Monday, August 08, 2011

Knowing What NOT to Do in a Dog Fight

Art by Kevin Brockbank for Dogs Today.

How to Break Up a Dog Fight
Without Getting Bitten

Why do dogs fight?

Dogs fight for as many reasons as humans do. Sometimes dogs develop a particular antipathy to another dog. Sometimes, it's an expression of fear. Sometimes it's food, property, or owner guarding.

Some dogs, like some humans, are simply anti-social. Some dogs never initiate a fight, and some are provocateurs.

This article is not a treatise on dog aggression, dog psychology, or dog socialization.

This article is about what to do when dogs are in a fight - a real fight.

The editors of Dogs Today were not too eager for me to write this article. What if someone gets bitten?

Right.

Of course, people get bitten by dogs every day, and they often get bitten while trying to break up dog fights.

And why do they get bitten so often? Simple: they do not know how to break up a dog fight!

So apparently some instruction is needed, and instead of ignoring the issue, I am going to provide it.

I am going to start with the simple, move to the obvious, and finish with real instruction.


The Simple: Avoid Problems If You Can

Avoiding a dog fight is the best policy, and it's often easy to do.

  • Know your dog:
    If your dog is canine-aggressive, you should muzzle it when it is out on a walk. Read that sentence again. The idea that muzzles are cruel, or that it's OK to walk around town with a dog that is dog-aggressive, is absurd. Properly size modern mesh muzzles are easy to put on, weigh nothing, cost little, and are not a burden to the dog. If you have a canine-aggressive dog, stop walking around with your fingers crossed hoping that this time it will be all right. Take action and shoulder the responsibility.
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  • Be aware of locations and presentations:
    Dogs often display aggression when other dogs enter their property without invitation, when other dogs approach food they deem to be theirs, or when other dogs try to initiate uninvited contact with their owner or their owner's family. Leashes are another frequent problem area, as they impede canine body-language, and also telegraph an owner’s tension and dysfunction down the leash. So what’s the drill? Simple: as a general rule, never allow your dog to enter any other dog's yard or home without an invite. As a matter of principle, avoid having your leashed dog greet other unknown leashed dogs on the street. A basic rule is that new dogs should greet each other one-on-one, off-leash, on neutral ground, and without any food in evidence. An ideal location is a fenced tennis court or neutral yard.
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  • Have real control of your own dog.
    Never walk a dog on a retractable leash, as no dog can be properly controlled using such a device. Instead, use a simple web leash, and teach your dog to sit and look to you every time it sees another dog. Praise and treat whenever this occurs, and always be ready to cross the street or change direction whenever a problem situation seems to be advancing towards you. When it comes to inter-canine aggression, problems avoided are often problems solved!

The Obvious: Don’t Get Bitten!

A dog fight has broken out. Now what?

First and foremost, be sure you have clearly defined success in your own mind. Success is not getting bitten! Let me repeat that: The goal of this lesson is to NOT get bitten while breaking up a dog fight.

So how do you NOT get bitten? Simple:

  1. Do NOT reach for your dog's collar.
    In a fight, dogs will typically go for the neck and head region of the other dog. If you reach for your dog's collar in the middle of a fight, you will get seriously mauled. Reaching for a dog’s collar is the number one reason people get bitten while trying to break up dog fights.
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  2. Do NOT step between two fighting dogs.
    Just as a teenager in a fist fight will blindly swing on his own mother if she is foolish enough to step into the center of a brawl, so too will a dog bite its owner if he or she is foolish enough to step into the center of a canine melee. Do not put your body in harm's way and expect to not get bitten!
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  3. Do NOT try to pick up your dog.
    Never crouch down to pick up a dog in a fight as this action will put your face far too close to snapping jaws. If you try to pick up a dog in the middle of a fight, you are almost certain to get bitten for your efforts.

The Instruction: Work from the Rear

So now we come to it. What should you do to beak up a dog fight?

First of all, stop screaming.

Yes dog fights are violent, loud, disorganized and scary, but your job right now is to stay calm. You have a job to do and that job does NOT include yelling at the dogs. I assure you that two dogs in a serious fight will almost never stop fighting because they are being yelled at.

Instead of yelling, pay attention to what is going on, and approach the dogs in a calm but hyper-vigilant manner.

What you are looking for is that moment when one dog is on top of another, and you are able to reach in quickly, and without hesitation, to grab the top dog by the base of its tail and hoist its rear legs off the ground.

Yes, that's right - you are going to grab the top dog like a large laboratory rat and hoist its back legs off the ground.

With its back legs off the ground, this top dog will instantly lose its drive-train and it will no longer be able to power forward and bear down on the underdog. At the same time, this top dog’s angle of bite and attack will have shifted dramatically. In every case, the combined change in drive and angle of attack will so surprise the top dog that it will release its grip.

When that happens (it may take a second or two), pull the top dog backward and begin to slowly swing it in gentle arc so that the dog now has to keep scrambling with its front paws in order to prevent itself from shouldering face-first into the dirt.

So long as you keep the dog's legs off the ground and keep moving it in an arc, the dog will have to keep scrambling to avoid falling over. You are in complete control and will remain in control so long as you hoist the dog’s rear legs off the ground, and keep moving it in an arc.

What if the top dog has a docked tail? The procedure here is the same as above, only instead of grabbing the base of the top dog's tail, you grab the top dog under both thighs right where they meet the body. Again, you lift up the dog so that its back legs are completely free from the ground, and then you slowly step backward and start swinging the dog in a gentle arc so it that it has to keep scrambling along the ground with its front paws in order to remain upright.

What if you are small woman? Same thing. Even a small woman of relatively low strength can deadlift 40 or 50 pounds, provided she is not otherwise handicapped, and that is all the strength that is needed to lift up the rear legs of even a large dog. Don’t believe it? Try it on your own dog in the safety of your backyard.

What about the other dog? Remember that the underdog was on the bottom, and most of the time this dog is now more than eager to break it off. With dogs, it’s a bit like two teenagers in a fight - once the bigger guy has been pulled off by his mates, the smaller guy is generally only too happy to call it a day, even if there is still a little trash-talking after the fact. A deep-throated yell from you at this point (and not before) will generally seal the deal.

What now?

If you can get a leash on the dog that is in your hand, go ahead and do that. If the other dog is only barking, or is perhaps being picked up or leashed up by someone else, you are in a good position and in full control. Let cool rational thought creep into both dog's brains; it will not take long.

Over the years I have broken up quite a number of dog fights, often working alone, and my own experience is that throwing a dog into bushes, down a slope, into a river or pond, or over a fence often works to further "cool out" a large dog.

What if one or both dogs stop attacking each other and start attacking you?

I have never had this happen, nor have I ever known it to happen to anyone else, and I know quite a large number of dog men. I am not going to say it cannot ever happen (a meteor may destroy your house tonight), but when dogs fight, it's not an unfocused rage but a very focused emotion directed at the other dog. Dog fights are not about people, but about dogs.

So there is it. Now you know what NOT to do, and you now have the option of doing more than hose the blood off the sidewalk after the fact in case of a serious dog fight.

Will everybody be brave enough to step in when two dogs fight?

Of course not, nor am I saying everyone should.

But if you are the type that will step in, at least now you know the right way to go about it. That cannot hurt the dog, and it might save you some serious injury.
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21 comments:

AJ said...

A westie was attacked by two border terriers outside my house a few years ago. The owner picked the westie up and got his stomach bitten and the westie lost a toe.

By the time I got there the westie and owner had been hurried into my neighbours house and her builder husband and his employee's where running around screaming like girls waving planks of wood and throwing stones at the dogs.

I took a cage outside , called the dogs to me and put them in it. The builders came out of hiding and started congratulating themselves that they had "subdued" the dogs enough for me to trap them.

Then the dog warden came and insisted I cover the cage with a duvet and carry it to her car ( which I had to line with bin bags to keep it clean) so she wouldnt get her fingers bitten if she touched the cage.

The builders ended up in the local paper for their "bravery" I didnt get a mention ,lol

PBurns said...

Par for the course... the morons get roses and the sensible get it done and are on their way. At least you didn´t get bitten so that´s a success!

Writing this from Algeciras, Spain where this wonderful hotel has free Internet. I like Spain!!

P

seeker said...

This is a great plan of attack Patrick. Unfortunately, these things do happen and I am passing this on to all the dog groups I'm a member of (with your byline of course). I can only hope that I would remain calm enough to perform rationally. I remember your blog on Doggie Fight Camps and was very impressed then. This is the icing on a much needed cake.
Thanks again.

Debi and the TX JRTs

Mad Dog Walking said...

Great article! I always wanted to know what to do and now I know! Thank you.

Seahorse said...

Spain rocks. I learned to speak there and didn't understand a bit of English when we returned Stateside. GREAT horses there, too! Gonna go back, so spill your Spain wisdom when you get home!

Seahorse ;)

courtneyn4 said...

This was a great article. Unfortunately I have two 50 pound females who cannot get along and my husband and I have used this technique in the past. We both, however, have to be there to each grab a dog, otherwise the dog on the bottom refuses to let go of the dog we are attempting to pull off. Do you have any suggestions in this instance? It is difficult for one person when both dogs continue with the aggression. Thanks again for the great article!

PBurns said...

I do not mean this in a sexist way, but it´s common knowledge that two bitches that loathe each other are the worst, and the very worst are bitches from the same litter where the weight and age issues remain unsettled, and there is never a clear and permanent winner. In those cases, this may be a place for muzzles or rehoming...

...But to answer the questio..

*In theory* (ha!) you are supposed to snap a leash around the back end of one dog (around the back haunches) and haul it over to a fence or tree or post to tie it up, and then tail off the remaining dog as indicated.

I say in theory, because I have never had to do it. I give a yell that can curl paint, and I will kick a dog to break ribs if that´s needed. Few dogs are as psycho as I can be, LOL. So far it has worked, and the dogs I have busted off have decided that me and the other dog were not worth the risk and pain. I am generally the biggest dog in the fight at 200 pounds and six feet!

P

Rick said...

I learned about not using my hand to grab one dog's collar when the other dog bit me. Another time I learned to use my feet, but forgot that I was wearing sandals, and I broke my toe. Next time, steel-toed boots!

But the main thing to learn is fearlessness, and have a willingness to get in there and do what has to be done. Just like you said about a paint curling yell, one must present the image of "large & hostile" and don't back down.

zooeyvox said...

Great advice ... thanks for the in depth write up -- such helpful info. Best - M.

bestuvall said...

best way to break up a fight in your own home.walk away from the dogs. take a hand towel.. or rag or what ever..and a jug of white vinegar.. place towel over dogs heads.. pour on vinegar.. watch them separate .. place eye drops in each dogs eyes and wash dogs.. they will small a bit like a salad.. and have shinier coats due to vinegar but you will not be bitten and they will be none the worse for wear in most cases..works like a charm.. taught to me by an old "dog man"

Onslow County Partners for Animal Welfare said...

This was a very informative article that I will pass along to others, as I have done in the past. Many of your writings have saved folks heartache and expense in managing the care of their pets. Thank you
Onslow County Partners for Animal Welfare, Inc.
www.oc-paw.com

KC said...

I can say from experience that this method works like a charm. My male shepherd mix developed a real dislike for the unneutered bull dog that regularly uses our yard and attacked when the wind blew open a door one day. Fortunately, neither was wearing a collar so I could not make that mistake. Common sense directed me as far away from their powerful jaws as possible...the other end! I picked my guy up under his thighs (it was all I could get hold of) and pulled him away. It was over as fast as it started.

anon999 said...

I am so relieved to have found this site. For five years we have been keeping a young Jack Russell bitch (5 years old) seperated from Sugar, our 16 year old Jack Russell because the younger dog will attack her viciously at any given opportunity. There have only been a few 'breaches in security' over the years, one last week, but my husband and I found it very difficult to seperate them. It was so distressing and our 5 year old daughter was nearby which was worrying. We were doing everything wrong. I hope poor old Sugar will have peace from now on but it is good to know what to do just in case a fight breaks out again. Thanks so much. D. Egan. Ireland

susan smith said...

Three nights ago my Pitt bull and Daschund got in a fight over an empty McDonalds bag. I was alone, I am also on crutches from a back injury. The Daschund started it as he has before. I panicked, I started screaming at the Pitt. Then got on the ground and tried pulling the Daschund away from the Pitt by the collar. Needless to say, I was bit four times. One bite needed twelve stitches. When I clutched out of the house to get help from a neighbour, when I came back the Pitt was at the door greeting me. I think when he heard the door slam he stopped. The Dacshund had to have surgery but is doing ok. The Pitt is staying at my sons house for a while. I'm doing ok as well. I wish I had read this article about grabbing Harley's back legs. And not screaming and grabbing the collar. I pray it doesn't happen again, but if it does. I feel a little more prepared.

Carol said...

Thanks for the helpful info. It is good to know that "normal" dogs can fight and that it does not mean that one or both dogs are psycho! I just had a hip replaced and had to break up a fight over food - I managed to grab the back legs of the aggressor dog and lift up. It worked in about 2 seconds. Thank you thank you!!!

Leslie Stroup said...

I beyond dubiety revalue your articles and blogs. small dog breeds

geonni banner said...

What???! You mean they won't stop if you wave liver treats or a KONG?

They must have been BEATEN!

Carla Hay said...

My 40 lbs cross breed had a fight with my 12 lbs jack russel two days ago. I remained calm as there was nothing I felt at the time I could do other than let them sort it out. The bigger dog had her by the throat and when the smaller dog collapsed and stopped breathing she let go. It wasn't nice to watch and next time I will try this method. I hope I get it right otherwise I am sure I will have a dead dog on my hands. I would rather rehome the bigger dog but my partner is reluctant. The bigger dog is 14 months old the smaller one 10 years.
Thanks for the article

michel hasbrouck said...

first time I've ever read something really smart about dogs fights and bites. And I've read a lot...
then the next step : never hit on your dog !

Beth Sarlac said...

Very helpful post! While walking our leashed Wheaten Terrier and Havanese, we had a bad attack from an uncontrolled dog aggressive Rottweiler two years ago and are still afraid to walk our dogs. Of course we did everything wrong (yelled, pulled dogs collars, etc). While there were two of us available, I was holding my Havanese for fear she would be killed, and my husband was trying to manage the fight with our Wheaten and the Rottweiler. What recommendations would you have in a case like this? How could we protect both of our dogs?

PBurns said...

Not enough information and my advice is in this article.