When you first pictured yourself having a dog, you probably imagined doing fun, social activities with your canine friend, such as going on walks, enjoying the park, and going on trips. These are all enjoyable ways to spend time with your pup, but whenever you leave the house with your dog, you need to anticipate that you may encounter other dogs during your outing. While this usually isn’t an issue, not all dogs are friendly or well trained, and dog fights can occur. On top of that, any animal can be somewhat unpredictable, domesticated or not, so it’s better to anticipate the possibility of a conflict and know in advance how to react.

Knowing what to do in case a fight happens, and learning how to prevent a fight before it even starts can be very beneficial for the safety of both you and your furry friend.

dog fight

What Causes Dog Fights?

Dog fights can happen for a variety of reasons. According to Oakland Veterinary Referral Services in Michigan, some of the most common reasons a dog conflict can arise include: a desire to express dominance, competition for resources like food or attention, fear-driven defense, aggressive play habits, and a desire to protect owners or others in the household, especially young puppies.

If a dog feels the need to protect food, territory, or toys, it may react aggressively. If a dog is feeling threatened or afraid, they go on the offensive, trying to scare away the other dog. A dog in pain may not have the patience to deal with other animals, and when feeling anxious during play every dog has the ability to be pushed past its breaking point. 

Any pet that lacks social integration, such as a puppy or a dog rescued from neglect, may not know how to handle strong feelings, like frustration, and may react in an aggressive way. Every dog has different triggers, so knowing your pet can go a long way in helping you anticipate and deflect fights from happening.

What is the Difference Between Rough Playing and Fighting?

One key factor to recognize when deciding to intervene in a dog tussle is determining whether the dogs are actually being aggressive or if they are just play fighting.

When dogs play, their play can look vicious and aggressive. Growling, neck biting, and body slamming are all a normal part of play for your pup. So how can you tell the difference between just playing rough and all-out fighting? The most important thing to focus your attention on is the body language of the dogs involved in the play. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Does your dog look relaxed or stiff? Dogs that are playing will be relaxed and flopping, while stiffness indicates that there may be an issue.
  • Does your dog have an open mouth or tight lips? When dogs are playing, their mouths are usually open in order to convey they aren’t a threat to the other dog. If they are snarling or have their lips pulled tight, they may be getting ready to fight.
  • Are the dogs taking turns? In play, dogs generally take turns being the “aggressor.”
  • Does your dog move with big movements? Big, floppy movements are a hallmark of play, while efficient streamlined movements occur when fighting.

Prevention is the Best Policy

When it comes to dog fights, they can be sudden and have devastating consequences. It is best to focus on what you can do in order to prevent fights from occurring in the first place, rather than just trying to break them up once they’ve begun. 

As mentioned above, learning and monitoring your dog’s body language is the most effective tool you have in preventing dog fights. Here are some signs to watch out for when your dog is feeling stressed around other pups:

  • Tail tucking. If your dog is uncomfortable, it may tuck its tail between its legs.
  • Vocalizing. If your dog is whining, barking, or growling in an unfamiliar manner, they may be feeling uncomfortable.
  • Flattened ears.
  • Licking their lips or panting
  • Yawning
  • Extensive sniffing
  • Pacing
  • Raised hackles

In addition to these signs, be mindful of the intent of all dogs in the situation. If you see a dog guarding something or staring hard at your dog, they may be issuing a threat. If you notice your dog or another dog becoming very still, they may be about to attack. When your dog is around other animals, either known or unknown, being vigilant is the best thing you can do to protect both yourself and your furry friend from a fight.

How to Break Up a Dog Fight

Even if you are vigilant all of the time, it is still possible that your dog may become involved in a dog fight. If that happens, your main instinct may be to jump in the middle of the fight to try to break it up. Though you have good intentions, that may be the worst thing for both you and your pet. 

Becoming involved in a dog fight poses a great risk of injury for both you and your pet. When your dog is trying to defend itself, it may not be able to recognize you as a friend, and it may try to go after you. You may even become injured and still not break up the fight, and leave your dog with no one to defend it. Here are some tips about what to do to break up a dog fight, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC):

    1. Distract the dogs — Anything you can do that will take the dogs’ attention away from each other can work. Loud noises, spraying them with a hose, dumping water on their head, or blocking their eyes with a blanket or jacket may all serve as enough of a distraction to break up the fight.
    2. Use something to separate the dogs — Use whatever object you have close by – a broom, a garbage can lid, a baby gate – to separate the dogs as they fight. While this will help keep you safer than using your body to put space between the dogs, it is important to remember to keep your hands and face as far away from the dogs’ mouths as possible.
    3. Physically separate the dogs – If you truly have no other options, you may feel the need to separate the dogs yourself, even though there is a great risk of injury. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), if there is no other way, the best technique to use to separate the dogs is called the wheelbarrow technique. If there is someone else to help you, you approach the dog from behind, grab their hind legs and lift so that all their weight is balanced on their front legs. Once you have them in this position, start backing away from the other dog. Keep moving until the dogs are well separated, as this can help ensure your dog doesn’t turn around and bite you.

Note that any intervention can be dangerous, and it could still result in great injury to you and your pet. Again, prevention is the best measure, even if it sometimes means feeling like you were overly cautious in the face of an unclear risk.

Working with experienced, certified dog trainers can be an effective measure, too, since it allows your dog to understand how to react in situations where they may feel uncomfortable or threatened while giving you tools to regain their focus in the event of a brewing conflict.

Greenlin Pet Resorts Has Dog Training and Other Resources You Can Use

If your dog has been involved in a dog fight, it’s a good idea to take them to the vet to get checked out. Once any immediate danger has passed, you may want to consult a professional dog trainer to help address any underlying causes of the fight. 

At Greenlin Pet Resorts, we have certified trainers who will work with you and your pup in order to ensure any issues are ironed out. With five convenient locations in central Pennsylvania, we are here to take care of any training or obedience school needs.

Additionally, if you want your dog to become socialized in a safe and controlled environment, consider enrolling your dog in our doggie daycare. Your dog will be well supervised in a variety of environments so that they can learn to play safely with other dogs. Additionally, we keep any dogs that feel excessively nervous or uncomfortable around other dogs separated from the playgroup, to minimize the risk of conflict for you and your pet. Contact us today to schedule a time to meet with our professional staff or tour our facilities. We can’t wait to start making memories with your furry friend today!