Few things can shake a dog owner more than seeing their dog in a fight with another dog. . .

But no matter how hard you try to prevent them, or how good of friends two dogs may be, dog fights can happen.  One of the things that every dog owner should know is how to break up a fight in a safe way so that neither you nor your dog sustains injury.  To stop a fight in it’s tracks, memorize these four simple steps:

Collect loose dogs who are not part of the fight to prevent mobbing.   Just like when boys fight in a school yard, there are always the loudmouths who don’t actually get involved in the fight, but will stand around egging the fighters on.  Guess who it helps?  Nobody!  So in order to prevent the fight from becoming larger, grab all dogs who are not part of the actual altercation and remove them from the situation.

Try to startle the dogs.  95% of dog fights will break up if the dogs are startled by something.  Start by making a loud noise like clapping your hands or shouting ‘No!’   If this doesn’t work, grab a bowl or bucket of water and dump it on the dogs.

If distraction techniques do not work, you will have to physically break the dogs up.  It is best if you have one person for each dog.  Note: do not grab dogs by collars or necks/faces to avoid having the dog turn and bit you. One person should grab each dog from the hips, pinching and holding the loose skin between their belly and legs (There’s a pressure point there.  It will hurt when you pinch it, but it will cause the dog to open his mouth to yelp, allowing you to pull him back without ripping the skin of the other dog.) and pull out of the fight, wheelbarrow-style.

Hold each dog back until you can secure them away from each other.

Now the fight is over, what do I do?

Separate the fighting dogs from each other for at least the rest of the day.  The dogs need some time to relax and cool off.  Even if the dogs are friendly with each other, introducing them back together too quickly can trigger another fight.  If you were in a dog park when the fight happened, leave the dog park for the rest of the day.

If the relationship between the two dogs seems to have been damaged, re-introduce them slowly and on neutral territory.  Try taking a leash walk together, with one dog per handler.  Leash walking is one of the best relationship building exercises you can do for dogs.  It allows the dogs to do something that is really fun for them, burns excess energy, and allows them to associate something that may now have a negative connotation (the other dog) with something that has a positive connotation (walks, yay!).

If the two dogs continue to target each other and pick fights, it might be time to seek out help from a qualified trainer or behaviorist.  Do your research and make sure that the person you hire is experienced in positive reinforcement-based behavior modification for this kind of issue.