WARNING: Graphic images below-
If you’ve ever been out walking your dog and seen a loose dog running your way, you’ve likely felt the twinge of panic that comes with a fear that this stray may attack you or your dog. You may have even had to break up a dog fight or two in your time. But did you know that it is highly dangerous to get involved when 2 dogs are fighting, as you are liable to be bitten, or that there are techniques to safely break up a dog fight? One simply has to search “dog bites” on the internet to see a myriad of painful images caused by owners trying to stop a fight. Yes, you guessed it: Your Tempe dog walker had a painful and expensive week related to this topic!
Let me start from the beginning. In addition to being a Tempe dog sitter, I work with a rescue group fostering cats and dogs to save them from euthanasia at the local pound. I’ve had a particular foster dog for 10 months now and have grown to love him. He is a happy, goofy, submissive young Pitbull named Pongo. He does have some resource guarding tendencies and bad manners like counter-surfing, but is otherwise just a chatty, sweet boy. Since bringing him into my home with my cats and 2 personal dogs, he has been through several other foster dogs coming and going as well and done great with them.
Two weeks ago I took in a male Australian Shepherd mix named Shaggy. Unfortunately, right after the Aussie was neutered, he opened his incision multiple times and had to wear a “cone of shame” to keep him from doing more damage and prolonging his healing. During the week and a half he was with me, he had a couple squabbles with Pongo, but nothing serious. The e-collar seemed to also prevent him from doing any damage, and I was easily able to stop the quarrel. It was certainly Shaggy who had an issue with Pongo and was the aggressor each time.
On Wednesday, I took the cone off Shaggy and within 5 minutes, he attacked Pongo without provocation from what I could tell. And here is where your Tempe dog sitter made a mistake. In the heat of the moment, I attempted to break up this dog fight in the wrong way. I tried pulling the dogs apart, but Shaggy had no collar on and would simply attack again if Pongo let go or I momentarily had them separated. I was unable to stop the attack even when screaming the dogs’ names and tugging among other failed techniques. And in the process of trying to stop things, I managed to get bit several times in multiple places by one or both dogs. Unfortunately, when dogs go into this “red zone”, they cannot think clearly and often will bite their beloved owner due to accidental redirection. Once bit, I could no longer make any remotely effective attempts at stopping the fight and called 911 after wrapping my bleeding wrist in a kitchen towel.
The dogs eventually separated after what seemed like an eternity simply out of exhaustion, and I pushed Pongo out the back door so they would not be able to re-engage. This was one thing I did right! I took the opportunity to prevent the fight from starting again when they stopped to catch their breath. Fortunately, both dogs are recovering after visits to the veterinarian, and my injuries were minor enough not to require stitches or a hospital visit. Now I am determined to be ready and prepared to safely break up a dog fight should this happen again. Which techniques listed below have you used in the past, and were they effective?
Marginally Effective Techniques (may not work if one or both dogs are in the “red zone”)
-Verbal interference such as yelling the pups’ names and saying “NO!” or any other noise related distraction such as clapping or banging a pot. However avoid screaming as this may intensify their fight reaction.
-Ring a doorbell if you have one – sometimes this distracts the dogs.
-Spraying the dogs with water from a hose.
– Throw a blanket over the dogs. This can startle them and at the very least will offer a layer of protection for you from biting teeth.
-Using a compressed air canister or noise siren to startle the dogs with the loud noise
-It is not recommended to try to pull them apart by their collars. You can try to use another object such as a garbage can or baby gate to separate them. You must be VERY careful, as evidenced with what happened to me, if you try to pull dogs apart as they will most likely redirect and bite what they perceive to be a new aggressor.
Recommended Technique: The Wheelbarrow
If you are alone and a fight breaks out, loop a leash or slip-lead around the back end of one of the dogs and anchor it somewhere, dragging the still-fighting dogs together if needed to find a stable anchor location. Then pick up the other dog by it’s back legs at the very top, just under her hips, right where her legs connect to her body, and walk backwards wheelbarrow style, circling, so the dog has to stay focused on balancing and won’t redirect and bite you. Take the dog and kennel it securely or put it outside so the fight will not restart once you let go. The dogs need to be safely separated to prevent another fight. Ideally you have 2 people present and both can simply grab the back legs of each dog and circle backwards. (Do *not* grab the dog’s paws or by it’s ankles as this can cause serious injury to the dog).
My hope is that you can avoid the pain and trauma this experience has caused me! Please be sure and consult a trainer if you have further questions or aggressive pooches and need additional assistance. This event has left a lasting impression on me that I do not wish to ever repeat. Peaceful pups make for a happy home!