How does one break up a dog fight?
July 24, 2016 10:07 AM   Subscribe

After a traumatic experience at the dog park, I’ve decided to learn how to break up a dog fight, with your help, please!

A couple of weeks ago, a man with three dogs came to the dog park. My dog, Dermot, a terrier mix, ran down to the entrance to see who was coming. I walked down there too. The dogs had no leashes or collars (even before they got to the dog park gate) and I wanted to make sure they were friendly.

They appeared friendly at first but within the first minute one of the man’s dogs aggressively attacked Dermot - a prolonged, aggressive attack, not a back-off snap or growl. The attack was unprovoked. I just stood there in shock while the man yelled and screamed at his dog, finally throwing his cup of coffee at his dog, which distracted him. While the dog was distracted, I grabbed Dermot and got out of there.

It was scary. Dermot isn’t a fighter and could have been seriously hurt. I hope this never happens again but if it does, I want to be able to protect my 25 pound dog. How do I break up a dog fight?
posted by mulcahy to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Honestly, you probably shouldn't try to break up a dog fight...especially when there are multiple dogs involved. They could easily turn on you.

I've heard of people carrying pepper spray or "dog spray," whatever that is, in dog parks. That might be an option. But, ultimately, dog parks can be a dangerous place for exactly the reason Dermot was attacked: negligent dog owners. We've stopped taking our dog to dog parks for this reason.

One other option might be to go to a dog park that separates the dogs by size. Dermot could stay in the small dog/dogs under 25 lbs section. Easier to shove away an aggressive pomeranian than two bull terriers or whatever.

Sending Dermot (and you) good vibes!
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:20 AM on July 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Wikihow has some decent instructions with charming illustrations.

Notice how they say to use your arms only as last resort? I'd add to use your arms as last resort and *only* in the case that you are willing to risk severe wrist and face damage to yourself, possibly in life-changing amounts, even if all involved dogs are rather small.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:25 AM on July 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly, you probably shouldn't try to break up a dog fight...especially when there are multiple dogs involved. They could easily turn on you.

yeah, agreed. i think really your best bet is to:

01) make sure that dermot is well trained to verbal commands to come to you immediately when called when he's off-leash, no matter what the temptation is to go inspect something and

02) do not take him to the dog park until he is trained to consistently do this

you can't control the behavior of other dogs, much less the behavior of other dog OWNERS, you can only control your own. people are always going to walk aggressive dogs off-leash because people are fucking stupid. keeping dermot safe should first and foremost depend on your ability to remove him quickly from high-risk situations before dangerous events even begin, and not on your ability to physically fight off another unknown dog.

in general i stay the fuck away from people who walk their dogs in public off-leash, because they are 95% irresponsible assholes with aggressive dogs.

oh but i guess in a pinch and if one was available, you could turn a hose on them or use some device that makes a very loud piercing noise? idk? do you really want to carry an air horn to the dog park?
posted by poffin boffin at 10:30 AM on July 24, 2016 [10 favorites]

If you Google your last sentence, you'll get lots of good articles. For example, this one by a former animal control officer which I like because it not only describes how to break up the fight and how to soothe the dog afterward so it doesn't restart the fight, but also how to watch for warnings signs and remove your dog before the fight starts. Once the fight is under way, breaking it up will require the cooperation of the other dog's owner. Aas poffin boffin notes, that's beyond your control.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:35 AM on July 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I recently read an article about the method linked to, which sounds so good in theory, but what are the chances the other dog owner will react similarly? Perhaps you could post something about this technique at your dog park.
posted by she's not there at 10:54 AM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is no foolproof way to end a fight once the fighting actually starts, and ending it before it starts is hard when you are dependent on a stranger to similarly intervene appropriately to redirect before it starts.

The wheelbarrow method mostly only works when the two dogs are approximately the same size, and a determined dog will still ignore it and just keep on going/refuse to let go, but that's still the only way you should ever touch fighting dogs*. Generally once they engage, they do not hear verbal commands because of the adrenaline, it doesn't matter how well-trained they are, and won't respond to anything less nasty than pepper spray.

*ONLY if all involved dogs are being lifted in the same way. Otherwise you're just offering your dog up to the others.

Dog parks are horrible, as far as dog sociology goes. Trainers hate them, and I suspect most vets do too. It's mostly the weirdness/uncertainty of the situation that prevents most fights, so dogs that are willing to take the chance of getting literally dogpiled and go for it anyway are beyond most interventions.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:56 AM on July 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have definitely seen people bring big brightly colored super soaker type water guns to dog parks for exactly this reason. It will sometimes startle the dogs enough to pause a fight, and you can swoop up your dog and get out. (Note, I live in a big city, so the bright colors and goofy design of the water gun is part of the responsibility of urban dog owners to not bring police presence to the dog park where humans or dogs could get shot by cops.)
posted by juniperesque at 11:27 AM on July 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have a tiny pocket taser and the crackling sound gets dogs attention FAST. I've never had to touch a dog with it, the noise is more than enough (I carry it on horseback and riding my bike).

Yelling and aggressively growling at the dogs will break up most fights like this, not the kind of attack a really aggressive breed can do though. If one dog attacks another the easiest thing to do is to grab the back legs of the aggressor and walk backwards, it does work but it's not at all easy to grab the back legs of a fast moving dog. Most of the time the other dog just wants to get away. If it's two dogs genuinely trying to kill each other then you need to get them both at once or it'll make it worse. Or a hose/ spray etc.

As far as all the anti-dog park posts- I've been going for years to off leash areas and really it's fine as long as people don't bring aggressive dogs. It's just that people are stupid and want to think their dog is "just nervous" or "just needs more training" or whatever excuse. If your dog is an asshole or you don't ~know for sure~ how your dog is around other dogs, don't bring it! I go to a huge off leash area a few times a week (like a small forest) and the only times there are problems it always turns out that the dog is known to be aggressive or the owner worked with a trainer to "desensitize" the dog and decided to take it to the dog park despite it's history of aggression.

In conclusion: the other owner was totally in the wrong and there is nothing wrong with your dog running up to another dog at the dog park. That's what the dog park is for.
posted by fshgrl at 11:33 AM on July 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not sure if you can break up a dog fight as easily as you can prevent one. Whatever you do, don't put your hands between dogs fighting. A huge red flag is three dogs, off lead and w/o collars before they even enter the park. I've never ever been comfortable with one of my dogs and two or more of someone else's dogs, they just naturally team up together against the lone stranger dog.

I live in fear of an attack since our old Lhasa-poo was nearly killed by a pitt on a lead in a nature park. What I do now to calm my fears is carry a steel walking stick, and the strongest pepper spray legal in my state. I also carry my phone. I watch for dogs in their yards, on walks with their people and running loose. Loose is the worst, it means we immediately turn around and head the other way. Dog parks suck imo esp in regards to fights. I feel my dog is a sitting duck in dog park, fenced in and if something happened, no easy escape. At least on the sidewalk my dog has a chance of escape. I have escape plans for most of my neighborhood and often ask myself as we're walking-what would I do RIGHT NOW if a dog came up to us looking for trouble? Just to keep myself on my toes. A little paranoid yes but like fuck if I'm gonna let an aggressive dog try to eat one of my dogs again without a good fight from me.

Anyway, the tool that gives me the most comfort is that steel walking stick. It's strong enough to bash a dog pretty well, and I can try to loop their collar and choke them if a dog attacks, as well as shove it in their mouth and down the dogs throat if need be. That and a close awareness of my surroundings make me feel safe. The stick I carry is

Please call the cops and whoever is in charge of that dog park and make a report asap. Just for the next poor soul who meets that assholes dogs, please make a record of it. It's a matter of public safety.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 12:04 PM on July 24, 2016

This is terrible -- I hope your nice dog feels okay about going back to the park pretty soon. Yelling and screaming can intensify the fight -- it seems like the aggressive dogs believe the yelling person agrees that the attack is a good thing, as if he's all for it and cheering them on. The owner may have made bad things worse by shouting. Quick action with water and removing the dog has worked for me.
posted by Francolin at 12:43 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's no way to do this on the fly without some risk to yourself or others. That said, I've done it because I'm an idiot.

Ideally there's one person per dog doing about the same thing at the same time. If it's just you, go for the aggressor. Hook an arm under its belly just in front of its hind legs and swing it away from the other dog. Obviously you need to do this quickly and decisively so that the dog doesn't have time to react and turn on you. After you swing it away, release it. In my experience, that has been enough to stop the fight, but I can imagine it wouldn't always be.
posted by adamrice at 2:07 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lyn Never: *ONLY if all involved dogs are being lifted in the same way. Otherwise you're just offering your dog up to the others.

Years ago I learned the wheelbarrow method from a trainer who explained it as something one person can do *if* you can tell for sure which dog is the aggressor. I've only had one occasion to use it, but it worked. I was able to pull a very large and aggressive rottweiler off of a German shepherd it had attacked, ending a serious fight that had already injured the shepherd's owner. Once separated the fight was over; the shepherd did not pursue the newly vulnerable rottweiler.
posted by jon1270 at 2:12 PM on July 24, 2016

re dog parks being awful, this is the first time i'm hearing this? Around here, there are pretty strict rules about bringing your dog (no sick, aggressive dogs, no dogs in heat etc.), and being responsible about for everything your dog does. We've found it a really good way to have our dog burn off energy running around with other pooches.

Luckily haven't seen any real fights, but we also have these local puppy socialisation events, where they spilt pups up according to size/age/temperament and we've been really happy going to them.  A few scuffles have come up, and the trainer has just walked up and hosed the dogs down with her water bottle – it's been enough for the dogs to stop and then the owners swoop in to grab their dogs and send em off their merry ways.
posted by speakeasy at 2:31 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is a RARE dog park event, and it happened here because of 1) the other dog's clueless owner and 2) a lack of some preventative measures.

DO NOT try to break up a dog fight. That's a great way to get seriously hurt. Your reaction times are pitiful compared to any dog's, and those teeth are not a joke when a dog is upset.

I would not let Dermot dash up to any dog, particularly when that dog is restrained. Many dogs are leash aggressive and few take really kindly to that approach. Get "Leave it!" nailed down as a command, via lots of positive reinforcement. (Hearing that should immediately draw Dermot's attention to you in anticipation of the thing he loves best in the world, whether it is a special treat or a toy he adores.) And make sure your recall command is as strong as you can make it, again with really great positive reinforcement.

The best way to deal with this going forward is to make sure Dermot is good at staying with you. And definitely to ensure that he is not approaching dogs who are on restraint or leash or just entering an area, particularly at speed. If another dog even begins to act aggressive toward him, including humping, recall him and give him major rewards for obeying.
posted by bearwife at 2:40 PM on July 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Any chance you're in a town or small city or the dog park is owned by the city? Call the parks and rec department with a description of the aggressive dogs and the owner. If not, call the non-emergency police line. The police/animal control can patrol dog parks and (in my city) if they get enough separate complaints about the same dog, the dog and owner are banned from leash-less areas.
posted by thewestinggame at 4:19 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

My friend used to own a doggy day care. The first thing they were trained to do was to try to slip in between the two dogs using only their body/legs - no reaching in with arms to try to protect the non-aggressive dog, just stepping between the two. This is something I've done putting myself between my dog and other more aggressive ones, usually before they get into a major tiff.

Then the wheelbarrow.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:34 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't let your dog run up to the entrance to see who is coming in. Ever.

Don't panic or scream when they are in a fight. Relax and come up with a plan with the other owner. We have grabbed both dogs for the back legs at the same time, and when they have released their jaws we pull back. (Wheelbarrow)

And, yes, step in. You put the dog in a situation that had a risk, it's your responsibility to care for your dog in that situation. (Or just don't being them in to a dog park.)
posted by Vaike at 7:11 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have the scars to prove what a bad idea getting your hands or arms anywhere near the fight is.

The only thing that ever worked in our house (two large dogs, one of them kind of squirrely and unpredictable, the other who wouldn't ever start a fight but would for sure finish it) was one person grab one collar, the other person grab the other collar, and pull up and backwards. With random dogs out in the universe, I'd consider carrying mace or a big stick. There's a guy in my neighborhood with a little mini dachshund who he walks while carrying a baseball bat. We don't actually have a loose dog problem where I live, but I'm going to guess that that guy had a bad experience at some point.

Dog parks are a risk. Each one has its own culture and its own responsible owner/complete idiot ratio. There are dog parks where everyone there is a dog nerd continually reading all the dogs' body language and dealing with them appropriately, but those are few and far between. I've had to just straight up leave dog parks within 5 minutes of arriving because someone walked in who was clearly bad news bears. That was always my number one preventative measure: be prepared to leave immediately at any point. To that end, recall your dog whenever a new dog comes in the gate, don't let them rush the gate. Give it a minute for the new dog to show what it's made of before you release your dog to go meet and greet.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:29 PM on July 24, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.

We usually go to the dog park at around the same time every Sat & Sun mornings and Dermot has a regular group of buddies there: a beagle, a bernese mountain dog, a lab, a couple of mixes, and his BFF, Eva - a white shepherd mix. They all run to the front gate to see who's coming and this hasn't been a problem in the past, but I agree with all that caution about this practice.

We love the dog park and will continue to go. A dog fight is a rare thing at this dog park - and fshgrl is right - it's completely fine until that one aggressive dog shows up. & Ms T.horn is also right - negligent owners suck. I plan on being more prepared if one show up again.

I looked at the illustrated guide to breaking up a dog fight (helpful!) and am considering pepper spray, carrying a taser or more likely, getting a walking stick that will double as a fight breaker-upper.

But I think most importantly, I'll work on Dermot's recall (usually good except when he's playing with friends), not let him be a "dog park greeter" in the future, and keep him beside me when a strange dog enter till I am sure he is non-aggressive. And if I have any doubts or even a whiff of concern, we're out of there immediately. Then I'll rely on my new walking stick if all else fails.

Thanks again!
posted by mulcahy at 9:03 PM on July 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I know I'm coming in late, but I really recommend the At the Dog Park video series by Sue Sternberg (youtube link) - she shows video of various dog interactions, and instructs on topics like reading body language and appropriate intervention. It really opened my eyes to how much many dog owners don't notice and how to avoid problems far, far earlier in many cases.
posted by R a c h e l at 11:33 AM on July 26, 2016

And I've also heard recommendations to use citronella spray over pepper spray - pepper spray can be dangerous to people as well as dogs (while citronella spray is just a bad smell to dogs, and doesn't bother people at all) so your liability is far lower. Plus, pepper spray is legally restricted in some places but citronella spray is, afaik, always fine. And it's still supposed to be quite effective.
posted by R a c h e l at 11:37 AM on July 26, 2016

How do I break up a dog fight?

The best way is to avoid the fight in the first place. That means:

– awareness of fight or flight signs in your dog and in other dogs
– with new dogs, only controlled introductions. other owner present and engaged.
– awareness of and avoidance of clueless/careless owners
– leashing and removal of your dog if you have any doubt at all
– if dogs are getting too worked up, and other owner isn't intervening, break out distracting treats for both dogs, one for each. Make them pay attention to you instead of each other.

red flags - basically you're looking for inattentive or clueless owners.

– dog is never on leash
– owner does not appear to have dog's attention ever
– dog constantly tugs leash, owner doesn't respond appropriately
– owner does not pay attention to their dog, is oblivious of their behavior
– dog poops, owner sees it, does nothing
– dog roughhouses too hard with other dogs
– dog has aggressive fight or flight posture
– owner never intervenes when dog behaves badly
posted by zippy at 2:07 PM on July 26, 2016

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