How to Break Up a Dog Fight Without Getting Hurt
I have owned, trained and bred dogs for 45 years. I have trained protection dogs and police service dogs since 1974.
If you have come to this page you have issues with aggressive dogs. In the mid 1990's I wrote this article on "How to Break Up A Dog Fight Without Getting Hurt" which you can read below. It has been reprinted (with my permission) in many different languages.
My web site is over 10,000 pages and a good portion of this site is dedicated to dominant dogs and aggressive dogs. I have organized this page to not only include my article but also list training DVDs that I have produced to help deal with aggressive dogs, books on dog aggression and links to the numerous articles I have written on the topic of aggressive dog.
Breaking up a dog fight can go bad in a heart beat. This is serious business. So know your limitations and don't get into the middle of something you can't physically deal with.
** This article contains graphic photos of dog bites. If you find yourself uncomfortable with these photos, please listen to our Podcast or watch our video instead.
Before we start, I would like to say that I am always looking for photos of dog bites that can be used to demonstrate to others how dangerous breaking up a fight can be. I have included some photos at the bottom of this page and on other dog bite pages in my web site. If you have a photo, please contact us.
This past week I had an incident at my kennel that reminds me how important it is for everyone who works with dogs, or owns dogs to know how to break up a dogfight without getting hurt.
I will start with a warning. Unless you have a lot of experience do not try and break up a dog fight by yourself. Never step in the middle of two loving pets and try and grab them by the collar to stop a dog fight. If you try this, the chances of you being badly bitten are extremely high. People don't understand that 2 animals in the middle of a fight are in survival drive. If they see you at all, they don't look at you as their loving owner. When you charge in and grab them they either react out of a fight reflex and bite, or they see you as another aggressor. When they are in fight or flight mode they will bite you. You can take that to the bank.
Here is what happened at my kennel this week. The wife of a friend came to the kennel with her daughter. She told my secretaries that I had said it was OK to go into my whelping rooms to show her little girl our puppies.
I had never told her this. Anyway, that does not matter. When she left, she did not latch one of the kennel gates properly (this was also an employee mistake for not checking the gate).
Later, one of my kennel staff let another bitch outside. The first bitch jumped against her poorly latched kennel gate, and it came open. She ran outside and started a terrible dog fight. I had not told this young kennel person how to break up a dog fight in progress. He ran in and tried to grab both dog collars. He was bitten very badly in the forearm and hand before I could get on scene and break up the dog fight the correct way.
The safest way to break up a dogfight requires 2 people. Each person grabs the back feet of one of the dogs. The dog back feet are then picked up like a wheelbarrow. With the legs up, both dogs are then pulled apart.
Once the dog fight is broken up and the dogs pulled apart it is critical that the people do not release the dogs or the dog fight will begin again. The two people need to start turning in a circle, or slowly swinging the dogs in a circle while they back away from the other dog. This stops the dog from curling and coming back and biting the person holding their legs.
By circling the dog has to sidestep with its front feet or it will fall on its chin. As long as you slowly continue to back and circle, the dog cannot do any damage to you. To insure that the fight will not begin all over again when you release the dogs, one of the dogs needs to be dragged into an enclosure (i.e. a kennel, the garage, another room) before the dog is released. If you do not do this, the dogs will often charge back and start fighting again or if you release the dog to quickly the dog will turn and attack the person who had his feet.
Dog fights are a very dangerous thing to try and break up alone. You should never rush in and try and grab the dogs to pull them apart. They are in high "fight drive" and are not thinking clearly when fighting. If someone grabs them they will bite without even thinking about who or what they are biting. This is how your loving pet can dog bite the living crap out of you in about a second and a half.
In reality it probably doesn't even know it's biting you. I compare it to a bar fight. If a person comes up behind 2 guys fighting and just reaches out and grabs the shoulder of one of the combatants most of the time the fighter is going to turn and throw a punch without even looking at who or what he is hitting. This is because his adrenaline in pumping and he is in "fight drive".
The worst case scenario is that you are alone when a serious fight breaks out. There are a couple things that you must keep in mind:
- Keep your cool you have a job to do.
- Do not waste time screaming at the dogs. It hardly ever works.
- Your goal is still the same; you must break up the fight without getting hurt.
- Go get a leash (allow the fight to continue while you do this).
- Dogs are almost always locked onto one another. Walk up and loop the leash around the back loin of the dog by either threading the leash through the handle or use the clip. I prefer the thread method.
- Now slowly back away and drag the dog to a fence or to an object that you can tie the leash to. By doing this, you effectively create an anchor for one of the dogs.
- Then walk around and grab the back legs of the second dog and drag it away from the dog that is tied up. Remember to turn and circle as they release.
- Drag the dog into a dog pen or another room before you release the back legs.
- Go back and take the dog off the fence and put him or her into a dog kennel.
- Sit down and have a stiff drink (or two).
People talk about using cattle prods or shock collars to break up 2 pets that fight. I can tell you that many times this is not going to work. The electric cattle prod or electric collar will only put the dogs into higher fight drive. When they are shocked they will turn and bite the prod, or when they are shocked they will think the other dog is causing the pain and they will fight harder. An electric collar is best used in conditioning training, but not during an actual dogfight.
I had a friend tell me that using a stun gun works. Not to actually shock the dog, but just to hold it in your hand and allow it to snap. The sound of the electrical snap is supposed to cause the dogs to stop fighting. I will muzzle 2 of my dogs and let them go at it to see if this works. I will be surprised if it works on 2 really strong dogs going after each other.
Butch Crabtree got bit by his own dogs in his
kitchen because he did not do things correctly.
A point I would like to make is that if you see two dogs out there squaring off through body posturing (i.e. one dog with stiff legs and tail straight up in the air putting his head over the shoulders of the other to show dominance) do not run out there screaming "NO NO NO!!!!" Most of the time this is going to trigger the fight. A lot of times dogs will posture and one will give in and back away. They settle their dominance issue without a battle. I NEVER, NEVER, NEVER recommend testing this situation. It's not worth the fight that erupts if you are wrong. But I can tell you of a couple of situations at my kennel where I went outside and 2 males were loose that I would have thought would fight to the death. Obviously they determined that today is not the day to argue. I also know that had I gone out screaming before they settled it themselves there would have been a nasty fight.
If you have 2 dogs that you are trying to get to live together it’s best to make them wear muzzles all the time. Try the Jafco muzzles I sell. They are not expensive but very effective for this work.
With muzzles on you can test your training and if the dogs become aggressive you can safely step in and correct the dogs. It's important to make sure the muzzles are properly fit and on securely. It's also a good idea to have the dogs wear 18-inch draglines.
When one of the dogs even acts like it is going to challenge the other dog you need to INSTANTLY get after that dog. Your the pack leader and pack leaders are the ones who determine when to fight or be aggressive.
If dogs continue to show aggression I will use a remote collar in it's training. I did a training DVD that teaches Remote Collar Training for Pet Owners With serious dog aggression a dog needs to receive high level stimulation for even looking at another dog. The key is for your timing to be for LOOKING and not for AGGRESSION. Many times by the time a dog has elevated to the point of aggression it will not react to a normal levels of stimulation.
People make mistakes with remote collars and dog aggression by starting at a low level of stimulation and then waiting until the dog is actually being aggressive to stimulate the dog. By that time the dog is so keyed up it will fight through the correction. With many dogs they learn how to take higher and higher levels of stimulation - where as had the owner used the highest level at first they can often quickly go to lower levels.
Remember that females usually fight with females and males usually fight with males. It's seldom that a male and female will fight. When a male fights with a female it usually a very dominant male who is displaying his dominance over the female and she wants nothing to do with it. I have had to gas one of my stud dogs twice when he got into it with a female who did not want anything to do with him. This usually is going to happen with a dominant male who is very self confident, and thinks that he is the pack leader. You will also have males with strong sex drive go after a bitch that is not receptive to them.
The bottom line on dog fights is that unless you are trained it is best to never step into the middle of them. In the worst case, let them fight. It may resulted in death or severe injury to one of the dogs, but it's not worth the damage it could cause to you if you make a mistake trying to end the fight.
A last word of warning. If you or someone you are with gets bitten and has to go to the emergency room, the most common treatment is to leave the dog bite wounds open so they can drain. They normally should not be stitched. The only time most doctors will stitch up a dog bite is if it's on the face. By closing the wound there is a much higher chance of infection. If the doctor that you see wants to stitch normal puncture wounds, ask for a second opinion. Because of my experience with police dogs I knew better than to allow my hospitals Physician Assistants to stitch my employee. I voiced my concern but she insisted on stitching. I should have asked for a doctor's opinion. The wounds got infected and we had him back in the emergency room (at a different hospital) 2 days later. They took the stitches out, inserted packing and put him on "IV's" with antibiotics.
A final note to this article. I have received a great many emails about dog fighting. Many were well meant with ideas of how to use a hose and squirt water on the dog etc., etc., etc. While I appreciate these thoughts, the methods are simply not going to work on the very hard, very tough, working dog.
I get a number of emails on dog fights. This is more of a common problem than one would think. You can read some of these below and there is a Q&A section on my web site about dog fights. You can also view photos of what happens when you break up a dog fight the wrong way.
This is a photo that was sent to me from a very nice lady who tried to break up a fight
between her two dogs. It resulted in two surgeries and a long period of rehab.
Emails From People About Dog Fights
One email deserves mention - a man recently wrote this:
I write to tell you my "fun" method of separation when the fight is at home. A CO2 fire extinguisher. They are good to have around anyway. A combination of sound and the cold shot alone would be enough to break up the fight but when you add the effects of oxygen depravation, the results are "breathtaking." Give it a shot.
A dog fight is never pleasant, but I will have to admit to some small sense of satisfaction in letting them have it. Totally harmless when it was tried on me. And it worked every time on them. I bet you'll add it to your article when you see the results!
Pit Bull Kills our 10 Month Old German Shepherd
My 10-month-old GSD Chopper was brutally killed by a trained fighting pit bull around 7:30pm on March 20, 2006.
We were out for our usual nightly stroll, Chopper was walking calmly beside my 8-month-old son's stroller as trained to do so. My son, Shane, and Chopper were the typical dynamic-duo. Shane crawled everywhere Chopper went, and they would even crash together on the floor mid-day. As we were walking past some hedges of a neighbor's home about 1/4 mi from my house, I heard the low rumble of a dog's growl. Instantly Chopper was on the alert. Hackles and tail up, a large pit bull charged out of the bushes, headed straight for the stroller. Chopper instantly placed himself between the pit and my son's stroller, and met the pit jaw-to-jaw. Chopper, being only 70lbs, was pushed down by the 90lb+ pit. I instantly knew I would have to act fast to save Chopper. I called my fiance, then 911 about the fight that was now raging. I moved my son's stroller out of the way, then (unwisely) began kicking and hitting the pit to try to knock him off of my dog. My fiance got there within a minute of my call, and he instantly jumped into the fight. The pit turned his attention from Chopper long enough to grab my fiance's hand and crush 4 bones.
In that second, I started thinking clearly. I knew in my car I had a gun, and I raced to the car, grabbed it, and put 2 rounds into the pit's skull.
I am a dog lover, and felt horrible, but my first thought was to the safety of my family. I picked up Chopper's bleeding body, put him into my car, and raced him to the nearest emergency vet. My fiance stayed with my son and the body of the pit until the police and fire rescue came moments later.
By the time I got Chopper to the vet, my back seat was soaked with his blood, his eyes were glazed and his coloring was pale. He sustained numerous bite wounds to the front legs (one was actually broken) but the worst was his neck. It was just literally ripped wide open. I knew he had no chance, so they put him to sleep in the back of my car, head on my lap, where he was most happy.
After arranging the cremation of his body, I returned home. The pit's body had been picked up by Animal Control, and they had located the owner through a microchip. The pit not only had the many wounds and signs of dog fighting, his bite record showed his aggression. He had seriously wounded a small baby just a few days earlier, AND the owner had just gotten out of jail for manslaughter.
Currently, I am filing every charge on the owner that I can. With a great lawyer, and a great relationship with the local PD, I hope to put the owner where he needs to STAY. I have a new puppy (whom I had already purchased before this attack) named Carbon Copy v. Borus, and my son has taken to him as he did to Chopper. All I have are my pictures and memories of Chopper. My son will only grow up hearing the story, never actually remembering the dog that may have saved his life.
News Articles About Dog Fights
Man injured in pit bull fight
Kenneth Donaldson Sr. was taken by Life Flight medical helicopter to MUO following the incident.
HUDSON — A Hudson man was treated at the Medical University of Ohio in Toledo for a severe hand injury suffered when he tried to break up a fight between his two pit bulls Monday morning. According to Hudson Police Chief Charles Weir, Kenneth Donaldson Sr. was taken by Life Flight medical helicopter to MUO following the incident, which was reported shortly after 11 a.m. Monday.
Weir said Donaldson suffered severe injuries to his left hand, which surgeons were able to repair. He has returned home.
The dogs were taken into custody and transported to the office of veterinarian Matthew Taylor, where they were tested. The dogs will be euthanized and their remains sent to Lansing for further testing.
This is an example about how serious a dog fight can be and how quickly it can turn bad
Dog shot after attack - CAPE COD TIMES CATAUMET - Police shot and killed a dog after it bit a man and then attacked a police officer last night.
The police were called to Millennium Drive in Cataumet shortly after 9 p.m. because a 39-year-old man, the dog's owner, had been bitten. When police arrived, the dog, an Akita - a Japanese breed originally used for fighting - also attacked the police officer.
The man was reportedly trying to break up a fight between the Akita and another dog.
The officer was not injured, according to the Bourne police. The man was taken to Falmouth Hospital with a serious arm injury, according to Bourne fire officials. The injury was so serious police originally called it a possible amputation, according to fire officials. The police shot the dog after it attacked the officer.
(Published: October 13, 2006)
Basic Dog Obedience
The best way to eliminate dog fights is to never let them happen in the first place. This is accomplished by controlling the environment you take your dog too and then train your dog to mind under extreme distraction. If you cannot call your dog back when it is walking or running towards another dog then your dog is not fully trained.
Read the article I wrote on dog parks. If you are a new dog owner you need to learn why dog parks are a terrible idea and why they are a very dangerous place to take your dog.
Get my 4-hour DVD on Basic Dog Obedience and learn how to train your dog.
Leerburg DVDs on Training Aggressive Dogs
- Dealing with Dominant & Aggressive Dogs: 3 hours, 45 minutes. This DVD demonstrates how to break up a dog fight if you are alone.
- Basic Dog Obedience: 4 hours. Obedience training needs to be part of the solution to dog aggression. With that said it's not the only solution. I tell people it's about 25% of the solution. The problem is if that 25% is not addressed you will never solve your problem.
- Electric Collar Training for the Pet Owner: 2 hours, 30 minutes. This DVD teaches pet owners who have never owned an electric collar how to condition their dog to the collar, how to determine the working level of stimulation to use on their dog (every dog is different) and then there is a detailed step by step section on how to train a dog with an electric collar.
Additional Articles Related to Dog Fights
Dealing with the Dominant Dog
Ground Work to Becoming a Pack Leader
Theory of Corrections in Dog Training
Raising 2 Pups at the Same Time - Why it is a bad idea!
Dog Parks - Why I don't think they are a good idea!
Introducing a New Dog into a Home with Dogs
Introducing Dogs into a Home with Cats
How to Break Up a Dog Fight without Getting Hurt
Chows & Chow Mixes
Photos of what happens when you break up a dog fight the wrong way
Dealing with the Dominant Dog
A List of Categories on Dominant and Aggressive Dogs hundred of emails on aggressive dogs.
A list of Leerburg DVDs, articles and products that deal with dominant and aggressive dogs.
I Identify Over 20 Different types of Dominance and Aggression - read HUNDREDS of emails from people with dominant and aggressive dog problems These emails are separated by category. This is serious business - educate yourself!!!
Ground Work to Becoming a PACK LEADER
The Theory Of Corrections in Dog Training
Raising 2 Pups at the Same Time - Why its a bad idea!
My Dog is Dog Aggressive. How Can I stop this?
Dog Fights and Questions on Dogs that are Animal Aggressive
How to Deal with the Overly Aggressive Dog
DOG PARKS - Why I Dont Think They are a Good Idea
Introducing a New Dog Into a Home with Existing Dogs
Introducing Dogs (or Puppies) into Homes with Cats
How to Break Up a Dog Fight Without Getting Hurt
What Would I Do If Attacked by a Dog
Using Breaker Bars in Dog Fights
Chows & Chow Mixes - know what you are buying!!!
Court upholds use of Police K-9 force
Directory of Information for Dominant Dogs
Dog Fights and Questions on Dogs that are Animal Aggressive
Q&As on Dog Fights
The Ground Work on Becoming Your Puppy's Pack Leader
Theory of Motivation in Dog Training
Theory of Corrections in Dog Training
Ed Frawley's Philosophy of Dog Training
Who Can Pet My Puppy?
Training Puppies Not to Bite
Train Your Dog with Markers
Introducing Dogs into Homes with Other Dogs
The Ground Work to Becoming a Pack Leader