Dealing with fighting dogs

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 mekanoide,CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

mekanoide,CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

This post is written for This and That Thursday hosted by 2 Brown Dogs and Ruckus the Eskie.

New dog owners or perhaps owners of slightly larger breeds of dogs might be a tad frightened when their dogs suddenly start to roughhouse or greet each other with what seems like excessive growling.

What might be a little worse is if the dogs abruptly progress from rough housing to a full blown tussle.Breaking apart two dogs, especially if they are strangers to each other, can be frightening. Legal repercussions can result for owners and injuries, of course, may result for the dogs.

Little reminders about what starts dogs fighting may raise awareness and help in the prevention of such incidents. Knowing what to and what not to do in the event of a tussle between our furry friends can help to dissolve panic.

Understanding dog fights

tonylanciabeta, CC-BY-Sa 2.0 via Creative Commons

tonylanciabeta, CC-BY-Sa 2.0 via Creative Commons

Being aware of what causes dogs to fight might help owners take preventive measures to avoid such situations.

There are a number of reasons why dogs may fight, so bearing them in mind is always helpful.

The difference between fight and play

A newer dog owner may find it difficult to tell the difference between playing and fighting. A little bit of knowledge about canine body language in this area might be of assistance.

When a dog plays, he usually begins with a “bow”. A bow between canines is an invitation to play. If a little rough housing begins that way, there is no cause for great alarm. The dogs usually switch places as bottom and top dog, neither trying to dominate the session.

The rough housing is a little more than that when the dogs develop a tense stance and try to appear larger than the other. One would usually pin the other down and bites are hard enough to cause bleeding.

Why dogs fight

Food

This happens occasionally between my female terriers, Misty and Cloudy. One would try to steal food from the other, resulting in a few growls or snarls which is commonly known as “food aggression.”

Territory

Dogs may also fight over territory. Sleeping on a cushion that bears the scent of the dog who usually uses it may sometimes result in a little snarling.

Toys

As with food, a tussle over toys may result if one tries to steal the toy from the other. A note that when female dogs fight with males, it is often to gain a possession.

Insecurity

Dogs will get into a fight when they perceive that the other dog is a threat.

Dominance

A lower ranking dog in a pack might want to prove himself by initiating a fight. Older dogs might growl and younger ones to put them in their place. Misty sometimes does this to my younger West Highland Terrier Cloudy, who can be a handful.

Preventing dog fights

JoF,CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

JoF,CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

Removing triggers

If food is a trigger, separate feeding areas for the various dogs in the household so that one will not abruptly grab food from the other who is possessive.

Such is also the case with toys and territory.

Behavior modification

Dogs that are sensitive to the sound of doorbells or to the presence of other dogs may benefit from desensitization training. As the name suggests, it is a way of lessening the sensitivity in the dog to the triggers for its untoward behavior.

It involves gradual exposure to the triggers until he is able to gain control of his reactions to the stimulus eg. the doorbell ringing.

Counter conditioning is another technique that is often used by trainers. It involves replacing the painful memories associated with the stimulus with new associations. A dog might have previously associated the sound of the bell with pain because someone who came through the door might have spanked him. A dog behaviorist will slowly introduce a new association to the sound of the bell, for instance, play.

Desensitization and counter conditioning can both be used to restructure a dog’s inappropriate behavior.

Socialization

A dog used to both people and other dogs will tend to get less involved in dog fights. Bring your puppy on constant walks to get used to new people or other dogs. If the resource is available, basic dog training classes and puppy kindergartens can help the dog to get used to people and other dogs in the environment.

Do not allow aggressive wrestling.

Stop any wrestling among dogs if you notice that it has a potential to escalate.

Things to do and avoid when a dog fight occurs

Things to do when dogs fight

 Greencolander,CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

Greencolander,CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

Let it fizzle out.

A fight usually takes up a lot of the dogs energy so it usually fizzles out as fast as it starts. Let the dogs lose interest in biting each other before separating them.

Of course, this scenario should best be avoided.

Call your dog in a gentle tone.

If you notice that your dog’s rough housing is starting to get a little more than that, call your dog in a firm but gentle tone.

Carry a small umbrella

A little foldable umbrella can be carried around and popped open between two dogs that are fighting. It provides a surprise and blockage.

Squirt gun

If available, squirting water over fighting dogs might distract and break up the tussle.

Grab the top dog by the rear.

Do this only if water gun or umbrella does not work to stop the dogs fighting as accidents do occur.

Wait for the moment when one dog gets on top of the other. Grab the top dog by its hind legs and hold them off the ground. It shifts its drive and angle dramatically with a little distraction because something else-your hands- have gained power. It will tilt the dog and surprise him such that he will not think about attacking further.

Things not to do during a fight

Do not reach for the collar.

Do not try to pick a dog up in the event of a fight because you might be bitten.

In  dog fights, dogs will usually attack the neck areas. Do not reach for the collar area at this time because you might get mauled, especially when handling bigger dogs like German Shepherds or Rotties.

Do not scream.

It is frightening but the owner’s job at this point of time is to keep calm in the face of a dog tussle. It does not stop the dogs fighting and might instead escalate tension.

Conclusion

Dog fights should always be avoided but if a dog is in a middle of one, steps can be taken to stop it.

Above all, prevention is way better than the cure.

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12 Replies to “Dealing with fighting dogs”

  1. Thanks so much for participating in TNT. Excellent informative post. Since I have two intact males, I am very aware of looking for signs of tension between them. In fact we pretty much keep them separate so they each have their own space.

    I was told by a long time Chessie breeder that the dogs fights he has seen have started after rough play. Your advice is very good about no aggressive wrestling.

    I had to laugh last weekend because after Thunder came home from his hunting weekend, the first thing he did was to go over to where I had Freighter crated and growl at him. It was very low and I could barely hear it, but I think he was saying…look kid I am back so don’t think you are going to take over.

    Luckily in our case, they have only ever growled at each other. But we aren’t taking chances it could escalate and make sure they have a lot of space.

  2. Excellent post with a lot of good advice…Gizmo is not a fighter, but he does get his hackles up when he's on leash and a larger dog gets a little too up close and personal with him…he'll give off signs like a curled lip, but doesn't escalate into an attack

  3. I have a tiny lil 6 mth old King Charles Spaniel named Rhys who's known to be a face greeter. Most dogs just accept it as he's a puppy but he's been told off more than once. It's interesting to see how dogs react to him because of a) his size and b) he's a puppy. Thankfully he's quick and always seems to run between peoples legs whenever he gets himself in over his head. Nice to know some tactics down the road tho!

  4. This is absolutely the most useful post about how dogs play and fight that I have ever read. Thank you for sharing the differences so that people can be more aware.

  5. Great info. We lost a dog to a dog fight a couple of months ago. It was a very traumatic experience and we still haven’t gotten over it. After it happened, I read that you could use pepper spray to break up a dog fight. I wish I had thought of that when my two dogs go into the fight.

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