper Paratus.

Being prepared is great.  Besides serving as the motto for the Boy Scouts and what Simba’s plotting Uncle Scar gave for advice to his minions of hungry hyenas, being prepared is never a bad thing. Attempt to be as aware as you can of your environment.  Our dogs are usually more aware of the environment than we are.

4. Proceed with caution!

All dogs are very quick (certainly quicker than people). All dogs can see movement better than you or I (due to the ratio of rods to cones in the dog’s eye). All dogs come equipped with a host of amazingly powerful jaws and large pointed teeth (you know, their “canine” choppers). Dogs are famous for their bite force and are used around the world by police, military, and private training companies for just this purpose. No need to elaborate on the mouth and teeth. All dogs have sharp claws. I’ve been bloodied up many times just from an aggressive dog attempting to grab me with their paws/claws!  Almost all dogs have fur that can protect them to a degree.

And the most important part of point number four…they have the inherent nature to survive. They don’t want to get hurt and will often end disagreements quickly if they can.  This means they will fight or flight if necessary.  Dogs are highly intelligent social creatures who will simply disagree with each other sometimes and use fight to do it.  But because dogs are so social it also means they have a fantastically peaceful nature inherently and that in most cases means a disagreement will only last a few seconds.

An exception to this would be dogs that have been conditioned to fight or are constantly pulling on the leash.Leash pulling will always escalate a dog’s energy levels. In protection work we want a taut leash. In calming a dog we do not want any pulling.  Learn to develop a great “heel” command where your dog walks loosely at your side.

 

Now please take a quick look at yourself and see if you have are equipped as well naturally to jump on into the fray and break up a dog fight. Do you have an incredible bite force? Do you have claws and fur? Do you have more rods than cones in your eyes and although you cannot see color as well because of the muted color scheme you can detect the slightest movements and zero in on them? Do you have an inherent nature to avoid confrontation and get along with the pack? Do you see where I’m going with this? Or maybe I should ask… Do you value your fingers? Do you value your hands? Do you value your legs?

5. To yell or not to yell?

If you yell it should only be for a moment and even then it typically won’t really do anything (barring the exception that your dog is somewhat well behaved and is not in too immediate danger/ is already latched onto) and it could just exacerbate the problem with more sound energy!

6. Evaluating the fight…

If your dog is on leash and they are not latched (from biting the other dog) you can pull back. And quickly turn the your dog away.  If they are latched onto each other with a firm bite Do Not pull back as this will only tear the flesh more and cause real damage.

7. Leave in control of yourself and your dog and don’t inadvertently cause a behavioral problem!

If your dog is around a large group of dogs leave the area right away. After exchanging personal info at the scene of course – I would assume this goes without saying!  Unless the wounds are so small that they really won’t need any vet assistance.  I mention leaving because you don’t want more dogs jumping in because of the over-excited energy (see rules one and two!). If it is only your dog and another dog I would NOT suggest you leave the area right away as this can almost instantly cause a behavioral issue in your dog! Your dog could form a new habit and think that it was such a traumatic experience (even if it wasn’t traumatic and most times it is not!)  If it indeed was traumatic -meaning a real fight that lasted more than a couple seconds with real puncture wounds (you know they look like a vampire bit down on your dog and many lacerations) – you should literally pretend for your dog’s sake that it was no big deal.  This is when you need to be strong for your dog and in control of your thoughts and emotions.

Let me explain. Dogs live in the moment and can form habits extremely fast. I believe many animals can form habits faster than humans (we typically form then in 21 – 30 days). If you are presenting weak, ineffective, over-excitable, or any imbalanced energy you will literally be hurting your own dog psychologically. Dogs feed on the energy around them.  And, honestly, if you’re crying, screaming, dancing around ineffectively, you certainly won’t help anyone -least of all your own dog.

All lead dogs in mother nature will be the calm, cool, and collected type.  Dogs will not follow a hysterical, sobbing, out-of-control human even if they’ve had years of the typical “sit, stay, down” et cetera training. Again please see rules 1 and 2. I handle several hundred dogs a year where the owners tell me they used to be fine with other dogs UNTIL they were attacked or they got into a fight with another dog.

8. Develop resilience and a tough skin.

Do your self and your dog a favor and Pretend Everything is Fine and handle the situation like a real dog leader would. Because chances are (and I’ve seen this many times) there is minor or no damages in many cases and the humans are all worked up because their two dogs had a disagreement. This does not mean you cannot honestly disagree with the other human about their dog but this leads into my next point…

9. Be polite to the other human as best you can.

You get more flies with honey than vinegar. This is hard for most people in today’s unnatural, technology-crazed, fast food, instant gratification society. Manners are at an all time low. Be upfront and honest but try not to be rude.

Please imagine two somewhat, normal people and now picture their dogs fight for a few moments and now ask yourself this question…Do you think anyone of the people actually wanted a fight to take place? If their dog was the initiator don’t you think the owner would be concerned about the behavior?

10. Don’t be a victim!

If you are the victim don’t act like it. Acting like a victim has never helped anyone ever in the whole history of the world.  If you are incredibly worked up you have that right but, again, it won’t do you any favors when interacting with the other owner. And what’s more, you may be inadvertently hurting your dog with all the Human Drama. Please check rules 1 and 2 just one more time. Eliminate all Human drama. It is unnecessary and a foolish waste of energy. If you are wasting energy what are you teaching your dog?  Now is the time to Calmly Lead.  Now is the time to show how you handle adversity!

If you have the dog that started the fight – settle your dog down by controlling the eye contact (this means breaking it) and spinning them away if you can safely do so. Some experts suggest grabbing them by the back legs and spinning them in a circle away from the other dog. I say good luck with that. Make sure to go and see the other dog (if the owner is still there and if you can safely do so). Make sure you see if there is damage and what sort. Offer to pay the vet bills as this is customary and the right thing to do. Unless, of course, the owner doesn’t want to see you or talk to you (some clients tell me this has happened to them and the other party just yelled at them and walked off. This usually means there is little to no injury to their dog and they just want to get out of the situation. Let them.) Don’t cause more human drama. However, if you can stay on the scene a bit this can help most dogs settle down and not go right from Fight into Flight.  Remember, we don’t want any new unsocial habits forming.  Just being around (at a safe distance where they cannot get at each other) even with the dog they just had the disagreement with while the owners correct and calm them can shockingly be beneficial and hammer home that sociability is the only way.

11. Prevention.  Prevention.  Prevention.

The best option is to obviously not let your dog get into a fight in the first place.  You can usually prevent dog fighting drama if you develop an excellent relationship with your dog, socialize the heck out of them but make sure you maintain the lead (remember that “heel” I mentioned earlier?).  And in many cases where the dog already has dog aggression you need to continue to get them out and about (cautiously) but the risk is worth the reward if you know what you are doing because deep down dogs are always ready to learn to be social.  That being said, if it happened to you or ever does please learn from the wisdom of the dogs and shake off stress and cares, live in the moment, keep moving forward, forgive and forget, remain in control of your energy and learn to control your dog’s energy!

Learn to read their body language. Do not allow your dog to stare at other dogs!  Do not allow your dog to throw it’s head over other dogs shoulders when meeting or playing.  Be a tension calmer.  Many misunderstandings can be prevented if the dog’s language is fluid and the human owner also understands canine communication. Sadly many, many dogs are aggressive, do pull, lunge, snap on the leash and off and have a horrible dog language and do not know how to get back to a calm, peaceful place! Seek professional help and someone with an excellent reputation for rehabbing aggressive, fearful, or dangerous dogs (remember, while almost all training companies and behaviorists advertise that they handle aggression- the sad truth is that many Mishandle it.

True dog aggression cannot be fixed with treats and “watch me” commands.  It will not be fixed from attending a “Growly Class” (think for a moment how foolish the human concept of a “Growly dog class” is.  Dogs are social creatures who learn from other people and dogs so why would I place my dog into a large group of other dogs with the exact same issue?)  Instead, get your dog extra exercise, structure and discipline, a great “heel”, proper house manners, don’t let him over-touch you or others, and eventually you have to “jump in the pool” and get your dog more social and around other calm “example” dogs.  Whatever the behavioral question is… the only answer is more sociability!

Need help? Give me a call!  I behaviorally rehab fearful and aggressive dogs with great success on a daily basis!

Keep it peaceful,
-Garrett

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6 thoughts on “Dog fight!!! What to do when your dog is in a dog fight…

  1. MB

    What if the dogs fighting are both mine? One is very gentle and sweet the aggressive one is a feisty puppy less than a year old. The young one had a vice grip on my older ones forehead trying to scalp her. 😦

    • Seek professional help. And not from a training company that will attempt to just bribe the dogs with treats. Dog’s will never fight if they are sure who is in charge. It cannot be one of them. So many people I see are so concerned with their own dog’s pack order and who’s in charge and I always have to let them know that NO dog should be in charge. Dogs should be in last place (as far as decision making goes and where they “rank”) just like a human baby in our households. It does not mean we love our babies less it just means they are last when it comes to calling any shots (or claiming anything at all as their own!). Be firm and make your dogs work for any affection, attention, food, everything!

  2. Hansol

    Hi, I’m not sure if you’re still active on this page but it’s worth a shot. Last night, my dog was attacked by another dog. The other dog had its jaw locked on my dog’s head and all my dog could do was yelp in fear and pain continuously. The owner of the other dog didn’t do much while I was trying to get her dog to let go of mine. In the end, the other dog eventually let go of his bite on my dog’s head and my dog sustained injuries (multiple puncture wounds and scratches) all around his right ear and he is now on antibiotics for the next week. Do you have any advice for me on what I could have done to get the other dog to let go of his bite on my dog more quickly?

    • Hello,
      Thanks for commenting and for your question. Sorry for any delays. The blog has taken a backseat while I actively attempt to finish my book on dog behavior and human behavior. But I plan to update the blog soon and keep it active as soon as we get a publisher for the book!
      I’m sorry you and your dog had to go through that experience. It is, tragically, more and more common nowadays! In 2015 alone in the USA it cost more than $570 million dollars (homeowners insurance liability claims) from dog bites and dog related injuries. If you follow our blog you know I hold piss-poor training methods and terrible externally motivated behavior modification techniques to blame! The dog training and behavioral world NEEDS to change and change ideas and methods rapidly or the bites and attacks on both people and on social dogs will continue their upward ascent!
      Advice for you specifically in the instance you described: Avoid the entire scene if possible. It is the same advice you would get from any martial art instructor, police officer, security chief, et cetera… if one can cultivate situational awareness and read the scenes and vibes around them they can usually avoid most trouble. Was this at a dog park? Were they playing together or posturing or did the dog come out of nowhere and go straight into a bite? Either way Step 1 is always Being aware. Bruce Lee was never tense but he was always ready – I love that. Step 2. would be, as my article mentioned, stay calm. It depends on the size of the dogs involved in the fight but I seldom would risk sticking a delicate human hand into the mix of teeth and claw (and ALL human hands are delicate – even the heavy weight boxer wraps his hands and wears gloves to protect the fine bones in the hands). I would definitely venture a foot before a hand if the dogs are large! But whatever action you take let it be based in calm calculation as much as is possible and try for as much efficient timing as you can. I mean if you see a clear opening and you think you are fast enough you may want to take that chance. Either way once dogs are engaged their is a large risk for you sticking your hand or foot into a fight. Almost 5 million people in the USA are bitten by dogs EACH year and 1 in every 5 bites becomes infected! Proceed with caution. I have further advice on how to get another dog to let go a bit more quickly but it is still risky for the person attempting it and somewhat of a liability for us if I put that online.
      Best thing to do now is Let go of the past, keep your dog very social with other dogs, Do NOT COMFORT your dog (this could make your dog become dog aggressive and certainly more fearful and needy) and do your best to move on. Good luck

  3. Kristin

    We had a ssituation today. I took on a challenge by bringing two 8yo siberian huskies retired sled dogs home. Yeah… I know.
    We went to the park toda, after playing with the original 6 dogs a new dog came in and because i was tending to G, i didnt see D get into a fight with dog 7. Of course, i immediately responded leaving G to perk up and go after dog 7, seemingly to protect D and or me. It wasnt pretty. None of us knew what to do. And G broke skin… And wouldnt let go. Im not even sure now how we got him to release.
    I feel terrible about the whole thing, of course, but myself and an almost too generous woman, got us all away calmly and safely.
    Any suggestions for things to do the next few days would be appreciated. These boys are my life and I refuse give up on them.

    • Oh, I am so sorry I’m just seeing this now! Super late in the game – I’m sure. I have been extremely active in attempts to finish my upcoming book Dog Myths (about our dogs and our false human beliefs concerning their language and behaviors) and so I have not been at all active here…but will be again! I hope everything worked out for the better, Kristin. Again sorry for the late response.

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