If you are out often enough with your dog you will at some time either witness a dog fight or your dog will be involved in one. There are varying levels of fights, I am using the term ‘fight’ to describe anything between a squabble and an all-out attack. Even the smallest of fights can be noisy and will set owners hearts racing. Fight behaviour is also close to play behaviour, for this reason it is very important that you learn the difference between playing and fighting.
The best way to stop a dog fight is to prevent it in the first place. There are measures you can put into place that will decrease the likelihood of your dog being in a fight. Become dog savvy, socialise your dog, use learned training skills and desex your dog to ensure you reduce the risks of dog fights.
When dogs interact the signals they send each other is absolutely astounding to witness. If you can become familiar with canine body language not only will unlock your dogs’ secret world, but you will be able to act as an advocate for them. Dog fights do not just happen, there are always signals and once you know what to watch for you will be able to intervene before a fight erupts.
Stiffness in body movement, licking of lips, yawning and repetitive on-going behaviour of any kind are all telltale signs of early anxiety. If these signs are not responded to then more overt signs are used such as growling, teeth-baring and eventually biting. If you notice any of these signs in your dog immediately (but calmly) distract your dog from the other dog, then think about what may have caused the behaviours and learn from it.
The skills you learn from your dog trainer are taught to you for use in real-life situations. Skills such as heeling, sit and focus and recall will help you maintain control over what may be a highly charged situation. These skills are particularly good for when a group of dogs have been playing intensively, wrestling and chasing each other. We know that dogs tend to fight if the play becomes too vigorous. Young dogs, in particular, find it hard to control themselves and often need outside help to settle down.
Allowing your dog to interact with other dogs is best done in large open spaces. At the dog park avoid standing stationary and allowing the dogs to have a free-for-all play session. Restricted areas such as small rooms do not provide dogs with enough space to practice appropriate greetings and interactions. The best interactions start with a slow approach in an arch fashion with dogs sniffing each other’s rear ends.
I am not a big fan of repetitive ball throwing around other dogs as it often creates an environment of high energy, chase, decreased socialisation and possible guarding behaviour. If you must throw the ball for your dog best to do it when there are no other dogs around or throw the ball only occasionally, perhaps as a reward for good behaviour. Use the ball constructively.
Socialisation goes a long way to preventing dog fights. If a dog is socialised (with appropriate dogs) they will know how to communicate effectively and this will decrease the likelihood of a fight occurring. Good socialisation also teaches a dog bite inhibition. When a dog has good control over his bite he is unlikely to cause any damage should a fight break out.
Predicting your dog’s triggers will also prevent them from resorting to fighting behaviour. Think about what makes your dog anxious and do not expose him to these scenarios unless you are working with a dog trainer to decrease your dogs’ reactivity to these events. Avoiding triggers will stop fights but will not be enough to stop your dog feeling anxious should the same situation arise again.
Desexing your dog (male and female) will also help reduce the likelihood of a fight. I have owned two entire male dogs and without a doubt, they are picked on by other dogs. I suspect the testosterone smell must be quite intense and intimidating for other dogs. Many people assume that entire males are aggressive when often it is the desexed dog that instigates the fight. Unless you are extremely dog-savvy save the risk of traumatising your dog from constant bullying by desexing them.
If the worst should happen and your dog is involved in a fight it will most likely be over before you can do anything about it. However, the worst-case scenario is a savage attack (resulting in serious injuries requiring medical attention) often occurs when one, or a number of dogs, set on another dog. These savage attacks can also occur in the home between resident or neighbouring dogs.
The latest school of thought describes the best way to break up a serious dog fight is to have each person pick each of the fighting dogs back legs up off the ground and wheelbarrow backwards behind the dog in a circular fashion to avoid being bitten yourself. Breaking up a fight by way of pulling the dogs apart with their collars will most likely result in human injury.
As dog owners, we all have a responsibility to ensure we take care of our own dogs. Never assume another owner knows your dog the way you do. Take responsibility for preventing dog fights by becoming dog savvy, early training, socialising and desexing your dog.