Even in the calmest of environments, dogs will occasionally fight. They're like people; they have disagreements and misunderstandings, and under the wrong circumstances those struggles turn violent. These fights can cause serious (if not life-threatening) damage to the animals involved and the people around them. But if you're prepared, you can break up a dog fight without serious injury to any of the creatures involved.

Most dog fights will occur between same-sex animals (males with males, females with females) but this is not always the case. In instances of territoriality, endangerment of pack members, or struggles for dominance, mixed-sex fights do arise.

Another thing you should understand immediately is that, while your dog is domesticated, s/he is still an animal. All animals (including people) lose control sometimes. A dog in the middle of a fight isn't thinking about who's who. They're thinking about survival. They will attack the hand that feeds them. If you follow some ground rules, you may be saving yourself a trip to the hospital.

So your dogs are fighting. Let's start with the don'ts.

  • Don't scream at them to stop. They're not listening and they can't hear you.

  • Don't stick your hand in the middle of the fray. They're snapping wildly, looking for something to lock their jaw into. Your arm works just as well as their opponent's neck or leg.

  • Don't spray water on the dogs, cover them in blankets, or use weapons like stun guns or pepper spray. Adding chaos to an already violent situation isn't going to stop them. Wet dogs are just as mean, covered dogs are only harder to see.

  • Don't grab the dog by the scruff of the neck or the collar. Again, you're putting your artery in harm's way and are more likely to do yourself damage than to exact control over the dog.

I've read up a lot on the subject, talked to my vet, groomer, and dog trainer, and all of these people advocated using the same system. It usually takes two people, but it works on the largest or smallest of dogs. Your goal is to separate the dogs quickly without injury. Here's how:

  1. Move to the back of one dog. Standing directly behind it, seize it by the backs of its feet and lift upward, so the dog is balancing only on its front feet. (Person #2 should do the same with the other dog.)

  2. Each person walks backwards, their dog's feet still in hand. Shuffle backwards until the dogs are at least 4-5 ft. apart. If the dog is turning to snap at the person holding it, simply walk backwards in an arc, so that you're almost turning in wide circles with the dog. They'll have to focus on balancing rather than attacking, or they'll fall on their chest and won't be able to attack anyway.

  3. Separate the dogs quickly, preferably with crates, fencing, or in different rooms. Allow the dogs some time to "cool off."

Easy, huh? If you're alone, you follow the same procedure--it just takes longer. While the dogs are fighting, grab a leash and lasso it to the back leg of the larger dog. Pick up its legs and physically pull the dog away to a spot where it can be anchored (in a crate, on a pole or fence, etc). Then walk wheelbarrow style with the other dog.

I had to use this technique recently when my mother's 150 lb Belgian Shephard attacked my 35 lb Beagle. I was able to dominate the larger dog quickly and end the fight before anyone was seriously injured. Had I not been prepared for the fight, I may have reached in and been bitten or attacked by one or both dogs.

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