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Stop a dog fight

Filed Under: recalls and safety, pets, health

Photo by Diane Rixon of a brown and white male Jack Russell Terrier being held by a red collar
I've witnessed many dog fights over the years. I've noticed that in a crowd situation such as a dog park, the response of the human observers is pretty predictable. Some stand and stare. Some scream at the dogs to stop... and the dogs ignore them completely. (Well, what did you expect?!) Then there are those -- usually the hapless owners -- who try to haul the dogs apart by the collars.

In fact, the worst thing you can do in a dog fight situation is to grab the dogs by the collars. You risk getting bitten really badly. Here's what you should do to stop a dog fight.

1. Get a volunteer to help you. Be warned: the other owner may not be the best choice. You will know that is the case if he/she stands there looking helpless. I had this happen to me once when a gianormous German Shepherd attacked my dog. It was very frightening. (Luckily I was armed with a baseball bat, so I was able to rescue my boy. Phew.)


2. Seize one dog's hind legs and lift 'em up off the ground. Your buddy will do the same with the other dog. If one dog is clearly the aggressor, grab that dog first. Grip the dogs hard to prevent them from wriggling free. Don't grab the feet, as they will find it pretty easy to kick loose again. Instead, get a hold of the lower leg just below the knee joint.

3. Holding the dogs' rear ends off the ground, haul them apart and back away. As you go, turn in circles. Circles? Yes. The movement forces the dogs to focus on keeping their balance--and hopefully prevent them from whirling around and attacking you or your companion in the heat of the moment!

4. Don't let go until the dogs are separated by a barrier or, preferably, removed from each other's presence entirely.

Tip: When There's No One Else to Help
If you're alone when a fight happens, stay calm. You will need two leashes or lengths of rope. First, restrain the dog you judge the aggressor: grab a leash and loop it tightly around the dog's belly. Drag him/her to something you can use as an anchor, such as a fence. Next, do the same with the second dog. Ending a fight this way is going to take a horribly long time to accomplish, but it's the safest method for you.

Tip: You Could Really Get Hurt
Be realistic: intervening in a dog fight could really get you hurt. Even a fairly minor puncture wound from a dog can be nasty, very painful, and will probably leave you with a permanent scar or two.

Tip: Silence is Golden
Yelling, shrieking, jumping up and down. Don't waste your energy with such displays of emotion. Trust me, you are not impressing the dogs one bit.

Tip: Tail vs. Legs
I've found a great alternative hold is to grab dogs by the base of the tail instead of the hind legs. The advantage being you don't have to bend down as close to the danger zone (teeth!) as you do to grab the hind legs. On the other hand, a large dog is difficult to control with only one arm and you might be more likely to lose your balance.

Tip: Post-fight Etiquette
Not that you would... but just in case let me say, don't get drawn into an argument about who is to blame with the other dog's owner. The polite thing to do is just apologize if your dog showed any aggression at all, even if he/she didn't actually start the fight. On the other hand, if your dog was getting the crap beaten out of it by the other dog, no apology is needed from you.

If the other owner fails to apologize to you, try to let it go. Yes, you will be boiling angry, but take a deep breath and keep the moral high ground. Realize the other party's failure to apologize is probably due to the fact that A) he/she's a jerk, (in which case, arguing will only produce more jerk-like behavior), or B) he/she's too embarrassed to react properly. Shoot them a pointed look (eyebrow arched, if you please) and leave it at that.

If you are in a public place like a park, leave. I don't care if your dog didn't start it. Your dog needs to cool down. Moreover, you need to show you are sensitive to other people's valid concerns about their or their dogs' safety.

Tip: Prepare to be Yelled At
If you intervene in a fight when neither dog belongs to you, don't expect either owner to thank you for your efforts. Strange but true: many dog owners are touchy about someone else correcting their dog. You may even get yelled at. Oh well.

Tip: Punishment Achieves Nothing
Don't try and punish your dog after the fact by yelling, hitting, kicking, or forcing the dog onto its back. Firstly, you risk being attacked if your pup is still in fight mode. Second, it is cruel because he/she will not understand what this punishment is for. If you are the owner, suppress your anger and channel your energies into training or socialization exercises that will help prevent future fights. A book I like is Good Owners, Great Dogs. Check it out!

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