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Dog Behavior: Understanding Dog Fights

By Linda Cole

Breaking up a dog fight can be difficult and potentially dangerous. If your canine family includes two or more dogs, they may all get into a fight at one time or another. It's a scary situation, especially if you're alone and there's no time to think about what to do in the heat of the battle. Even a dog who is quiet and docile can turn into a raging bull when pushed too far. Breaking up a dog fight is one of the hardest things you may have to do. It’s a good idea to have a plan in place; even better, learn about the body language of dogs to prevent fights before they begin. Dog behavior that might lead to a fight is clear and easy to see, if you know what to look for.

I share my home with multiple dogs of different breeds, personalities and sizes, and I have had to break up dog fights. Smaller dogs are easier to deal with, but it doesn't matter if the dogs are small or large; any dog fight is dangerous because one or both of the dogs could turn on the person trying to break them up. However, there are warning signs before a fight begins.

Most dog fights can be stopped before it erupts into a full blown battle if you understand what the dog's body language and warning growls are saying. Read this article for more information on a dog's body language. Dogs give warning signals that tell you what their state of mind is. You may think a dog just attacked another dog out of the blue, but if you were paying attention to the dog's behavior, there were signs. Dogs don't hide their feelings, and knowing your dog's personality and breed characteristics can help you understand the signals your dog sends to you and other dogs.

When trying to stop a dog fight, you have to be prepared to do whatever it takes, and do it as safely as you can for yourself and the dogs. Grabbing their back legs and turning the dogs until they let go of each other may work for smaller breeds, but it won't work for all dogs. Turning a garden hose on fighting dogs or spraying a solution of water and vinegar in the face might work; however, no one solution will work for all dogs and you may find that none of the expert advice works for your dogs.

You need to think about how you would break up a dog fight before it happens and how you would control the dogs’ behavior after breaking them up. I’ve written an article with tips on how to break up a dog fight, which you can read here. It's like knowing what to do in a tornado, fire or other emergency in the home. Preparation may not stop a fight, but it will help you stay calmer and be less likely to panic.

Fighting dogs will not listen to you. They only have one thing on their mind and that's fighting. Yelling does no good, and kicking or hitting them will not stop a fight. By interacting with them in an aggressive matter, you risk having one or more of the dogs turn on you. You can use a piece of plywood, a garbage can or a lawn chair to put between the fighting dogs. For some dogs, throwing a heavy blanket or rug over them can stop the fight, but not always. It depends on the size of dog and the intensity of the fight. Keep in mind, when dogs are fighting, they are in a fight to the death, as far as they are concerned. Consider the number of dogs you have, their size and breed and how capable you are in breaking up a dog fight, especially if you're alone.

There are no simple solutions for breaking up dog fights that will work for all dogs, all of the time. Your best defense is to have a good understanding of a dog's body language and pay attention to warning growls. When you know your dogs well, you can look at them and see warning signs. You can see it in their body movements, their eyes, the hair standing up on their back and neck. They will give you plenty of signals that indicate a dog fight is about to happen. By assuming the leadership role with your dogs, you have the ability to stop the fight before it gets out of hand. Taking the time to learn what your dogs are saying with their body language is safer for them and for you.

Read more articles by Linda Cole
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