Dog fights are an unsettling and frightening event for any pet owner. The reason dog fights are so scary is because the owner is no longer in control of the situation, and efforts to regain control are dangerous. Intervening in a dog fight can result in serious injury to the person, and possibly exacerbate the injuries received by a pet. Most dog fights are preventable, and avoiding a fight in the first place in the best option.
What Causes Dog Fights?
Understanding common causes for fighting among dogs can help a dog owner prevent these episodes from happening. Keep in mind that regardless of the level of socialization and training, dogs are animals. Although they may be quite tolerant, all animals have a "tipping point".
Common reasons for dog fights include:
- Territorial guarding: Many dogs will stand their ground and defend things that they value. Food bowls, beds, bones, puppies and family members are all perceived as "possessions" by dogs.
- Dominance: Dogs that do not have an established pack hierarchy in place may fight to determine which of them is "top dog". If an owner interferes with negotiations, one dog may continually feel the need to reassert himself.
- Fear aggression: Dogs that have not been properly socialized with other dogs may fight them out of fear, or be attacked for their rude and aggressive behavior.
These are a few of the most common reasons that dogs get into fights. If your dog is prone to getting into fights with other dogs, consult a behaviorist or trainer to help you establish the cause so that you may work on a solution to the problem.
An Ounce of Prevention
In order to reduce the probability of a dog fight, there are measures a person can take to help insure the safety of her pet.
A few safeguards to follow:
- Do not adopt puppies under the age of eight weeks, and preferably wait until they are ten weeks old before you take them away from their mother and littermates. Much of a dog's learning of appropriate social skills happens during this time with his family.
- Get obedience training for your dog. Training should be positive and establish a solid bond of trust between you and your dog. You will want him to listen to you, and he must be trained to do that even when he is distracted.
- Socialize your dog to be calm around people and other dogs. If he is fearful, seek professional help to assist you in getting him past his apprehensions. Fear and aggression walk hand in hand for almost every animal species, humans included. Do not force a fearful dog to be with dogs or people until he can enjoy the experience.
- In situations with new dogs, be sure that there are no bones, food, toys, beds or other valued resources in the area. This allows the dogs to simply get to know one another without having to argue politics right off the bat. If your dog guards your affections, you may need some additional training before he can safely interact with other dogs.
- Learn dog body language and watch for signs of arousal. A stiff body with an erect head and tail wagging slowly in a tight fashion are meant to be warning signs. Other signs include a hard stare, hackles up, leaning forward up on toes, and lips tightening with widening eyes. This is the time to calmly and quietly remove your dog from the situation. Do not wait to see what happens.
What Not to Do
A dog fight is a situation that calls for a cool head. If you panic, you may cost your dog his life. At the very least you may get bitten, and that can be grounds for a dog to be euthanized in accordance with the laws of some communities. Keep calm, and keep everyone safe.
It is not recommended that any human ever get into the middle of a dog fight. Dogs that are fighting have gone to a primal place in their mind and will be unable to recognize you as their loving owner. They believe they are fighting for their life and will behave as such.
- Do not scream and shout: This only escalates an already out-of-control situation.
- Never grab the dogs' collars: Grabbing an animal's neck is viewed as an act of aggression under calm circumstances. You will be treated as an attacker and most likely be bitten if you do this.
- Do not kick the dogs: This can cause you to get bitten. It can also cause a dog to bite down harder if he has a grip on the other dog.
- Don't jerk the leash: If your dog is on a leash, do not yank on the leash or try to pull him away. The time to move away was before the fight. If you pull him in the opposite direction of the other dog, a small puncture could become a serious tear. Drop the lead to allow your dog to defend himself and possibly defuse the fight with his own body language.
If the Fight Does Not Stop On Its Own
There are a few things you can try that may distract the dogs long enough to regain control of them and get them separated. A few suggestions are:
- Spray the dogs with a hose, or dump a large bucket of water on them.
- Set off an air horn, or clang pans together.
- Throw a large blanket over the fighters.
- If there are two people present, you may each grab a dog by the back legs, lift the back feet off the ground, and walk backwards. Make sure that the dogs are not biting into one another when you do this. This is not the safest option, and it should only be used when all else has failed.