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How to Safely Break Up Dog Fights

As dog owners, knowing how to break up a dog fight is a skill we all need to know and hope we never need to use. It is important to first recognize that breaking up a dog fight is never safe, it is extremely dangerous and prevention is the best remedy. Please consult with a professional before attempting any of the following.
Understand that most dogs do not want to fight, they just want to get through their day with as little conflict as possible. Aside from an underlying medical issue, most aggressive behaviors are a result of fear or lack of proper socialization and are really just a dog's way of trying to avoid a fight and are communicating "back off, give me space". It is important to allow natural conflict resolution, so they can learn better social skills. It is when we interfere by panicking, yelling, and running at them that it escalates into a fight. Before allowing dogs to interact, take the time to see if they are relaxed and comfortable. If there are no issues (tension, staring, growling etc), drop the leashes and allow them to interact. If things go wrong, you can safely grab the leashes to separate them.
dogs fighting at dog park
If you are unsure if dogs are starting to fight, stay calm! It is best to stay quiet and calmly walk between them, separating them. A broom or laundry basket can be used as an extension of yourself to help calmly separate them. Do not use these tools to threaten them or beat them, just use them as a barrier to calmly separate them. Most of the time, they are hoping someone will walk between them, diffusing the tension. Sometimes simply squirting them in the face with a squirt water bottle will get them to change their minds. If you are not near them, try to interrupt them first with a loud noise, such as an air horn, or call them away from each other, ("Fido, come!").
If a fight does break out, it is important to stay calm! You do not want to escalate the fight. Do NOT try and immediately grab them by the collars to stop a dog fight. If you do, your chances of being badly bitten are extremely high. Once dogs are in the middle of a fight, they are in survival mode and when you grab them they may react out of a fight reflex and redirect a bite toward you. You might also receive a bite that was intended for your dog. Yelling or hitting the dogs will only exacerbate things and the dogs may see you as another aggressor and redirect a bite toward you. Staying calm allows you to observe what is happening and how to separate them as safely as possible. If you have access to a water hose with high pressure, spraying them directly in the face may also convince them to separate. If they do not separate, it is time to get involved.
If the situation demands it, know that there is a high risk of getting bit or injured, so proceed carefully. Instruct others to leash up their dogs and move away from the fight. Avoid grabbing a dogs lower legs, hocks, ankles or paws. Anyone assisting should in a swift, committed motion, grab the back thighs where they meet the body near the hips and quickly raise the dog's rear-end, like a wheelbarrow, as high as you can, then back the dogs away from each other, turning them away from each other like a wheelbarrow. Once you start this process, do NOT let go! You must commit! Once the dogs have calmed down, attach their leashes and remove the dogs.
If you are not successful in grabbing and controlling the dogs by the rear legs, or if one of the dogs has "locked" on to the other dog, you will need to keep them from thrashing about, preventing any ripping or tearing of flesh. Again in a swift, committed motion, grab each dog by the collar (back of the neck, between the dog's ears) and quickly twist and pull UP (not back!). While doing this, straddle the dog's hips to immobilize him. If you have a CO2 pet corrector, giving a quick blast of air near the dog's face, nose, or ears may get the dog to release. If you have a break-stick, insert it into the mouth (behind the molars) and twist to facilitate the release of its grip on the other dog. If your are without any tools, you can also try using your free hand to press in the middle of the dog's neck, just above the sternal notch (bone). Press quickly and firmly to create a gag reflex and the dog should back away. If a dog will not release, then continue to twist the dog's collar cutting of it's air until it passes out. This may take a few minutes. Once the dog releases, immediately pull the dogs apart. Separate the dogs in secure areas and look them over for injuries.
As already mentioned, breaking up dog fights is dangerous and the best remedy is prevention. Can dogs learn how to get along with other dogs? Yes, with training! Contact Paws To Train Your Dog for help.
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