How to Break up a Dog Fight

I witnessed my first dog fight in an agility class. I was 17 years old, and was taking my parent’s obnoxious adolescent Labrador to classes, which I earned through apprentice work with the trainer. One of the other dogs in class disliked my dog’s bouncy, oblivious body language, so she pulled the leash out of her owner’s hands and jumped him as he exited the tunnel. He fought back loudly, and I stood in shock for what seemed like forever (but was really only a few seconds) before the trainer pulled the attacking dog away from my dog by her back legs. There were no injuries other than a tiny scratch on my dog’s flank, but I was horrified.

Since that incident, I’ve broken up my share of dog fights. Between shelter playgroups, loose dogs on neighborhood walks, and a revolving door of foster dogs, I’ve unfortunately had plenty of experience breaking up fights safely and effectively (and even more experience in preventing fights in the first place).

b rosen

Educating yourself about how to safely and effectively end a dog fight is incredibly important. Trying to break up a dog fight without the knowledge of how to do so safely can get you bitten, or could even cause the dogs to redirect and attack you. While most fights will end fairly quickly on their own, more serious fights that are not stopped could end in serious injury or even death to the participants. While rare, I’ve seen a handful of cases in which two unsupervised dogs fought badly with no one around to break them up, resulting in gruesome injuries or the death of one or both dogs.

It’s important to understand that any dog can fight. Dogs don’t have lawyers or letters to the editor, so they solve their problems with ritualized body language that can escalate to using their teeth. Some breeds (such as terriers, who were specifically selected for aggression towards other animals) may be more prone to fighting, but all dogs will fight if they are pushed far enough by another dog. Much like people, each dog’s individual temperament will contribute to their likelihood of getting in fights with others. Some of us are quite patient, with long fuses, while others are more hot-blooded and likely to spark up at the slightest insult. Know your dog, and keep him or her out of situations that could provoke a fight.

In addition to knowing what to do to prevent a fight, it’s helpful to know how your dog is likely to fight. Some dogs will fight by biting and releasing multiple times, while other dogs tend to bite and hang on. If you have a dog who will bite and hold, you’ll want to invest in something called a bite stick, which can be used to open a dog’s mouth enough that he can be pulled off his victim with minimal injury. Learn how to use the bite stick and keep it with you when your dog will be around others.

If you witness a dog fight, the first step is to take a moment to take stock of safety factors. If there are children or other vulnerable people nearby, remove them first. Other dogs who may join in the fight or who could be redirected on should also be removed. You will then need to decide whether you want to try to break up the fight, understanding that attempting to break up a fight could cause one or both of the dogs to bite or attack you. While scary, noisy fights tend to be less intense than silent fights. If one or both dogs is fighting silently, they are likely intent on doing serious damage or are fighting for their lives.

If you decide to break up the fight, it’s helpful to start with interventions that don’t require you to approach or touch the fighting dogs. Try making a loud noise by yelling, smacking the wall, or hitting a metal pan with a spoon – anything noisy will do. We have an air horn in our fight kit at my training center, which is loud and startling enough that it breaks up most fights at least long enough for the dogs to be separated.

If making a loud noise doesn’t work, startling the dogs using water or spray can sometimes stop a fight. Spray Shield is a citronella spray that can safely be used on dogs. If you don’t have any on hand, you can try upending a water bowl over the dogs or using a hose (or the hose attachment from your sink if you’re indoors).

For dogs who need to be physically separated, there are several options. If possible, try inserting something in between the dogs, such as a chair, board, or even a couch cushion. The goal is to physically separate them without putting yourself at risk. If the dogs are near a door, you can push them towards the door using the nearest solid object, then close the door between them.

If you absolutely must physically separate the dogs, keep your hands away from their mouths. Don’t grab for their collars or scruffs. Instead, grab one of the dogs where his back legs meet his torso and lift his back end off the ground, pulling him back away from the other dog. Pull him in a circle, continuing to lift his back end, until he calms down enough to realize what’s going on so that he’s unable to reach you with his mouth.

Once you’ve got the fighting dogs separated, give everyone some time to calm down before checking them over for injuries.

Have you ever had to break up a dog fight? What did you do? Share your stories, tips, tricks, and questions in the comments section below!

230 responses to “How to Break up a Dog Fight

  1. Better than butt fingering! A co2 fire extinguisher is hands down the best tool to break up even the worst fights!! If you work at a shelter I highly recommend getting 1 or 2…. 1. It’s loud 2. It’s cold 3. it cuts off their oxygen and they have to release to breath.. some may even pass out.
    If a dog locks onto a human, grab the collar with 2 hands. twist firmly to put pressure on the throat and lift slowly.. if the dog has no collar, use your hand to put pressure on the throat just above the adams apple. this will cause the gag reflex to engage and the dogs mouth will open.

  2. After reading some of these comments I noticed not a lot was said about avoiding fights all together. First off you have to be confident, calm and in control at all times. I work at a shelter so the dogs are ever changing. I pair new dogs with dogs who respect me so they too will learn who is in control. Here are some things to look out for. 1. Dominant posturing, One dog puts his head over the other dog, usually over the back. One dog puts his paw over the other, or humping. All of these can be normal during play or ritual play but if one dog is unsure of the other a fight can happen…2. Harassing.. the easiest way to tell if one dog is harassing the other is to grab his collar and hold him for a few seconds. If the other dog walks away it means he doesn’t want to be bothered. if the dog returns for more then you can let go of the collar. 3. Jealousy herding, or guarding, If you pet one dog and the other tries to get between or push him out of the way a fight could break out. control the situation by only allowing 1 dog in your space at a time.. guarding, when one dog blocks or postures to keep another dog from approaching you or a toy. Correct the offending dog and own the resources! Use what method of correction you see fit. often at these stages a vocal correction and a forward body language is all you need to do. 4. The calm before the storm.. Very still stare, a sideways glance, (moon eye). When things get really still look out. Any sudden noises or advancement to either dog can spark an all out fight. Best thing is not to yell or panic. if a vocal correction doesn’t work or an air horn doesn’t distract.. you can bet a fight is on. It usually happens in seconds. Once it does advance toward the the more dominant dog. If other dogs are around they will tend to join the attack by attacking the weaker dog. Like the article says you can become the victim as well as anyone or any dog perceived as weaker.. so you’d want to remove them right away or you end up with a shit storm! If you’re alone, loop a leash around the belly/hind end and clip it to a fence or anything you can. the grab the hind legs of the other dog, lift and slowly walk backwards and in a circle. once they release keep going in a circle until the dog is no longer facing the other. When fights happen they happen fast and they can seem like they last an eternity. It’s hard not to just react because their safety is the only thing on your mind. Someone did say he grabs the collar behind the head where the dogs mouth can’t reach, but that won’t stop the other dog from going for the neck and getting your hand… but sometimes you have no choice but to scruff or grab collars. Once I get them apart, if I’m alone, I pin both dogs down. In order to separate them I wait for things to calm and I come down hard on the one who’s still trying to get up and continue. When at least one is calm I can drag the other inside or into a pen. The one who’s given up usually won’t follow.. I feel for you guys who go through this at home. I recommend finding a good trainer with a background in behavior. More than likely there are things you can do or your doing wrong that is causing this behavior. My dogs at home would never even consider fighting with each other and They know this because there is consequence for even thinking about it. I hope this helps some of you and like I said before… co2 fire extinguisher!!

    • Thanks Todd for your info. I was at a dog event waiting with my basenji to run lure course and a dog sitting by mine all of a sudden put his paw on my dogs back and my dog usually not aggressive at all growled a snarky response which makes sense now why he would do that to let the other dog know you are not dominating over me.

  3. I experienced the same thing with my male yorkie, after years together, they started trying to kill each other. Scariest thing I have ever seen, and I did pit bill rescue for years. Ended up giving one away.

  4. Thank you for talking about this topic!! I have my own dogsitting/walking business and that is one of my fears. I have never had to break up a dog fight, but it was good to read some options before physically having to separate the dogs.

  5. Htw629@yahoo.com

    I have a mini Aussie who resource guards- me and his frisbee primarily. When I took him to a dog park he would chase the smaller dogs ( that were in the big dog area) like he wanted to kill them, not just herd them. I have spent lots of money on trainers, he has improved but it is still “in” him. He does not know how to PLAY with others! Can an article be done on that? Can it be taught? We had another dog when he was a puppy, but he has been an only now for 2 of his 3 years. Always looking for tips.

    • Not all dogs are cut out to play with other dogs. I have 2 that can care less about other dogs that would rather just play with me (a good thing). I have another that is very dog reactive (more fear/insecurity based). He is learning thru a LOT of training to tolerate other dogs when doing OB and obey my commands and stay in control of himself. But I would NEVER expect him to be able to be turned loose with a bunch of strange dogs to play. He can play with the girls in may on pack and be out with a couple of dogs owned by my friends only because he grew up with them. Remember in the wild wild canids do not “play” with others outside their own pack or social group.

  6. Todd, thanks for all the advice, In my home we play musical dogs, and it sucks!!!! I have rescued two American Pit-Bulls! Zoe who is 9yrs had her since she was 6 months! Rocco who is 5 now had him since he was 4 months. They hate each other! They have had at least, well at first there were 3 fights early on and broken up and brought back together, The Fights now are more intense and they can not even look at one another through the back door w/out trying to go through it. if he smells her under the door he growls first. He almost killed her at one time! She goes for the legs and bites quickly and he grabs and tears. He has had surgery and she has been stitched up numerous times. I wish I could just get them to accept one another. Zoe tried to show him she was older and the leader she was good with our Black lab who trained her pretty well, the lab would get jealous if he was being petted and she would come up but we could end that well. Rocco and Zoe if no-0nes there one of them will die. This Thanksgiving my sister in law forgot one of the dogs were outside when she was called to come outside as soon as she opened the door Zoe ran out and Rocco be lined right for her, my husband said he went like a rocket after her and went for the neck, I came running out and did everything wrong I screamed grab the collars, Rocco had her ear, I ran up between them, telling Rocco to let go touched Zoe and for a second I thought she was about to bite me but she caught her self, Rocco let go but when the guys pulled them apart Zoes leg extended out and Rocco again lunged and grabbed her foot, I had my fingers in his mouth and trying to pry his mouth open telling the guys dnt pull both the dogs legs were of the ground my brother in law had enough and was punching Rocco in the face after 3 punches he let go neither dog held anything against and of course we babied them and was given antibiotic’s because of all the bits! I love them both sooo much so good with kids and people just awful with each other, I don’t think Rocco can be around any dogs I think he is really scared of them. Just venting!!!!

    • Some dogs don’t get along and I think this is your situation and it sucks. I had it happen as well. You need to find a rescue and rehome one of your dogs. There will always be another fight and it’s not fair to you or your dogs to keep suffering these injuries.

    • voodoorottweilers@yahoo.com

      I go through the same thing. I have 5 rottweilers. 2 are brothers. Born on the same time. I have the mother too. The brothers hate each other so much, I also have to keep them separated. I have a 19 yr old son that stays home to take care of them. Rotating them all day. We have had 3 major fights so far. They are 4 yrs old. Like you, they can’t even look through the windows without trying to go through it to kill each other. One time I did use my hand to try to break up the biting. (my favorite one too) I need 6 stitches on my middle figure. This was one yr ago. I find that picking up the hind legs and rotating does help. But we managed to get one inside the house and the other was outside. (Biting and holding on to each other to kill) I used the door to break the bite. It took my husband, 19 and 23 yr old sons and myself to break them up. I is not easy to do this. Now we always check to see if one is in the utility room before any doors are open. I really can’t give any of them up. I am scared someone won’t understand them, being such powerful animals. One other time my male attacked my one of my females. It cost $2000 to get stiches in her ears + antibiotics. I know I have too many but, I love them all. They are all over 4 yrs old. Lesson learned ” always check to see if any dog is outside before opening it!

      • I have the same issue as you. 2 male rottweilers (half brothers) and 2 females. The boys will fight to kill. I have had 3-4 major fights. These are “silent” fights. In other words they are SERIOUS!! I have been bitten twice, the last time they bit thru my hand. The last fight luckily I didn’t get bit but one of them had the tip of one ear torn off. I have always been by myself and had to break them up alone. The grab the back legs method works great when you have another person to help you. The best that I can do is work one of them into a room and shut the door on their heads until they let go of each other and then I can shut the door between them. The fights always occur when I let my guard down or get off my routine. last one was at 3am and I was half asleep. I have to rotate the boys and always try to stop and think to make sure one is secured in a crate or outside before I let the other out. It is a way of life. All dogs in my house are competition/show dogs with high drive. Luckily the girls get along with everyone. I just neutered one of the boys but I doubt if that will make them like each other again. I will just manage the situation.

      • We have been lucky enough to have 3 people in the house when the fights break out. one of my males turn on one of my females and rip your ear. $2500. I got him neutered 4months ago. He still had power issues when 3 are outside, and a dog passes by. I know a fight will break out. At night one male and one female stays in my utility room, to kept each other company. Lol I even cut the door 3/4 so they can see me when we are in the kitchen. But if the boys see each other the will growl & move away from the door. EVERY TIME ONE GOES OUTSIDE WE CHECK THAT ROOM. Knock on wood we haven’t had any recent fights. Oh, & one I tried to break up last January cost me 7 stitches in my middle finger. OUCH! is all I can say!

      • I’m glad to know I’m not the only one to just give up on my babies.

      • Daniel Gutierrez

        Petchiro, could i have your email or point of contact? I have found myself in the same situation with my two bull terriers. By myself trying to stop them from killing each other knowing the damage they are going to do to each other when i finally separate them. I cant imagine two rotty’s 3-4 times the size. I wanted to bounce some ideas about my problem or pick your brain if possible?

      • Yes, my e-mail is isis15@comcast.net.

  7. have a very timid dog that I rescued with his brother, unfortunatedly I lost the dominant brother to an internal problem…. (thats a whole other story) they got along well and loved each other, but the timid relied on the other for protection, guidance etc. when I lost him, I knew I had to get another companion for the timid one so I rescued a bull dog/pit mix that got along with other dogs. The first night I had the new one, I was feeding and the timid walked towards the new one and the new one chased him out of the room and had him pinned down by his neck. the timid one was doing nothing to defend himself just crying loudly ……I grabbed the new one by the back of the collar, pulled his front legs off the ground and smacked him twice on the rump…………used a deep voice and was saying NO…………he never turned on me and sat in front of me until I told him he could move. No skin was broken, thank goodness, but never again have I fed them in the same room……they get treats sitting beside each other, but there is never any food left out for them and they are fed twice a day in different areas. The best thing about all of this is the bull/pittie will NOT go to a pan of food nor eat it, until I tell him he can. He is one of the smartest dogs I have ever had……….he is getting the timid one out of his shell and they are the best buds, the new one is the dominant one.between the dogs……However, I am the leader and they know it…every situation is different and you have to do what you think is best at the time……I didn’t think twice about grabbing the new dog because I thought he was killing my timid one. He never even acted like he wanted to bite me…………..I have had him for about 6 months now and the other about 1 and 1/2 yrs. they sleep together, play together and love me at the same time………….no jealously shown for my affection as they both know they are loved and cared for…………I guess if a woman of 65 can do this, anyone can……the important thing is to keep both from getting hurt and yourself safe. If you dogs realize that you are th ALPHA, then when you speak, they will listen. I have 7 dogs, five are small breeds and then the two larger breeds. I love each and every one of them and they know it, but they also know that I am the leader …

  8. our lab and australian shepherd grew up together and adored each other. unfortunately, i did not realize they would get crotchety as they aged, just like people. one night i gave them a plate to lick (as i had a thousand times) and it started a horrible fight. one of the most terrifying things ever. we threw a huge cup of water on them and they stopped long enough for us to drag one outside. they were both fine but we were freaked! we never let them share anything again. moral– never think it cant happen with nice dogs and dont put them in that situation.

  9. Cattle Prod’s Work Wonder’s !!!!

  10. Our two female dogs ages 10 and 8 have gotten along great since the 8 year old joined our pack 4 years ago. We were fostering a 7 year old male dog at the time. Unfortunately there was a fight over an empty food dish following dinner. The younger female decided not to allow her older sis to lick the bowl as she had done for the last four years. The two clamped onto to each others neck, and it took both my husband and I to separate the two 40 Lb. dogs by grabbing their collars. We did remove the foster dog from the room. It has been a year since that happend, we have since adopted the foster dog, and have had no more fights! Food bowls are picked up just as they finish eating!

  11. The article actually described the exact situation I witnessed in an agility class. We were in week 7 or 8 of a 10 week class and there had never been any issues. My dog, a cocker spaniel, came out of the tunnel and we were on our way to the next obstacle when the Stratford terrier behind us went thru the tunnel and then made a beeline for my dog, attacking him from behind. In the seconds that followed, I panicked and used the leash to try to pull my dog away – to get between him and the terrier. Meanwhile, my dog was trying to turn to fight back – so basically I was pulling my dog by the neck, while the other dog was attacking him. I felt horrible when I realized what I had been doing. In any case, this lasted only a few seconds (felt like forever) before the trainer pulled the terrier off and pinned him to the ground. Luckily my dog was not injured – but it was the scariest thing I’d every witnessed with my dog. To this day I don’t know what sparked the attack-but apparently the three of us (me, the other owner, and the trainer) missed some signs along the way. This article was very informative, as were the comments by Todd … thank you!

  12. Reblogged this on FlowHound and commented:
    Great and an informative write up on how to break up a dog fight.
    Main thing is to gauge the situation and have a calm approach to the fight.
    As a dog owner, I also believe it is an owners job to learn their dog’s behavior and body language.
    I have prevented many fights by just being able to read my dog’s signs and avoiding bad situations.
    In many cases, a dog park or a dog play date is not the best thing for a dog.
    Even if you know how to control and tea your dog, others at the park might not and that will lead to fights. This avoid dog parks with people you don’t know and with owners who panic at the first sign of rough play. Excreted and frantic owners will cause dog fights faster then aggressive dogs.
    I would also like to add to the technique described. As you pick up the sego by hind legs, start moving back and in circle. Of you are the only one who is breaking the fight, than move one dog back and use a leash to toe it’s hind legs to something stable (fence or a pole). Then repeat the process with the second dog by lifting it’s hind les and moving back until dogs separate.

  13. If you do not have access to a bite stick and the dog that is locked on will not let go or escalates when you try to pull them apart, pour a wide mouthed water bottle or hose directly into its muzzle. You may have to go for the nose so his only option is to let go to breathe. Some terrier people have been known to throw the fighting dogs in a pool or filled tub in cases where both dogs are locked. This is most often used for bitch fights. Females are much more serious about killing each other. It is much better to avoid fights but sometimes things happen. Had a Welsh terrier attack one of my border terriers at an earthdog trial and I thought that I had walked out of that dog’s leash range right before it happened. Thankfully I got my boy away before they fully engaged, but the other dog redirected and nailed his owner in the thigh. My dog got off with a scraped face as he had whirled around when the other dog lunged and calmed down in seconds.

  14. Humorous contribution: I do Pomeranian rescue, and on one occasion I had broken my wrist and was sitting in my recliner eating potato chips and feeling really sorry for myself. Two male fosters got into a fight directly beside my chair. (Pom fights consist largely of the dogs standing on their hind legs, boxing, and calling each others mothers dirty names.) I did the only thing possible under the circumstances–I held the potato bag tightly closed and hit those dogs with it. Talk about noisy! They broke apart and looked at me with the most amazed expressions, but they never fought again.

  15. I have 3 dogs…a German mix female – Gretchen and 2 chihuahua mixes…1 boy – Rocco and 1 girl – Lucy…Lucy has terrier in her and about 2x a year she and Gretchen get into it…generally bcz they weren’t paying attention and one stepped on the other etc…terrified us at first bcz Gretchen would grab Lucy by the throat. To break them up, I yell as loud as I can “Hey, Hey, Hey” and clap my hands. This generally get’s their attention to make them pause and stop (the water spray bottle is great too). With Gretchen, you can tell it’s instinct – she was an alley stray before she lived with us – once she is distracted she realizes what she is doing and stops. However, Lucy, with the terrier in her, continues and I can easily pick her up and separate her and give them a few minutes apart. Once they are back together, Lucy is generally still wary, but Gretchen is remorseful and after a few minutes will lick Lucy’s face to clearly apologize and clear the air. On a humorous note, the last time this happened, I was in the shower and heard them fighting on our bed bcz one had jumped up too close to the other….so I go running buck naked and wet straight out of the shower and into the bedroom yelling Hey at the top of my lungs and I think that craziness was enough to stop them immediately.

  16. Yes I have had to break up our two females. They weren’t going to stop I had to pull them apart. Grabbing the tails worked pretty good because yelling didn’t do a thing. Spray bottle with water also has curbed them from barking. As well as the border colle from biting the ears of my bigger dog. Collie is the aggressor.

  17. I have a male pittie mix who once upon a time took exception to a boxer we had. Every time he could get to Rex, he went after him and held on for dear life. I had read about sticks, but didnt yet have one. I was mostly successful at keeping the dogs in separate yards or one in the kennel and one in the yard but they did get together several times. Out of desperation, I grabbed the crevasse tool from the vacuum cleaner and used it as a bite stick. It worked. I finally found Rex a new home, and Bear has been fine ever since, although I dont dare bring another male dog into the house for fear that Bear will fall into old habits.

  18. I have had to break up 4 dog fights and unfortunately the only thing that has worked for me is completely walking away. I tried water, furniture between them and grabbing by the back legs like suggested. It’s heart breaking and horrific for everyone involved. Educating others with a post such as this is a great way!

  19. It upsets me that it’s stated that some dogs (such as Terriers) are more aggressive than other dogs. That simply is not true. People mistake aggression with strength and tenacity. I’ve seen Chihuahuas with more aggression.
    ANY dog taught to fight, will fight, regardless of breed. Whether they have the strength and tenacity to hold their own is a whole other story.
    Please stop perpetuating the myth that there are breeds of dogs that are more or less aggressive than others. It only hurts the dogs in the long run.

    • I agree whole heartedly with the your comments. I have 2 pits and they are the least bit aggressive. It is how you handle them as well as behavior you tolerate and instill in them. There are way more aggressive and mean dogs out there than terriers.

    • Saying that there aren’t breed-related traits is ignorant. If breeding for desired traits didn’t work, we wouldn’t have all of the specialized breeds that we do today. Some dogs are bred for their prey drive just like some are bred for tracking or retrieving or guarding or herding. For instance, Dachshunds, bred for badger hunting, are also shown to be statistically more aggressive to strangers and other dogs (http://www.understand-a-bull.com/Articles/Breed%20Differences%20in%20canine%20aggression.pdf).

      That said, saying that a breed (or group of breeds) carries a particular trait does not mean that individuals within that breed or group will necessarily display that trait. Not all dachshunds are aggressive to strangers and other dogs. Not all border collies are suited to herding sheep. Not all Labradors like to swim or fetch. Knowing the traits that your dog is likely to exhibit gives you an advantage in training because you’ll know what to look for and where to focus your efforts. If you have a herder, you’ll want to keep an eye out for nipping behaviors so you can prevent it before it becomes an ingrained behavior. If you have a breed that was developed for guarding or hunting, you’ll want to take extra care with early socialization. The genes may give a breed a propensity toward exhibiting a set of behaviors, but their environment has a huge influence on how those traits develop, or sometimes if they develop at all. As an example, genetics give us a range into which a dog may fall. Experience pinpoints where in that range they are. An Australian Shepherd puppy from two exceptional working parents may have the genetic capacity to be somewhere from a mediocre to an exceptional working dog, but the extent and quality of training they get in life determines exactly where on that scale they will fall. That puppy, trained to herd from an early age, may end up toward the exceptional end of the scale, while a puppy not trained to herd would only be mediocre, and a dog of a non-herding breed who had excellent training might be better with sheep than the untrained herder. Likewise, a pit bull may have a genetically determined range of potential aggression, but if they are socialized well and any tendency toward aggression is handled early, they will end up at the low end of their genetic potential.

      ALL dogs can fight. Some individual dogs will not adhere to their expected breed dispositions. But knowing that your dog may have a genetic predisposition toward a certain behavior can only help you in understanding and working with your dog, whereas denying that stereotypes have even the slightest basis in reality doesn’t help change public opinion.

  20. Grabbed the dog by the trachea (front of the throat) — this forces a gag reaction and the dog releases. Another time, lifted and twisted the collar from behind, again, to cause a gag reaction — dog released its bite. I find throwing water on them, as described in the article, to be another effective option.

  21. Air horn (small one), Canned air like you would clean your keyboard with…..avoid the eyes. Worse possible pepper spray on hand. The pepper spray beats the vet bill or death of a dog. Best just to do your best to judge which dogs get along……..but I’ve seen buddies get a long for years and BINGO decide to fight one day. :-( Go guess that one?

  22. I went up behind the dog that initiated the conflict and I grabbed at his back haunches and tugged back and upwards a bit and when he looked at me I mustered as much bass as I could in my voice and issued a command I was sure he knew (sit) and he did and put his tail between his legs and actually peed a little. The owner was a little mad at me that I ‘traumatized” and scared her dog but I didn’t physically hurt her dog and I kept it from escalating so I didn’t care. Everybody else was just sitting there stunned but I jumped right up and stopped it. Idk if that would have worked if I had waitied even a few seconds. I just figured I’d take advantage of a deep voice and the fact that even halfway decently trained dogs will at least know the sit command.

  23. Marlene – February 10, 2014
    I have three Welsh terrier brothers that will be 2 next month. They’ve been in small skirmishes before, but when I was out of town last week, my daughter had a terrible incident with them. The least powerful of the three was attacked by the other two while they were running and playing in the snowy back yard – who knows why it started. She got them apart and there was a lot of blood on the weakest one – she went straight to the vet – torn ear, cut under eye, gash on left side of face – no stitches tho’. So, now we have the one that was attacked on an antibiotic along with another pill he has to have for splitting nails (long story). All three are getting fish oil gummies, L-Theonine (?) and another vitamin – all of this recommended by the vet. I’m going to get an air horn and bite stick. I’ll also use the grabbing of the back legs – I’ll try anything to stop this aggressiveness. We stopped taking them to the dog park last year because the leader was attacking dogs more than twice his size and then the other two joined in. What’s so surprising to me is that when we’re in the house, he’s an angel (usually) – don’t know why his bad behavior comes on outside – including walks. We’ve been thru many training courses and had a private trainer, too, but that was before the aggressive behavior began. But, I love them and will work with them. I’ve had this breed twice before and never had these problems – nor did I have these problems with my two Cairn terriers (altho’ the alpha male brother used to growl at other dogs – go figure).

  24. Your description of the slient fighting was very accurate. I once cared for 3 show aussies. Two were fixed and one was not. When a female came into the picture, the intact male went for his brother and had every intention of killing him. I tried everything to break it up, but it was only after i dumped a bucket of water on them that i was able to separate them. Scariest moment of my pet sitting career to be sure.

  25. Very informative post. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Breaking up dog fights is scary for anyone! I find a plastic snow shovel is a great tool. It is big enough to get between the business area of the animals and I use is as a shield as I drag one
    dog into a pen for safe keeping. I do not attempt to check out either dog that has been fighting until the adrenalin calms. A dog in the heat of battle knows one thing; kill or be killed. Human intervention often becomes a part of the battle and can result in serious injury. As painful as it is, the best course is to let the dogs fight it out unless you are VERY confident of the ability to break it up without injury.

  27. My husband and I married and we each had dogs. His Shepherd/St. Bernard and my Golden Retriever used to irritate each other and they would fight now and then. Usually my husband was home and he broke them up. Once, it was just me and I have some medical issues that would be severely compromised if I were to get bit by one or the other. I started grabbing a dinner chair and forcing it between the dogs and down on top of the dog that was “losing”. If the dogs can’t get to each other, problem solved.

  28. Lynda Hastings

    On very large dogs, it may be impossible to drag them off by the hind legs. When I was a kid (a very long time ago), we had a dog named Charlie that always got into fights. He weighed about 125 lbs and there was no way I could have drug him off that way but I did find that if I reached up under him and grabbed his front legs and jerked hard that he’d hit the ground with enough force to break his hold and jiggle his head too I imagine. Anyway, once he hit the ground I’d continue pulling until he was facing the other way, grab his collar and usually just walk off. Got caught a couple of times by the other dogs, only once bad, but it usually worked.

  29. I kick the shit out of the aggressor…

  30. Great article! We have found that, when two people are present, positioning a person behind each dog, counting down (3, 2, 1!) and then grabbing the back legs of both dogs simultaneously & lifting them up (wheelbarrow style!) throws off their center of balance/strength and is distracting enough that they release their grip & can be pulled away from each other. That method allows me (proverbial “100 pound weakling”) & my young daughter to (easily & safely) physically break up a fight between two intense combatants that weigh much more than us.

  31. I have 2 female Blue Heeler dogs one 9 and one 3 yrs. They stay indoors and cannot be in the same room without fighting. I have tried everything and nothing works to separate them. I have been bitten trying to grab a back leg. Loud noise, water, nothing will separate them unless I have help and get something between them. I have thrown rugs over them, books, anything but they stay locked together and tear each others ears, neck, etc. Any suggestions?? I can’t part with either one of them.

  32. Thanks for posting! My 4 month old male lab mix puppies (from the same litter) got into the nastiest fight I’ve ever seen tonight. I didn’t know how to break it up, but I had to intervene. I tried distracting them with loud noises, spraying water in their faces, even bribing them with treats. Nothing fazed them. They were completely oblivious to everything but each other. Finally I had to physically pull them apart or tried… their jaws were clamped down and they were determined to not let go. My daughter threw a blanket over them and with them inside the blanket and our hands outside we tried to pull their heads apart. We finally got them separated but I wish I had known sooner how to separate them while minimizing injuries. If only I could have gotten them to just open their mouths and let go. My puppy is hurt pretty badly and my daughter’s puppy doesn’t have a scratch on him. We are taking him to the humane society in the morning and my puppy to the vet. I thought adopting litter mates would be ideal for the puppies. I learned today how wrong I was. I couldn’t find anything about puppy fights being serious. Decided they weren’t fighting like puppies and finally found this article on how to break up a dog fight. Information I definitely needed after my winging it didn’t work out so well.

    • I understand that the fight seemed beyond what is normal for 4 month old puppies. And since I wasn’t there I will have to accept your word on that. But they are young and this can very likely be worked through.
      One thing to consider is that the dog that finishes the fight (comes out on top) is not necessarily the dog that started the fight. So you may be getting ready to dump the dog who was simply defending itself while the one who caused the agression may have been the one that was hurt. It’s a possibility to consider. And sometimes communication between dogs is subtle and not understood by humans so the situation that precipitated the fight needs to be reexamined by someone who understands “dog language” very well.
      Please consider getting some help with training, peferably from a professional with experience and good reviews from clients who had similar problems. If you can’t afford that, I will offer free phone consultations to help you work through things. I am not a professional but am a dog rescuer & offer my help to keep pets out of the shelter system & to help families with their adopted pets.

  33. I took on a 5 year old dog 3 months ago and I was walking him on an empty beach. No people around and we decided to let him off his lead and remove his mozzle to have some exercise. 5 minutes later this guy drove up in his car and let his Labrador dog out of the car without any harness or lead. The owner could not see anyone on the beach from the car park, but still let his dog blindly run down on the beach. My dog stood still while the Labrador ran down the beach side in seconds and bump my dog on the nose. For some reason my dog locked on to the Labrador’s scruff of the neck and hung on. I at first tried to make loud noises in attempt for my dog to let go while the Labrador was jumping around. But the other ran down to the beach and started punching my dog in the head while swearing! This spoiled my attempts to separate my dog. So lifted my dog back legs up into the air and he let go immediately and I separated my dog from his. My dog was immediately calm, but he was so angry that he pushed me and punched my dog in the head again and he stopped when I grabbed his arm. I saw his hand blending with blood as his own Labrador dog bite his owners hand while punching my dog!. It was impossible to talk to the guy because he needed to calm down and catch his breath. He made threats about killing my dog if this incident has changed his dog etc. He obviously reported me to the police, and he admitted not having his dog on a lead before entering the beach and admitted to punching my dog etc. Despite the fact this guy did everything wrong, the police seem to on his side and they wish to evaluate my dog! Although you can learn how to break up dog fights,the other owner will intervene and spoil your attempts to correctly separate the dogs. So you will never be in complete control.

    • I once had a guy stop his car and let his 100 pound Rotweiler out just to see the sort of stuff that my dog, a 55 pound pit/Tenessee Treeing Brindle mix, had. I myself am 120 pounds. People can be truly awful. There is something called the Lexus project that might help you if this jerk takes things further. Also, you might consider taking your dog to the vet to document any injuries.

  34. I just hd a fight break out between 2 of my dogs. Both female (the others are 1 female, 2 males). All are fixed. All have been my dogs for close to 3 years now. These 2 are the same age, and were buddies when the smaller (50#) was adopted in. (the larger is 75#) But over the last 1 1/2 years there has been mounting tension. Always in the house, and I have always managed to skirt it before an actual fight. They have never had issues outside. This one took place outside. I have no idea how it started, as I had my back turned. I tried approaching with the “hey hey hey” yelling as I have in the house, but it didn’t work. It escalated fast, and as I tried to round up the others to get them away from the situation (my 3rd female tried to get in it), it got full blown. I got 2 of the dogs inside, and after a trying to get a stick between them and their mouths,(didn’t work) resorted to collar grabbing and twisting. Thinking that choking them would get them to release, and it did once, but because I am not strong enough to hold them both apart long enough to calm down and wasn’t in a position to ‘pin’ either of them down, they managed to latch on again. I finally did get the hose, and sprayed it into the husky’s face, but as other dog had already given up, I do believe that is the only thing that stopped the fight. I grabbed the collar of the husky and pulled her to the fence where my neighbor held her while the other ran to the door of the house. (he could not jump the fence as he just had knee surgery). I managed at this point to get all inside and crated except the defeated dog, and she went to the vet immediately. Both were hurt, but not terribly seriously. Fights are always scary. And while this one was loud, it was also damaging, so don’t let the “loud” fool you into thinking it wont be too serious. I, like someone above, do not have anyone else to help pull them apart. I now need some serious help with behavior modification, but there are no behaviorists in my area. And after talking to a couple trainers, they suggested that…stating “training” is not behavior modification. Right now, they are kept separate from each other, but either can be with the other dogs just fine. I do not want to rehome, but don’t want to live with a “crate and rotate” life forever. These dogs are young…just about 3.5 yrs. If anyone has suggestions for any help with this, I would be open to try most anything at this point.
    this fight is what initiated this search for help and finding this article. Being involved in the rescue world, I knew how to get them apart, but just could not manage the rear end “up and away” technique with only one person. It would have left the dog in my “possession” vunerable to the other dog. But it is definitely the way to set them off balance and startle them into thought change.

  35. I have had to break up a fight by taking a chair and hitting them with it. Nothing else worked. They were going to kill each other.

  36. I am guessing that if you had to hit the dogs with a chair to stop the fight, then this fight happened inside your house or within your garden. In this scenario you have more options available to you which is more better in the outcome for your dogs, rather then being in a park or beach. The first thing to remember is not to panic and the loud noises coming from the dog fight sounds more horrific then the actual is fight itself. If one of your dogs is light enough to pickup then quickly take the dogs back legs off the floor and pull him away from the fight towards you, and place your hand under his belly to pick him up off the floor and turn your back to the other dog which will defuse the situation. If your dogs are too heavy or too strong for you, then throw cold water on to their faces, then quickly separate one of the dogs. You can buy in the pet shop a compressed air sounder, which makes a loud hissing sound. If not buy something similar that emit a very loud sound. From a distance, point it in the direction of the dog fight (NOT up close in their face or ears) and this will distract them immediately, so you can step between the dogs and separate them. This is handy when the fight breaks out in a park as well. There are many other ways to distract them as mentioned in the article above while protecting yourself and your dogs. But you have to remember, the next time this happens to you you might not be at home with furniture to throw at your dogs! So it’s advisable to plan ahead like a fire drill, on a better way to separate your dogs in a fight with themselves or another dogs. One last thing to note, prevention is better then the cure! So investigate why they attacked each other in the first place. Common things like letting both dogs eat next to each other, can trigger squabbles. Feed each dog in separate rooms or place the bowels further apart and monitor them until they have finished eating and correct their behavior where necessary. Or maybe they was one bone, toy or rope and they both wanted to play with it. Remove toys or other trigger points when you can’t monitor them all the time or busy. It’s very unlikely for your dogs to kill each other immediately in a fight, but rather end up with injures and tire themselves out if they are equally matched. So don’t panic and use that first minute to carry out your planned dog separation drill and practice!

  37. I would really love to have an opinion on this because I’m desperate. I have 3 large dogs – they were all dumped at our home – I didn’t set out to keep them but found no decent home for them – the first two were an English Pointer and her son who was about 4 1/2 months at the time and half German Shepherd. They both love people and love each other. A few years later an beautiful puppy about 7-8 weeks old was dumped in our yard in the middle of the night – apparently part Aussie but very stocky build – could be part Chow but not sure. He was extremely shy and traumatized – I fell in love with him and no way could I take him to the pound – he was so afraid of everyone he saw. He did get comfortable with me – it took a couple of years before he stopped sometimes barking when my husband walked into the room. But no matter what a human does to him – even if they have to hurt him (such as shots or taking care of a wound) he never shows aggression toward humans. He has played with the other two and stayed alone with them in their part of the house – he even walks into a room where the Shepherd is and Licks his face over and over. Yet at times he has suddenly gotten this look or started growling when the shepherd came along and they got into fights – the shepherd at times had small wounds – though he is larger and a lean 70 pounds compared to the aussie’s 50 pounds. Often the shepherd would seem to try to avoid the fight. They NEVER had a problem unless I was there – I am the favorite person of both of them. Alone all day and no evidence anything happened – the aussie will be 3 in November so they have been friends for a long time. I am now alone in a new home while my husband tries to get our other home 7 hours away ready to sell. Yesterday morning I let them all out into the fenced area I just had made for them. The pointer and the aussie came back inside and the aussie kept standing right there – not growling or anything just standing there. The Shepherd kept refusing to come in – would look slightly scared. I left him out and tried again and the same thing – I should have KNOWN not to force the issue although I saw nothing about the Aussie that seemed to be a problem. I finally pulled him back from the area and the shepherd came in and immediately a BAD fight started – It was so quick I can’t even tell who attacked first. Nothing was working – I tried throwing water on them, sprayed natural air freshener in their faces – they were biting and holding on to each other – I tried pulling them apart and when I would get one away the other one would come after him – they would NOT quit. I even picked up a small vacuum cleaner and broke it hitting them with it – maybe stupid but I was afraid they were going to tear each other to bits. I have had both separated since. The shepherd had an injury in his left “armpit” area that bled several times – he is worse off. The Aussie has a small wound on his leg. Shepherd has an injury in the ear. Shepherd is walking better today. When the Aussie sees the shepherd in the fence while he is up on the balcony he whines like he wants to go and play with him and if I were to let them he would probably kiss the Shepherd’s face now like he always does. But I can’t go through this again. And – I love both of these dogs – The aussie is so afraid of other people (had him to puppy classes and everything) he only really trusts me. The shepherd has always been wonderful. No one would want either of them – I couldn’t bear to just give one to a stranger not knowing how they would be treated even if someone wanted them. I would just like to understand WHY this happens. Keeping them apart forever is going to create problems – I can DO it but it will not be ideal and neither will get much exercise where we currently live, which they are used to, without being able to run and play with each other.

    • From the outside it appears to look like something simple, but that doesn’t mean there is an easy fix. The Aussie has considered you his and will not share. But it not a lost cause, find a behaviorist/trainer to walk you through the fix. At the very least you should be able to let them play together with you NOT near-by and have to keep them separate when inside or near you. But until you get help yes keep them separate. Especially rescues when “you saved them” some become very protective to the point of attacking any intruder. Find some professional helper and good luck. You are an angel for taking them on and not giving up on them!

  38. I know it does seem to be some sort of “possession” issue with me – but it’s strange that it only happens occasionally and today was particularly strange and the worse yet. The Aussie is following me from room to room but he acts depressed now. I know he wants to play with his friends but at this point I am afraid to risk it even if I were able to do it with them totally separated from me. I have been feeling sort of like one feels when someone dies. Loved watching them play and be happy. To make matters worse we are in a small town – not much here – nearest large towns are Chattanooga and Knoxville and both are an hour away. Hard to find help.

    • Some trainers will do Skype sessions, and although their ability to assess your dogs and their interpersonal issues will be limited when the trainer isn’t physically present, it’s a good way to get to know a trainer without investing a lot of time and money in getting to them, or bringing them to you. This way you can find a trainer you trust, and you can ask them all the qualifying questions you need to.

      Another thing to consider – this is a dog who has been fearful from a very young age, an age when most puppies are boisterous and outgoing. But he feels safe with you. And where a fearful dog will often be unwilling to defend themselves, a dog who feels safe will stand up for themselves because they think they have back up. This could explain why the dogs get along well whenever you’re not around, but only have issues with you there. Your Aussie may feel threatened by the shepherd, but may be too frightened to protect himself unless his safe person is there. His fear may or may not be founded. It sounds like the dogs haven’t had much opportunity to socialize with other dogs, or that your Aussie may have had some really bad experiences with socialization before you had him, so he may be irrationally fearful. It sounds like the shepherd is trying to talk him down, so to speak, by avoiding him when he’s posturing (the standing very still and staring is a very intimidating, confrontational stance, especially if he’s blocking some resource, like you, or access to the house) and giving calming signals (looking away, lip licking, sniffing around, yawning).

      Since only one dog is being injured in the fights, it seems that the shepherd is inhibiting his bite, and is likely just doing the minimum necessary to protect himself.

      No matter what the underlying causes, though, work with a qualified professional will be necessary to keep all your dogs, and you, happy and secure. You could keep them separated, but as you said, that’s not ideal for your lifestyle, and if your Aussie is reacting out of fear, which would be my guess, postponing expert help is just forcing him to continue living in a constant state of stress.

  39. I do think the shepherd tries to avoid a fight or hurting him – this time the Aussie was hurt – just not as bad as the shepherd and I’m not sure when in the fight, which lasted I think over 5 minutes – maybe even ten – (I was so upset and frantic I lost track of time) all the injuries happened. The puzzling thing is they can be around me – sitting near me, all jumping on me or one snuggled up to me and no problem – sometimes for weeks and weeks – usually if one walks in the Aussie kisses the shepherds face (the shepherd sort of looks like he is tolerating it like a patient parent. Then all of a sudden it starts. There have been a few times Aussie has set up the challeng and I’ve simply grabbed him and put him in another room while yelling at the Shepherd to stay away and later I let him out and all is fine. The Aussie has longer hair and I think that protects him too. Once I thought the shepherd had him pinned down by the neck and I was screaming – my husband came in and found that the shepherd was simply holding him by the collar – almost like “Ok – I don’t want to hurt you so I’ll just hold you down” – but yesterday the shepherd had had enough for sure – they were about as riled as they could get. As to the aussie feeling threatened – not sure about that because they often play and roughhouse – someone that didn’t know better would think all three were fighting – the aussie seems to enjoy it when he ends up on the bottom and the other two are on top looking like they are tearing him up! He knows they are playing and he knows they would have the best of him but he seems to want to keep playing. This is all so confusing and puzzling. They are both neutered but even at that I don’t think I would ever purposely get two large dogs especially of the same sex after this! Additionally, since this only happens occassionally and since I would now be afraid to try to duplicate what starts it I’m wondering how someone on Skype – or even in person – would really be able to access what is going on. If someone saw them most of the time they would say they are the best of friends!

    • I appreciate that it’s frustrating, but for your dogs’ sake, you need to find a professional to come help you. It’s not fair to your dogs to let this go on, and no amount of internet searching will give you the help that a qualified behaviorist and trainer can give you. You need someone who can watch your dogs interact, who can evaluate their body language, and who can assess the situation objectively.

      As much as you want to, you can’t possibly give an unbiased description of what happens because you are understandably very upset when problems arise. Because of that, advice you get based on your descriptions alone can’t hope to address the entire problem. Without someone stepping in to help you better understand what is happening, you are putting everyone in your household, dogs and humans alike, at risk of injury.

  40. I’m sure you are correct – just trying to understand HOW someone could watch them at random and see what is going on when most of the time they aren’t starting a fight – plus now I’m AFRAID to have them together. Additionally we are just moving here and have had a lot of unexpected expenses and until we see that we can sell our other home we can’t spend a lot of money. We moved here due to the heat being very bad for our health issues – just didn’t expect all the expenses. From what I’ve gathered behaviorists charge a lot and under the circumstances could need a lot of sessions – and there still would be no guarantee. At this point keeping them apart is the only choice we have.

    • An experienced professional will be able to see quirks in their behavior that you haven’t caught yet. They will know how to safely interact with them individually and together. They will know what precautions to take, and be able to step in to safely diffuse a situation likely far before you would normally notice a problem was brewing because a good behaviorist will have years of experience speaking dog. They will be as fluent in dog body language as they are in English, and they’ll be able to teach you about what they’re seeing and what your dogs are experiencing. The may not ever need to witness a fight, because they’ll see it coming a mile away, redirect the dogs and teach them better coping mechanisms. And then they will teach you what to look for and how to replicate what they’ve done.

      It won’t be immediate, and it may take months or even years, but it can be done, and it best be done before the situation escalates. The more they’re able to practice the dangerous behaviors, the more ingrained they become and the longer it will take to change their reactions. Good luck! Your dogs are very lucky to have someone so devoted to them.

      • Marlene Berman

        I have three male Welsh terriers that are from the same litter ( not a good idea to ever do this). They are now two and a half, and we’ve been thru intensive training with them. But, there are two that often get into a fight for absolutely no reason that I can see (and it’s usually the same two, but that does change now and again). I’ve tried almost everything that has been posted by others. We also have soft muzzles that we put on the dogs for a few minutes to calm them down – as soon as we know we’re not in danger. When two of us are home, it makes it easier because we can grab them by the back legs and pull them away. They’ve drawn blood and even had to visit the vet once to make sure all was okay. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often, but now we’ve seen them being more aggressive to dogs they meet on walks – when they were younger, they were so friendly, so it’s very upsetting to us. I know they vie for adult attention and don’t want to share us sometimes – at other times they are fine. I know your frustration because we’ve lived it too. Also, when our trainer has been here at our home, the dogs are little angels – they don’t even bark when he’s around. I know we have to keep practicing what we’ve learned, and we do. It’s not knowing when the next eruption will happen and then do what? I keep telling myself it’s a good thing I really love all dogs – otherwise, I’d have to think I’m nuts!

  41. I sometimes think I’m crazy because I know people that would simply get rid of one and not look back. To a lot of people they are interesting and they can enjoy them but they can also just get rid of them or have on disappear and not be that upset. For me it’s devastating. I had a beagle once that for no reason would come up wagging tail and suddenly turn and attack – I went to ER twice due to him – yet I couldn’t bring myself to have him put down and naturally he lived to be almost 16! I’m very sad that these two have this problem. I went to take the shepherd outside – he is in one room in basement with his mother- aussie is upstairs and couldn’t get down there. Poor Shepherd carefully looked out the door into the other room like he is still afraid the aussie is there and it’s heartbreaking. I don’t know what to do – we can not afford to spend hundreds per month for an unspecified time in hopes we could eventually relax with the situation and feel fine. Way too many upcoming expenses and things that are unsure. We are 65 years old and my husband has MS and is hoping to retire when our other house sells. He is so patient with all we spend on them and it’s always been me wanting to keep them. This thing yesterday really spoiled so many things and I don’t understand it in the least. I just know I love these two nutcase dogs.

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