Hopefully, you’ll never have to break up a fight between dogs, but it could happen sooner or later, especially if you visit dog parks or work at a dog daycare.
Thankfully, most dog fights sound worse than they actually are. There's a lot of growling, snarling and posturing, but you can often defuse the situation with a quick “hey!” or clapping your hands. Often enough, the dogs will just “shake off” and call it good.
Of course, that’s not always the case so I reached out to three professionals to get their advice on how to separate dogs in a serious fight.
How to break up a dog fight.
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Throw water on the dogs.
Obviously, water is not always going to break up a dogfight, but it’s one of the easiest and safest options to try first.
If you have a hose or bucket of water available, you could spray the dogs, said Kaelin Munkelwitz, a professional dog trainer and founder of All Things Pups LLC.
“This should get them to back off each other,” she said.
You could also try a squirt bottle, especially if it is a less serious fight, said Joe Thomas, director of Motley Zoo Animal in Rescue Redmond, Wash. It’s not so much the water itself, but something new and unusual is happening, and that redirects their attention.
An air horn.
Most of us do not walk around carrying an air horn, but it can help.
“It totally will startle the dogs and get them to stop almost every time,” Thomas said. “The key is to have it handy.”
She said there are affordable, pocket-sized air horns that can work well.
Thomas also mentioned pepper spray as an option for breaking up a dog fight, especially if the air horn doesn’t work.
Should you reach in with your hands?
You will get a different answer to this question depending on who you ask, but most professionals agree there’s a big chance of getting bitten if you do reach in.
“Even your very gentle best friend will bite you when in a fight in an attempt to get to the other dog,” Thomas said. “This is how a lot of bites happen.”
Because of this, she has a rule never to reach into a dog fight.
If you absolutely have to reach in, one approach is to grab the dogs by their hind legs.
This is the approach professional dog trainer Carol Millman recommends. She is a trainer with Wag The Dog Pet Training in British Columbia.
“Each owner should grab their dog by the hind legs and lift them off the ground like handles of a wheelbarrow and then pull the dogs apart,” she said.
If the dogs won’t let go, she said to spray water of the dog’s nose so he will cough and have to let go.
Another option is to grab the dog on the back of the neck instead of the hind legs.
Munkelwitz said this method works better and she believes it reduces your risk of getting bitten.
Since dogs generally don’t like their back legs to be touched, their first instinct will be to snap back at whatever is grabbing their legs, she said. Instead, focus your attention on the dog who is the most worked up. Wait for the right moment so you can get a good grip on the back of the dog’s neck.
“Grab the back of the neck, closer to the bottom, where his or her collar is, and pull up,” she said.
Separate the dogs.
Once you’ve momentarily stopped the dogs from fighting, Munkelwitz said to make sure to separate the dogs.
“These dogs are still incredibly worked up, so be sure to get them as far away from each other as possible and fully remove them from the environment as fast as you possibly can.”
Dog bite prevention infographic
Have any of you ever had to break up a dog fight? Do you have any advice to share?