JoAnna Lou
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Breaking Up Dog Fights
Learn to keep you and your dog safe in case of an emergency.

This past weekend, one of my pups was involved in a bad scuffle with another dog. Luckily those present were able to break up the fight fairly quickly, but it was a scary experience. Despite taking pet first aid classes, I realized that I don’t know what to do when one of my pets is attacked. The weekend’s events inspired me to do some research. 

According to Jacque Lynn Schultz, ASPCA Companion Animal Programs Advisor, making noise or spraying citronella spray can be used as a first resort, although it’s usually not effective when the fight is heated. 

My first instinct was to grab my dog’s collar and use my arm to separate the fight, but doing so can make the situation worse and is a sure ticket to serious injury. 

The safest way to physically break up a fight is for two people to grab the back legs of each dog and lift their rear off the ground like a wheelbarrow. Then they should move backward in an arc away from the other dog. This forces the dogs to sidestep with their front feet to keep their chin from hitting the ground.

If this doesn’t work, Pit Bull Rescue Central suggests that you use a break stick, a tool that is inserted in the back of the dog’s mouth, behind their back teeth. 

My dogs get along with everyone, canine and human, so reading up on dog fights hadn’t previously crossed my mind. But dog trainer Adam Katz says, "the issue isn't whether your dog is or isn't nice, it's how the two dogs' temperaments interrelate." Understanding canine behavior and knowing the warning signs can prevent fights in the first place, no matter how laid back or friendly your own dog may be.

I hope you never need to use this information, but in the event you do, you’ll be more prepared than I was this weekend.

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
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Submitted by Jamie | June 30 2009 |

great article! I heard that in addition to pulling back under the dog's hips, to simultaneously turn your head to the side with your face looking over your shoulder, in case the dog you are pulling turns toward you to lash out. that way they at least won't get you in the face and you can turn your back to them quickly.

Scary situation for sure, so sorry you had to go through that!

Submitted by SaraG | July 1 2009 |

Yes. Thanks for the post. I was at the off-leash park today with a friend and her dog got into it pretty seriously with two others. When she reached for his collar, her dog lunged toward her. He didn't do anything but it surprised me, and I think it shocked her. It's new behavior in a dog she's had for a few years. When I read your post, it made me think. Even for those of us who never think this will apply to us, well, we just never know.

Submitted by Julia Kamysz Lane | July 2 2009 |

Sorry that you had such a scare but glad everybody is okay. As a class instructor and the owner of a reactive dog, I heavily promote being proactive so as to recognize the signs before a scuffle breaks out. There are some excellent books and DVDs about canine communication/body language at www.dogwise.com.

I also direct students to Suzanne Clothier's excellent article, "He Just Wants to Say Hi!" (Go to http://flyingdogpress.com and register to gain access to the articles - well worth it!) So many people allow their dogs to rudely rush up to mine and excuse the behavior by saying, "He's friendly!" Oh really? Well, what about my dog? If she growls to warn the rude dog that he's being, well rude, the other person looks at her like she's the one acting inappropriately.

Thank you for bringing up this topic because it's true, even if you have a dog who gets on well with everyone, there are a lot more variables at work, including the people.

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