Tails of Seattle: A pets blog
How to stop a dogfight, Part 5
Mireille Baumoel, a Certified Pet Dog Trainer at Ahimsa Dog Training in Seattle, discusses how to stop a dogfight in the fifth in a series of posts on the subject from local behaviorists and veterinarians.
The wild, feral sounds of a dogfight are unmistakable and frightening, especially because they're emitted from our best pals.
Fights are not just frightening but potentially dangerous or even deadly for some dogs.
While most fights are just scuffles with a lot of loud bluster, some fights are very serious and can lead to one dog killing or seriously wounding another dog. When the dogs do not stop fighting after a few moments, you may need to step in to break up the fight.
Many of the things people instinctively do are ineffective and may actually put themselves in danger or make the fight worse.
Yelling or shouting at the dogs doesn't usually stop the fight; it may only increase the intensity level.
Another no-no in a dogfight is to hit or kick the dogs because they may then redirect their aggression onto you or fight even harder.
In my experience as a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, one of the most dangerous things you can do in a dogfight is to grab a dog by its collar. This also happens to be what people try first.
In the heat of the moment, when you grab a dog by its collar or neck, many dogs may think another dog is attacking them and they often react by biting the offender, even if it's their owner. A bite from your own dog is a common occurrence in a dogfight.
If you have a garden hose or even a bowl full of water, you can try spraying the dogs in the face, aiming into the mouth.
You can also use a citronella spray, like Spray Shield, to spray at their noses. This makes dogs sneeze and let go of each other. Then quickly pull the dogs apart.
There is no 100 percent risk-free way to pull a dog out of a fight, but the safest way to do this is by the back end.
Each person grabs her dog by his waist or the upper part of the back legs and pulls him out as quickly as possible.
When you do this, be sure to move your dog a safe distance away from the other dog, preferably into some place so that if the other person accidentally lets go of their dog, you don't have another fight on your hands.
If you cannot pull your dog out of the fight because one or both dogs won't let go, even with the water or Spray Shield, insert a flat board or baby gate between the dogs and then separate them.
You may just have to wait for the dogs to let go of each other (then quickly pull them apart).
When the dog being bitten is in extreme danger, you can insert a broom handle or large stick into the dog's jaws and twist it open to release the other dog. This procedure may damage teeth, however, and the dog may snap around at you, too, so be careful.
Another possibility is to grab the collar and twist it to cut off the oxygen of the dog who is biting and not letting go.
None of these options are very good, and they should not be considered training, just a way to keep one dog from killing the other.
The best way to break up a dogfight is to avoid it in the first place. If you find that your dog is frequently involved in fights in your home or when you go to dog parks or other off-leash areas, keep your dog away from other dogs until you consult with a dog trainer or behaviorist familiar with using positive, force-free techniques to rehabilitate aggression problems.
Trainers offer "growly dog" classes for dog aggression, or you can work with a trainer one on one. Some techniques to look for are Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) and counterconditioning with systematic desensitization.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends that people avoid dominance-based training, especially for aggression and fear issues.
A University of Pennsylvania research study indicates that using physical punishment as a training technique for aggression actually backfires about a quarter of the time and makes the aggression worse, instead.
Any training advice should strengthen your dog's trust in you and your relationship, so avoid hitting, choking, yelling, squirting, or pinning your dog as part of any training plan.
Baumoel, a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT) at Ahimsa Dog Training in Seattle, has been training dogs professionally since 2004. She earned her bachelor's of science degree in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution from the University of California, San Diego. She attained CPDT status in March, 2006, from the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers and is certified by the American Kennel Club as a Canine Good Citizen evaluator. Mireille is also a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), a group promoting positive training methods in dog training. She lives with two white German shepherds, Artoo and Jedi.
Do you have a question about veterinary health or pet behavior? Ask now! We'll pose some of your questions to a local trainer in an upcoming post.
Read earlier Q&A columns here.