If you own a dog, or are around dogs on a fairly regular basis, it is important to know what to do in the event of a dog fight. Hopefully you will never have to use this information, but it is really important to know. Not only has dog to dog aggression increased over the years, the number of human deaths by dogs has more than doubled in the last several years.
Safety & Prevention:
First, it is important to be honest with yourself about the kind of dog that you have. Some dogs are either dog or human aggressive (or sometimes both) and you need to be aware of that and manage accordingly. Most of the time with true aggression, it is a genetic trait rather than a training fault. When it is genetic, you cannot "love" or train this behavior out of them. It is who they are and it is your job to manage the dog you have to keep everyone safe.
This means being aware of your dogs breed(s). As trainers, we cringe a little whenever the average pet owner has a working breed, livestock guardian or other powerful breed. For example, should an incident occur, there is a big difference in the damage a pitbull could cause vs a chihuahua. Although the chihuahua often feels like they are bigger and tougher than they actually are, the damage done is often much less severe. Often times we see people who do not have the understanding and knowledge on how to manage these types of dogs properly. Because of this, they put these dogs into stupid situations. They usually do not have the training skillset and control that makes preventing or breaking up incidents, should they occur, safely.
Most of our trainers have working breeds such as Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervurens, Dobermans, Working Line German Shepherds, etc. None of our dogs are aggressive. However, we still know what they could be capable of and therefor we are always mindful of our surroundings and the situations we put them in. We are ready to manage, intervene or remove them from any given situation as well as actively advocating for our dogs.
Differences in Environments or Situations:
Just because your dog hasn't shown aggression or done any harm, does not mean that they aren't capable of it in the future. People often forget that dogs are animals and can be unpredictable. Dogs act differently in different environments and situations. Just because they don't do something with you or your family or around dogs they know doesn't mean they won't do it with others. Some dogs are more likely to be fearful and resort to aggression. When we get in new boarding dogs that end up showing some mild-severe aggression many families are shocked to hear that their dog was aggressive in anyway as they do not see that in their home environment. Another example is when we get new staff. Although our day training dogs are very familiar with our environment and super happy and friendly with our current staff, if we have a new staff member train them or out in the play yards, some dogs show some aggression to the new staff.
The Importance of Training:
Another really important safety measure is to put a significant amount of training into your dog. The more control and reliability that you have makes it easier to manage your dog if they were to get into potentially dangerous situations. A solid recall can be super helpful in getting your dog to leave a situation before it escalates to something more dangerous. A solid down stay can allow you to get control of another dog before it gets to yours or after you have broken up a fight and are getting the aggressor away from yours as well as being an alternative recall.
If you adopt or acquire an older dog (7 months or older) it is wise to attend a group class or work with a trainer. This way you can see how your dog is around other people or dogs in a controlled environment. The trainer should have a good eye for body language and could express any concerns they may be seeing, while your dog learns to focus on you and learn various obedience skills in the presence of other people and dogs. It is not wise to adopt an older dog and then let it loose at a dog park when you are not sure how that dog interacts with other humans and dogs it does not know. Dog parks are for dogs that are already socialized, and friendly towards people and dogs, not to socialize them or improve their manners around others.
The more aware of your environment you are, the safer you, your dog and others will be. When you see others out with their dogs, be mindful and give space unless mutually consenting to an interaction. If you are working with a dog who can be nervous, it is important to be aware of the environment to work on being as neutral as possible. This often means taking control of various situations by either leaving situations you know may overwhelm the dog or stopping an interaction before it occurs and advocating for the dogs comfort.
Many of our trainers are very mindful when socializing their dogs. Thinking about possible situations and even if there is a slim chance of any type of aggression, then the situation will be managed. For instance, when going to the vet, often packing treats, a favorite toy, a muzzle (just in case if the dog has never shown aggression before, or on if there is any worry that aggression may be shown- such as examination of an injury). During the exam many of our dogs prefer to hold a toy as they are extremely toy motivated. However, we will still restrain and hold their collar/head just on the slim chance they would decide to drop the toy and react to whatever the vet had to do. We are also going to be mindful of the physical interactions our dogs have. Often we decide dog parks are not worth the risk. But if we do go somewhere where there are other loose dogs, we first watch the dogs and assess their body language and if they seem under control before we decide it is a risk we are willing to take. Generally, we are going to prefer only letting dog-dog interactions take place with dogs we know well, or in a structured environment like our Day Training program. For interactions with people, we are also super mindful. If we have a puppy and they are going through a fear period or are in adolescence where many aspects of their temperament may change, we will often stop letting our working breeds have direct interaction with the general public and only have them directly interact with other dog savvy people who are well versed in dog body language.
Safety on a Walk:
If you are worried about any dogs in your neighborhood, on trails, etc. you can pack some extra gear to help keep you and your dog safe.
-Your voice- sometimes yelling can stop a dog from coming.
-Treats you could throw in the direction of the dog and leave.
-SprayShield/Mace/Pepper Spray- Aim for the face of an oncoming aggressor.
-Tall Walking Stick- can be used to prevent dog from coming near as you wave it in front of you, or make contact with the dog if needed.
-Thin leash, in the case of a serious event, you can choke a dog off a bite. Or secure the dog to something.
Managing the Aggressive Dog:
If you have a dog that is, or is suspected to be, aggressive towards humans and/or dogs, it is very important that you are properly managing your dog.
-Never leaving them unsupervised in the yard, even if it's fenced.
-Having them on leash and muzzled or in a secure kennel or other safe space when there is a possibility of being around their trigger(s).
-Having multiple levels of management in place so if one fails you have a backup. Such as: Having a double door system so they can't get out the door when you are leaving or entering the home, having several connection points to collar(s) when they are on leash, etc.
-Always being vigilant in your environment when your dog is out.
-Not getting complacent. Even though their behavior may be improving, that often means you are doing a better job at managing, not that the aggression is going away.
It is 100% your fault if your dog gets out of your yard, off leash, and harms another dog or person. You should anticipate the general public not understanding how to be around aggressive dogs and that is another reason it is important to have multiple levels of management in place to ensure no one is harmed.
How to Break up a Fight:
It is important to break up the fight as quickly and as safely as possible to minimize injuries to the dogs and ourselves.
First, figure out the severity. Generally speaking, scuffles where the dogs are loud and biting/snapping at each other are going to cause less harm, than a fight where a dog is quiet and bites without releasing their grip.
For scuffles, things like yelling/making a loud noise, spraying with a hose, grabbing their hind legs, running towards them, etc. is likely to get them to stop. Whereas a dog that is latched on or has serious intent to cause harm is likely not going to be phased by any of that. With scuffles, you will be more at risk of getting bit if you try to grab the dogs collar, so it is suggested to grab their hind legs and lift up. If you are by yourself, take the necessary time to secure the aggressing dog if possible. You could use a leash and tie them to something or get them behind some kind of barrier.
For more intentional bites, typically where the dog is latched on and not wanting to let go. You do NOT want to pull the dogs apart as you will cause more damage to the dog being bit. The fastest and safest way is to use their collar, or a leash or some other preferably thin rope like material and place it right below the dogs chin, very high on the neck, right behind their ears and lift up. This will cause a lack of blood flow to the brain, so the aggressor will decide to either let go or pass out. This is similar to a choke in Jiu Jitsu, that does not cause any long term damage. They will wake up quickly when you release the pressure, so be ready to prevent them from going back.
Be aware of your surroundings. Get the dogs separate as much as you can- preferably with a barrier in between them.
-Scream for help or for someone to call 911.
-As quickly as possible, try to find something to get between you and the dog. Such as a barrier like a gate, holding something between you and the dog like a chair or any object that might be difficult to go through or could keep space between you, climbing on top of a car, etc.
-Avoid running away.
-If a dog does bite your hand or arm, avoid yanking it away as you may cause more damage.
-Grab the dogs collar and twist, trying to secure it at the top of their neck.
-For medium to large dogs, wrap your legs around the dog. Try to be standing with your legs squeezing the dog between them or on top of the dog to secure it with the face pointing away from you. At the same time, try to use a collar or leash or your arm, to begin a choke hold in the event the dog is still trying to aggress.
-In the unfortunate event that all of these suggestions are not doable or wasn't enough and you are unable to prevent getting bit by a medium to large dog and the dog is already biting you, try to have them stay biting your arm vs the ability to get to your face, neck, hands or legs.
If you get control of the dog and it has calmed down, don't put other people at risk by asking them to take it unless absolutely necessary. Do not let the dog go.