How to Break Up a Dog Fight: What to Do if an Attack Happens

Owning a pet dog is a wonderful experience for adults and children alike. These cuddly, lovable animals provide hours of love, compassion and companionship but what happens when their lives are put at risk by another dog?

Imagine the scenario. A woman is walking her 9 year-old golden retriever while pushing a double stroller with her two toddler daughters inside when she hears rustling behind her and sees a mutt who has broken free from its owner’s grip on the leash and is running toward her full-force, teeth bared and a fight in its eyes. In the blink of an eye, the two dogs have each other by the neck with no signs of letting go. What’s the best way to handle such a situation?

As Linda Cole writes in her article, “Responsible Pet Ownership: How to Break Up a Dog Fight,” fighting dogs hear, see, smell and fear nothing except the dog in their face. At this point, they cease to become pets and instead turn into animals in a fight to the death. As a result, humans should never attempt to break up a dog fight by pulling on a dog’s collar or calling a dog’s name.” What can be done, then?


Think Through a Dog Fight Before It Happens

Cole recommends that pet owners first think through how they would handle a dog fight situation before it happens as it’s important to remain calm to help maintain an air of composure when an attack does occur. While the immediate purpose in breaking up a dog fight is to get the dogs to release their holds by separating them, it requires a significant amount of force to do so.

There is no magic answer, no sure-fire solution, but there are steps one can take in different situations.

Breaking Up a Dog Fight

If a fight happens outside, most experts advise spraying the dogs directly in the eyes and muzzle/nose area with a garden hose to shock them enough to release their grips. Don’t stop spraying until both dogs have backed off and are as far from each other as possible. If a hose is not available, a large chair or trash can lid will do, as long as it’s something that provides a big enough barrier while protecting the human involved. Note that this is very difficult to do when alone, much easier with two or more people.

The only safe way to break up a dog fight involves two capable adults, especially if the dogs are big. While spraying them with hoses, hitting them with sticks and/or yelling to stop the fighting can work, it’s important to keep in mind that if the dogs are intent on killing one another, these techniques will not work and yelling, especially, will often times escalate the fight. Remaining calm and keeping one’s wits about is the best advice out there.

What Not to Do in a Dog Fight

One’s first instinct may be to yell, kick or hit the dogs with a stick, but this will only raise their level of excitement. Stay calm and never reach between two dogs who are fighting.

If two dogs are fighting, even if they are one’s own pets, they are in a zone packed full of adrenaline and will bite anything in their way, including hands, legs, arms, face, etc. They don’t realize they are biting their owner; they are simply reacting and biting anything they encounter. Trying to break up a fight using physical force is a battle that the dogs will win every time.

Tips for Avoiding a Dog Fight

Kim Campbell Thornton wrote a blog post in which she offered the following key pieces of advice:

  1. If one sees people approaching with a dog, especially a big dog, call out to ask if they can meet. Letting dogs approach each other on loose leashes is the surest way to ward off aggressive behavior from either party. That’s because when each owner pulls hard on the leash, the tension makes the dog feel defensive.
  2. In situations where the other owner would prefer that the dogs not meet, teach the dog to stand or sit and focus on the owner until the other dog passes.
  3. Never let a dog approach another dog who is tied up, even if he looks or seems friendly. Since the tied dog’s movement is restricted, he’ll try to defend his space.

Hands Off for Safety

No one ever wants to be in a situation where separating two fighting dogs is necessary but, occasionally a dog fight breaks out and it is crucial that one knows the best way to respond. Remembering the number one rule, to never try to separate the dogs by putting one’s hands in the middle of the fight, will go a long way toward ensuring a safe outcome for all involved.