How to Break Up A Dog Fight (Safety First!)

Whether you’re a dog-walking professional or simply a concerned owner, it pays to be prepared in case a dog fight breaks out. In addition to the health of your four-legged friend, your own safety and well-being might be in danger if you fail to follow best practices and keep everybody as calm and secure as possible.

We’ve received dozens of questions and requests for information about what to do if a dog fight breaks out, so we’ve decided to address all of them in one comprehensive guide.

Beginning with some common-sense advice for how to avoid dog fights in the first place, we’ll then cover the warning signs that a dog fight is about to break out. Next, study up on the most effective methods to break up a dog fight in case worse comes to worst – including what you absolutely should not do, as well as next steps to take if your dog gets injured.Divider 8

How to Prevent A Dog Fight

Pop quiz: what are the two most common causes of dog fights?

dogs fighting

Many people guess “aggressive breeds” first and foremost, but this is rarely the cause of fights.

No, the most common triggers for a dog fight are food and toys, two extremely important items to dogs that can immediately trigger territorial instincts. Right after that, you’ll find two more territorial triggers: perceived aggression towards a dog’s owners, or simply standing too close to a dog that’s feeling nervous or standoffish.

In your own home, preventing dog fights is often a matter of not feeding dogs right next to each other, and making sure to buy enough toys for every pup that wants to play. When you’re finished playing, clean the toys and put them out of sight – this will wash off much of a dog’s smell, and discourage them from claiming a specific toy as “theirs”.

In public places, be mindful of where food, toys, and owners are placed relative to any dogs in your area. Keep a firm grip on your dog’s leash in areas where you don’t know the other dogs who are around and hold your dog very close to you to prevent them from pulling hard on their leash.

Warning Signs of a Dog Fight

Calmly separating dogs at the first glimpse of any of the following warning signs will help to de-escalate a potentially violent situation:

  • Staring
  • Raised hackles
  • Flattened ears
  • Growling
  • Baring teeth
  • Stiff, tense muscles

Keep an eye out for these warning signs, and firmly but quietly redirect your dogs to different areas. If you can prevent the two dogs from being able to make eye contact, this will quickly defuse tense situations.Divider 4

5 Ways to Break Up A Dog Fight

Depending on the severity of the fight and the size of the dogs relative to their owners, any of the following methods might work to break up a dog fight:

1. Pull Backward on the Collar

collared australian terrier
Image Credit: Lilly M, Wikimedia Commons

For smaller dogs and less intense fights, simply pulling back on the collar of either or both dogs is usually enough to discourage them from continuing to fight. Pull straight backward, not upward, as this can cause your dog to mistakenly identify you as a new aggressor.

2. Wheelbarrow Both Dogs

Dogs playing

Picking up both the hind legs of both dogs will instantly put a stop to the fight, as most dogs will be completely unable to turn around and continue fighting. Walk backwards, then turn around and continue to walk the dogs away from each other.

3. Stick Twist the Collar

dogs uncomforable with leash

If either dog has a tight jaw grip on the other, you’ll need to insert a long stick into the collar of that dog, then twist clockwise or counterclockwise. The uncomfortable tightening will cause the dog to loosen its bite, and the stick will then allow you to pull the dogs apart.

4. Make a Distraction

Military working dog training
Image credit: The U.S. Army, Flickr

Making very loud noises or throwing a large amount of water over both dogs will sometimes shock them so thoroughly that they forget that they were fighting. Air horns are great for this, as well.

5. Physically Separate the Dogs

person walking two dogs
Image: Pixabay

Placing a large barrier between two fighting dogs will quickly de-escalate the situation, especially if it causes them to be unable to see each other. Look for a trash can lid, large box, or similarly oversized object to push between them.


What Not to Do

A big part of successfully breaking up a dog fight is understanding what you should never do, summarized in this list:

  • Never put your hands between two fighting dogs
  • Never stand between two dogs in a fight
  • Never pull a dog’s tail while it is fighting
  • Never lean your face into a dog fight

What to Do After A Dog Fight

Once you’ve successfully separated two agitated dogs, follow this checklist to ensure their health and safety:

  1. Walk your dog far away from the location of the fight. Dogs will often start fighting again shortly after appearing to be calm, so putting as much distance as possible between two fighting dogs is your first step.
  2. Calmly reassure your dog. Fighting is incredibly stressful and produces huge amounts of fight-or-flight response hormones, so petting and talking to your dog in a soothing tone will help return their system to normal levels of arousal.
  3. Check your dog for injuries. Once they’re less agitated, you’ll need to assess your dog fully and carefully to make sure they haven’t been cut, bit, or scratched.
  4. Take your dog home. Fighting is extremely stressful, so they’ll need plenty of extra rest and recovery time.

What to Do if Your Dog Is Injured

In the case of minor or severe injury in a dog fight, it’s your responsibility to get your dog to their veterinarian as soon as possible. Once you’ve separated the dogs and established a safe distance, call your vet right away and explain the severity of your dog’s injuries. They’ll either give you instructions for at-home care or tell you to bring them into the office right away for treatment.Divider 5

Final Thoughts on How to Break Up A Dog Fight

Dog fights can be especially scary the first time you’ve been exposed to one, but understanding what to do next will keep both you and your canine friend safe and healthy. We recommend committing the information shared above to memory, so you’ll be ready and able to use it in case of an emergency. Pay plenty of attention to preventing dog fights based on their warning signs, and we hope that you’ll never have to use any of this info.


Featured image credit: Firefighter Montreal, Shutterstock