Dog fights often arise from fearful behavior. But do you know how to stop dog attacks and prevent dog fights? The tragedy of dog fights result in multiple victims–the injured as well as the aggressor. My heart breaks for all involved. In the past year, two of my Facebook friends have tragically suffered dog attacks. This post offers tips for preventing dog fights and how to stop dog attacks. That prevents dog bite injuries to you and your pets, and also protects owners from liability.
This post dedicated to Wynston, Lani, Whitey(RB), and their loving families.
Dog Fights Are (Sadly) Normal
Dogs have teeth. Even friendly dogs squabble occasionally, just as human siblings argue. Well-socialized and trained dogs, though, do a lot of posturing–so it’s loud and noisy but rarely comes to blows (or bites). However, dogs (especially fearful or reactive canines) quickly learn that aggression makes perceived threats go away.
A barking, snarling threat can escalate to attack, especially when the target pet is much smaller, and triggers a prey response. These dogs may target squirrels and critters, or smaller dogs, cats, and other pets. Even cats may aggress toward each other (or dogs). Learn what to do about cat fights here.
In the case of my first Facebook friend, a large dog attacked while she walked two much smaller dogs. One beloved dog died, while the owner and the surviving dog must recover from severe and painful injuries. The second case also involved a large dog attacking a very small one, and thankfully this victim survived after undergoing life-saving surgery to literally put him back together.
Neither of these tragedies had to happen. I offer detailed help in my ComPETability (Dogs) book on managing multi-dog households. But in both of these cases, the victims’ attacks came from stranger dogs unknown to the victims’ owners.
I do not know the details of what happened, only the resulting injuries and death. But in many cases, dog owners of aggressive animals can do more. First-time aggression without any injury offers a wake-up call to be prepared to address the situation. When your dog shows tendencies toward reactiveness, protect your DOG and yourself! Training and prevention can help. Without it, you may be liable financially, and your dog could lose his life. The following information comes from my ComPETability(Dogs) book. I hope it helps and prevents future tragedies.
Muzzle Training Prevents Dog Bites & Dog Attacks
Untrustworthy dogs with a history of biting should be prevented from future altercations by wearing a muzzle. Some dogs calm down once they know teeth can’t be used, but they’ll also lighten up if you relax. Being afraid makes your body pump out cortisol, a kind of steroid that tells the dog you are in a subordinate position. By having the dog wear a muzzle, you relax and feel less worried, and that helps Rex relax, too. The best muzzles allow dogs to pant, drink, and accept treats.
For what it’s worth, our Magical-Dawg wore a muzzle at the veterinarian. He adored other animals, and we could do anything with him, but Magic wasn’t a fan of human strangers. Yes, he gave us a couple of scares. Even though he knew and liked our vet, the muzzle calmed him down, ensured the staff remained safe during treatments, and prevented any liability issues.
To train dogs to accept the muzzle, put treats inside the basket muzzle so the dog goes into it after the treat, willingly. For example, smear the inside of the muzzle with Cheez-Wiz or dog-safe peanut butter. Once he’s wearing the muzzle, feed more high value treats he only gets while wearing this. Doing this twice a day will turn the exercise into a fun game, and then when Rex needs to wear a muzzle, such as for a vet visit or during walks, he can arrive with it already in place. Never leave the dog unsupervised even with the muzzle on. Nothing is foolproof, and it only takes jumping the fence once to open you up to liability should he injure another pet or (doG forbid!) a person. They also make muzzles (below) for the “flat faced” breeds, like this one.
How to Interrupt Dog Aggression
Preventing fights works best. But how do you break up the wrangling when a pitched battle ensues? The technique depends on the size of the dogs. But in almost all cases, if you try to break it up, you’re probably going to get bitten.
Avoid pulling collars, since excited dogs turn and bite whoever grabs the collar. Also avoid yelling, because that can escalate the arousal. In many cases, dogs just put on a noisy show—but it’s no less scary. When you see aggressive posturing or hear warning snarls, don’t wait for the fur to fly. Interrupt the action with these tips.
- In a calm, low-pitch voice say, “no!” or “hey” or “off.” That may be enough for some dogs to stalk away and pretend each has won.
- Offer a pleasant distraction, such as a favorite toy or activity. Use a cheerful voice to invite Rex to play a game “Where’s your ball? find your ball!”, or go for a car ride.
- Put obedience-trained dogs in a long down-stay. The posture keeps them separated and also serves as a canine calming signal that helps diffuse the angst.
How to Stop Dog Attacks
When dogs are already engaged in a pitched battle, and the dogs will do great damage to each other if not stopped, don’t be afraid to use extreme measures to save the dogs. Stop canine wars with one or more of these suggestions.
- Interrupt with a loud startling noise—such as a blast from an air horn. Carry the noisemaker with you during walks, in case you need it. Use one to three short blasts to startle the dogs apart, and then separate them.
- Pet Sprayshield Animal Deterrent Spray, an aerosol citronella formula, interrupts dog-on-dog or dog-on-people attacks. The surprising, powerful, and unusual scent is highly effective for dealing with low to medium level aggression. Unlike pepper spray, it causes the dog no pain, but simply gives owners time to separate dogs or get to a safe place.
- Physically separate small dogs using your body to block access and distract them from each other. Dropping a heavy towel or blanket over the aggressor gives him a tooth target, and you time to separate the dogs. Segregate dogs in different areas of your home using a pet baby gate.
- Set a chair over top of the aggressor to stymie his attack. Take care the victim doesn’t turn the tables and bite him back.
- Soak the combatants with water.
- If that doesn’t work, aiming the water hose at the dogs’ open mouths can make them stop fighting in order to breathe.
- Pull the dogs apart–NOT by the collar. Instead, each person grasps one dog by the back legs or base of the tail and lifts the dogs off the ground in a “wheelbarrow” to separate them.
- Toss one or both dogs in the swimming pool.
- When all else fails, spray the dogs with a fire extinguisher. You’ll need to bathe the dogs later to rinse off the chemicals which can be an irritant.
Your turn. Have you ever had experience with a dog attack? What did you do? Any suggestions I’ve missed? Do tell!
Refer to this post on the tragedy of dogfighting how how to address it.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!