The sun was hot on my face as I trudged down the driveway, dragging the emptied trash can behind me and in through the open gate. My dog lazily surveyed her surroundings from her spot just inside the fence line – our Friday afternoon routine.
Thoughts from the week ran through my mind. I reflected on my work, the dogs, and on about a million other things as I tended to my chores, tuning out the world around me as I did.
From her spot in the dirt, I saw my dog’s ears prick up and forward as she slowly rose, body stiffened, and expression alert. I turned around, shifting my gaze down the driveway, scanning the street for the subject of her intense gaze.
There stood a large dog, alert and erect in the distance, watching my dog and I carefully.
As I moved to close the fence, he bolted toward us. In an instant he had rushed past me, tackling my dog and grabbing her neck in his massive jaws.
Now, I’m no stranger to scuffles. Having run large dog daycares for the better part of my career and having supervised “naughty dog socials” designed to help dogs with aggression issues learn to socialize appropriately with other dogs, I’ve seen my share of K9 confrontations. From small screaming matches to knock down, drag out fights, I’m not easily phased anymore.
It used to be, a dog would barely begin to argue, and I’d panic. I didn’t understand dog communication the way I do now, and the notion of a fight terrified me. But after a decade or so of working with dogs, I find myself calmly storming into the middle of a scuffle, making sure it stops more quickly than it began.
But this time it was my dog. And it was different. The dog that had her was unknown to me and donned a massive head with jaws that seemed to envelope her entire face. As I watched him clamp down on her head with ferocity, I panicked.
Without thinking twice, I threw myself into the middle of the fight. This dog had a good 20 lbs on my dog, and he was fighting with intention.
I tried everything I knew to separate the dogs. Because I was attempting to do this without any backup, the moment I’d pull one off, the other would launch for his momentarily subdued opponent, latching on with intensity, the situation escalating all the more.
I shouted and screamed. I hit and kicked, the dogs remaining unfazed at my feeble attempts to separate them. At one point, I went so far as to actually sit on the strange dog’s head to get him to let go of my dog’s leg, which he had grabbed the moment I pulled him off of her head. He held on as if his life depended on it, and the moment the weight of my body became too much and he began to lose his breath, he let go just long enough for my dog to gain the upper hand, grabbing his head which I had so gracefully squashed into the ground. He grabbed her other leg as I fell off of the two of them, and the fight continued on with growing intensity.
I threw water on them. In fact, I threw everything at them I could find. They thrashed furiously, and as they did, my hand ended up in the strange dog’s mouth. Time seemed to slow as I pulled my hand from his grip only to see the tip of my finger hanging on by a few centimeters of remaining skin.
At one point, my other hand found its way in between the gnashing teeth and blood poured as I shook it free. I was desperate and I was getting tired.
My hands shook and my body ached. Blood dotted the patio and the walls, the floor was soaked, and the dogs slipped and slid, still holding their grip as if the fight had just begun.
I picked up my dog’s rear, and in a last ditch effort, I dragged her through the doorway to my house. I closed the door on the heads of the dogs, who were still latched on to one another. In fact, I slammed it. Repeatedly. Over and over again, smashing it on both dogs until finally they broke free. I closed the door and locked it and collapsed on the ground, looking back to my dog, who had done the same.
My clients regularly ask me, “Meagan, how do I break up a dog fight?”
They worry that a strange dog will tackle them on a walk or that their two dogs will decide to duke it out, or perhaps there will be a fight at a dog park. And they want to know how to stop it.
I was even asked to draft up a protocol for a large chain doggy daycare and boarding facility to inform their attendants in the event of an emergency.
My answer has always been the same. “Well,” I’d say, “would you like to know what you SHOULD do or what I would do?”
I’m kind of a “throw caution to the wind!” girl when it comes to breaking up dog fights. I also believe that if two dogs really want to kill each other, there isn’t much you can do from the outside to stop it. When faced with a situation like the one I described, you’ve got to decide in a split second if you want to risk life and limb to save your dog by jumping into the fight or if you want to watch from the sidelines and deal with the aftermath once all has been said and done. And since dogs are my life, I’ve always jumped right in.
Stupid, I know.
But like I said before, I wasn’t used to having my own dog in a fight. It was typically someone else’s dogs who had decided to throw down, and I was the only one brave enough (or dumb enough) to dive in and stop it. When it was my dog, emotions came into play in a way that got me severely injured.
So how do you break up a fight?
There are some important things I learned from my experience stopping a (quite serious) dog fight with my own dog.
- Do not panic – Here’s the thing. Dogs are pretty darn resilient. And *MOST* fights not hardly as bad as they look. You will do yourself a favor if you calm yourself down and approach the fight with calm and clear determination instead of just throwing yourself (like I did) into the line of fire. Here, emotion is NOT your friend.
- Carry Pepper Spray – If you are out with your dog, carry pepper spray. It can quickly break up a fight if you are approached by a strange dog and a confrontation ensues. Have it available in your house in a place where it is easily accessible so if, God forbid, you have an incident like mine, you can leave the fight to get it and use it to stop the dogs from aggressing. They also make a citronella spray that is said to be effective, however I’d put my stock in pepper spray over its kinder alternative. Just be cautious if you ever have to use it, as it will drift into its environment, and you don’t want that stuff finding its way into your eyes.
- Know that you are WAY more fragile than your dog – Believe it or not, if a dog bites your dog, there is a good chance no blood will even be drawn. You on the other hand are likely to end up bruised and bleeding. While your dog may not suffer much injury at all, you can promptly land yourself in the emergency room if you don’t take the proper precautions. Don’t underestimate the danger involved in getting in the middle of a dog fight. It’s serious business and should only be done in a dire emergency.
- Stay away from the dog’s head – As you are breaking up a fight, unless using Pepper Spray, it‘s prudent to stay away from the dog’s head. Teeth are gnashing without thought, and in the heat of the moment it’s easy for them to find their way to your skin. It isn’t intentional. It’s an accident. But it can be a very serious risk. If you have a dog that eats a raw diet like mine, and you regularly watch them crunch away on large bones as if they were potato chips, you’ll quickly understand the strength of a dog’s jaw. Don’t let those teeth find your hands. Trust me.
- Don’t pull! – Pulling a dog off of another dog makes for tears in the skin. While it’s natural instinct to pull another dog off of yours, I can attest to the fact that owner intervention and “pulling” dogs off each other accounts for more injuries and a greater severity of injuries than the actual fights do themselves. Plainly stated, when dogs latch onto one another, clenching their teeth tight, and you pull, skin tears. What would have been a puncture is now a large laceration. So refrain from pulling whenever possible.
- Get a leash, or two if you have them – For two dogs in a fight, especially if you are alone, if available, GET LEASHES. It might feel counterproductive to walk away from the fight to fetch the leashes, but trust me, you’ll be safer if you have them. Not only will you need a leash to subdue the dogs from reengaging if you get them separated, but you can actually use them to separate two dogs that are in the middle of a fight. First off, let me say that getting involved in a dogfight carries a serious amount of risk. Be very cautious and know that if you choose to get involved, you are putting yourself and your safety on the line. That said, you can make a slip lead from your leash and wrap it around the midsection of the dog. If you’re alone, start with the aggressor. You can leash him and pick up his rear like a wheelbarrow (never get near the dog’s face – far too dangerous), and tether him to a nearby fence, or anything else that will hold up. Take care when putting the leash on the fighting dog and when moving the dog by said leash. As you pick up his rear, he can disengage and redirect towards you, so be very careful to keep yourself safe. Once you have one dog tethered, you can tend to the second, lifting up by the rear until the two disengage. Remember, do not pull the dogs apart. Instead, lift the dog up by the rear letting them disengage on their own. Keep hold of the dog’s rear as they do disengage and get the dog in your grasp to a safe place.
- Use doors – If I don’t have Pepper Spray or leashes, doors or gates are an effective way to stop a fight. I will quite literally lift the aggressor by the rear (like a wheelbarrow) and inch the dogs into a doorway where I will close one dog out and the other in. If they are latched on, I’ll either repeatedly close the door on them or I’ll simply wait them out until they are tired enough to let go, still holding onto the dog’s rear as I do to limit the chance of redirection upon release. When they do let go, I close the door, leaving one dog out and one dog in. This gives me the chance to catch my breath and tend to each dog. This is the safest way I’ve found to intervene and get the dogs to split, without getting injured and without pulling dogs off of one another.
- Dog bites are serious business – Depending where you live, dog bites are taken very seriously. At the Emergency Room, a bite report is common protocol whenever a patient presents with a dog bite. If your dog bites you, even if it wasn’t at fault and even if it is defending itself, it will likely be quarantined for rabies control. And, if you live in a place like Southern California, you will be charged a fee – even if the quarantine takes place at your home. If your dog isn’t licensed and is missing a vaccination and you receive an inadvertent bite, even if the bite is your fault for getting in the middle of a scuffle, the dog will likely be seized for quarantine. EVEN IF IT WAS DEFENDING ITSELF. So I caution you this: vaccinate and license your dogs. And have safeguards in place to protect yourself.
My finger is healing. My trip to the ER was eventful as they stitched it back on and stitched up my other finger, which I was certain was as good as gone given the quantity of blood that now coated the walls of my home. I didn’t dare tell them about the multiple bite wounds I suffered on both legs.
My dog also recovered. She suffered a nasty puncture to her front leg, and while I was certain with the amount of thrashing during the fight that the bone was broken, it wasn’t. And with some rest and medication, she made a full recovery.
I tell you my story not for entertainment purposes. I tell you my story to show you that, when emotions run high and when people panic, the gravity and danger of a dog fight escalates significantly. You must remain calm, and if you need to take a moment to catch your breath and get your wits about you, do it. The dogs fighting are probably not as bad off as you might think. And given the frailty of the human body, your safety is a top priority.
Dog fights are serious business. Enter at your own risk. But if you do, get calculated about it to keep yourself safe. Don’t let emotions take the wheel, and if you need a moment to calm down, take it. The outcome will be better for your body and the well being of all dogs involved.