Dogfight Etiquette


By Jessica Brennan – Dr. Boyd’s Pet Resort Handler

Let me describe a scenario to you. A scenario that I’m sure we have all found ourselves in at one point or another.
It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The sun is shining, the breeze is cool and there’s not a single cloud in sight; only free, open blue sky as far as the eye can see. You decide it’s the perfect day for a dog park adventure and grab the only one you know that truly appreciates a good game of fetch, you’re best friend. With the windows down and the music blasting, you look in the rear view mirror to check on the excited wiggling and “talking” coming from the backseat. You just giggle at the sight you see: a 65-pound Chocolate Lab with both eyes closed, a smile from ear to ear and her tongue hanging out to one side as she sticks her head completely outside of the back driver’s side window to enjoy the feel of the wind blowing on her face. You’ve never seen a happier soul; until you arrive at your destination and park the car. Wiggles turn into backseat gymnastics and “talking” has now become“screaming.” Wrestling through the persistent kisses and barking in your ear, you grab the brand new tennis ball from the back seat, turn to her and ask happily, “Are you ready to go play, girl? And without any hesitation, the whole car shakes in agreement. You open the back passenger door and like the movie, she’s “gone in sixty seconds.”
You feel at ease knowing that her playful and submissive personality makes it easy for her to find friends to play with, but also realize, at the same time, that her young energy can be overwhelming. But Alas!!! It appears from the bowing and tail wagging that she has already made friends with a female Golden Retriever around the same size and with a similar energy level as hers. A game of tag quickly evolves into a race to see who’s going to get the ball first as it goes flying through the air. You start to notice that their play has gotten not only more competitive, but also much rougher. You insist that it’s nothing to be too concerned about, however. You throw the tennis ball once more and the game of keep away commences. Both dogs reach for the ball at the exact same time and, “BOOM!!!” A fight breaks out! What do you do?
It can literally take a matter of seconds for a play session between two dogs, regardless of their breed or their relation to one another, to escalate into a dogfight. A dogfight, in general, can be very dangerous; but a dogfight in a public atmosphere, like a dog park or a dog daycare, for example, can be even more threatening due to the volume of dogs residing at such places at any given time. A fight in these types of settings can stimulate pack mentality and encourage other dogs to get involved. When the “fight or flight” response is activated and “fight” supersedes “flight”, a canine’s prey drive causes them to become fixated on their new “prey.” Since it can be difficult to regain, let alone redirect, the canine’s focus once fixation has settled in, it is important to know how to safely break up a dogfight, quickly, should one ensue. This will aid in not only preventing injury to yourself, but also inhibiting the fight’s amplification into uncontrollable chaos.
If you ever do find yourself in the midst of a dogfight, always remember to remain calm, first and foremost. Panicking will only intensify the situation further, especially since dogs respond directly to our own emotions and energies. It is also extremely important to NEVER grab a dog by the collar during a fight because, more often than not, they will redirect their aggression and bite you. A good rule of thumb is to keep your hands as far away from the action as possible. Sometimes making loud, sudden sounds, such as clapping, yelling or stomping your feet, can cause a temporary interruption in the fight, allowing you to quickly and safely separate the two dogs. Another good tool that aids in breaking up fights is water. Spraying the dogs down when a hose is available, for example, or throwing a bowl of water over their heads will usually cease the fight briefly as well. However, if all else fails, and you must physically break up a fight yourself, quickly find someone to help you approach the dogs together and try to separate them at the same time. Timing is crucial at this point as it reduces the risk of severe injury to all involved. Next, grab hold of the dog’s ankles, or as close to the ankles as possible. Grabbing the dog anywhere else, especially at the top of the hind legs, just under the hips where the legs connect to the body, will result in the dog’s natural reflex to react by blindly snapping without thinking. Now, just as you would lift a wheelbarrow, quickly lift the dog’s back end straight up off the ground. This action will impede the canine’s center of gravity, throwing off their balance and causing them to release their bite, almost instantaneously. Move backwards, away from the other dog; and as soon as you are a few feet away, spin them 180 degrees so that they are facing opposite directions. Dogs generally start to calm down immediately after losing sight of one another, but should remain separated for a generous period of time, or even permanently, depending on the severity of the incident.
Knowing how to break up a dogfight properly is imperative as a dog owner, but having the knowledge to prevent them is truly a skill. With this in mind, the next installment of this article, entitled, “Dogfight Etiquette Part II: Preventing Dogfights,” will examine the numerous potential causes of dogfights and explain what actions should be taken to avoid them in the future.