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How to Break up a Dog Fight

Updated on January 30, 2018
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Learning how to break up a dog fight is important because depending on what you do, there are chances you make matters worse. In order to understand the risks of breaking up two or more dogs fighting, owners must learn more about the risks of dealing with redirected attention. What is exactly redirected attention? And how does it happen?

Imagine for second this common scenario which takes place quite often in households with multiple dogs. A dog is passing by a fence, while on the other side of the fence a dog starts ferociously barking at this dog. Soon another dog joins in and they are both madly barking at this dog on the other side of the fence. As the aggression gets pent up, in a matter of seconds, both dogs who were previously barking will be fighting aggressively against each other. What is going on?

Basically, one or both dogs were in a very high state of reactivity, in technical terms they were over threshold. These dogs were really focused on this stranger dog passing by and therefore were so over charged by the presence of this dog, that frustrated, they took their anger and frustration against each other.

Something similar may take place when owners with good intent try to break up a fight. The dogs, suddenly interrupted, may attack anything that gets in between them. This is not intentional, it is almost an automated response from being in a fight and flight situation, without realizing they are actually attacking their owner!

So what you do to break up a dog fight is important. If you make the wrong move, you will be running the risk of getting injured. There are various methods to resort to in order to break a dog fight. While there may be no entirely 100 percent safe method, there are some methods that are safer than others.

Making a Loud Noise to Break up a Dog Fight

Often producing a loud sound may be enough to distract the dogs. You can try banging two pot lids together or banging on a garbage can with a broomstick. Some dog owners may carry with them an air horn (the ones sold at boat supply stores are stronger than the party types) or a lanyard with a strong whistle around the neck. Something to consider is that air horns can be very loud and if you use them very close to your dog's ears, you may even risk damage to the dog's sensitive eardrums, not to mention yours as well.

These sounds produced may be effective if they have a strong impact and cause a startle effect in both dogs so that their focus is no longer on one another. However, something to consider is that loud noises can sometimes escalate the situation.

Using a Water Hose to Break up a Dog Fight

This method may work, but it may seem impractical, unless you are in the yard and you have a water hose handy. Simply grab the hose, open the faucet to the max and spray the strong jet of water in the direction of the dogs. In some cases, tossing buckets of water may help.

This sudden and unexpected burst of water, should startle the fighting dogs and hopefully extinguish their anger. However, with strong, persistent, dogs this may not be enough. If you have access to a fire extinguisher, in this case, it may be much more effective.

Using a Blanket to Break Up a Dog Fight

This method is one that is fairly easy because in most homes dog owners have easy access to blankets. The goal of using a blanket to break up a dog fight is to confuse and disorient the dogs.

Simply grab a blanket, spread as best as you can and from a distance toss it over the fighting dogs, aiming to cover the head of both dogs if possible Confused and disoriented, dogs may finally break off the fight.

Using Sprays to Break Off a Dog Fight

Special sprays may help break up a dog fight and they work in a similar fashion as a strong jet of water. They have a startling effect that should distract the dogs so that they disengage and no longer focus on each other.

In case of serious fights a pepper spray can may be a good choice if there are no other ways to split out the fight. However, pepper spray may burn the dog's eyes and if the area is windy, the drift can send the spray your way or towards, innocent bystanders.Fortunately, there are alternatives nowadays.

For instance, there are several types of sprays to break up dog fights on the market nowadays. One that I like to keep in my training center is Spray Shield. Spray Shield or Direct Stop is a special spray that emits a jet of citronella-based spray. This spray was actually tested and it was found to be just as effective as pepper spray, however without its harmful side effects.

Be Wary of Other Dogs Joining In

Unsafe Methods to Break up Dog Fights

Some methods to break up a dog fight are less safe than others and some are downright risky. Touching dogs when they are in midst of fighting puts you at risk for a redirected fight.

Yelling at the Top of Your Lungs. Perhaps one of the most instinctive methods to break up a dog fight is yelling at the dogs. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work, unless you have very strongly conditioned your dog to respond to voice commands. Not many dogs though are under this level of control, especially when they are focused on each other.

There are also chances that one dog may listen to your voice and disengage, and in the meanwhile the other dog takes advantage of this moment of withdrawal to attack the dog.

In many cases yelling may make matters only worse. The dogs may perhaps interpret your yelling as you joining in the dog fight or perhaps your tension may only exacerbate things. On top of that, in some cases, yelling accomplishes nothing because the dogs are too focused on fighting to even hear you.

Grabbing Dogs by the Collar. This is one of most unsafe methods to break up a dog fight. This method puts you at great risk for a redirected bite. When two dogs are fighting they are totally focused on each other. If you grab the dogs by the collar or try to pull them apart, your dogs may startle and get confused and may start biting your hands causing serious laceration wounds.

The Infamous Rear Leg Method/ Wheelbarrow Method. If you are like most people, you will not have a blanket nor a water hose or pepper can spray available right away. It may be tempting therefore to instead grab the back legs of one of the fighting dogs and have a helper grab onto the rear legs of the other fighting dog. Unbalanced, both dogs should let go and should be dragged away from the scene into a safe place far out of reach of each other.

Yet, even though this method is often suggested in many places online, this methods needs a big warning. While this method may be effective in separating the dogs, it is important to watch for dogs turning around and attempting to bite the person separating them in defense.

On top of that, consider that if the dogs are latched with their teeth on each other, pulling them from their rear legs may rip the skin. There have been cases of torn dog ears or major rips that needed to be repaired with stitches.

Using a Break Stick. Also known as a parting stick, a break stick is an object that that can be inserted between a dog's teeth to encourage the dog to let go. While this can be effective, it can lead to broken teeth, but as the other unsafe methods listed here, there are chances that the dog, as soon as his jaws are pried open, will manage to attack the person using the break stick.

Cutting off Air Supply. Some owners may have heard about grabbing the biting dog by the collar and twisting it in an attempt to cut off the dog’s airflow. As the dog starts suffocating, he will have to eventually get a breath of air, and in order to do so, he will have to get rid of his hold. However, again, this is an unsafe method as it requires getting your hand too close to the dog's face which may lead to a redirected bite.

Using a large object to separate the dogs. If the dogs are in an argument and they haven't latched on, there are chances that using a large object to separate the two may work. The large item may be an umbrella opened in between the arguing dogs, a folding chair or a large piece of plywood.

Again though, there are risks for a redirected bight when dogs are physically detached. It's best to be at a distance from the object so to not become a target, therefore the chair should be held by the legs. Dog trainer Pat Miller in her book "Positive Perspectives, Love your Dog, Train your Dog", discusses attaching a couple of handles to a sheet of plywood if you deal with dog fights. This way, you can handle the plywood from the handles.

Once the dogs have disengaged, it's important to find a way to safely escort the dogs away from each other. When dogs are separated from a fight, they often want to go back to fighting.

Sometimes, if you really do not feel you have what it takes to separate two dogs fighting or if you fear getting bit, it is best to not intervene rather than risking. Dog fights can be very serious issues and the many serious dog bites derived from human intervention are a testimony to that.

Disclaimer: the above tips may be helpful but they cannot be guaranteed to work. If your dogs get into a fight it is your responsibility to make decisions and take resonsability for your actions. In some cases, be cautioned that no matter what, dogs can still turn to their owners or get back to the other dog. Use extreme caution.

© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli


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    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      8 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Great suggestions here. May come in handy in an adverse situation.

    • Mrs. J. B. profile image

      Mrs. J. B. 

      9 years ago from Southern California

      Great tips.

    • Seen On TV profile image

      Seen On TV 

      9 years ago

      Loved the hub. The image at the top of the dog is great, but scary. Great info.

    • Bediveare profile image


      9 years ago from Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom

      Dear Alexadry,

      Thank you for your story about advice on breaking up dog fights.

      I have (5) show dogs cocker spaniels (3 boys and 2 girls)

      I know all about dog fights and have got injured myself trying to

      stop one and as you say they are solely focused on the fight and seem to go totally deaf to what ever else is going on around them.

      It all seems to be when the girls are in season and around that time I have to separate the boys so I have no problems.

      I also live at the back of a conservation area where a lot of dogs are taken past the house walking of which they smell maybe other dogs in season.

      Generally as a family they all get on very well, luckily I don't have a constant problem it is only occassionally.

      I like your pepper spray method, I have never tried this, as long as this does not hurt the dogs in anyway.

      Thankyou for your information I shall definitely try this pepper spray method when next I have this problem.



    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      10 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Useful knowledge

    • brad4l profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      These are some great tips.

      Personally, and I fully realize this isn't a good way of breaking up dog fights, I  typically loudly insert myself in between the dogs, well my leg anyway, and administer some light kicks to the chest of  each dog. I feel comfortable doing this because I usually know both of the dogs pretty well and usually they are not really biting each other anyway.

      My major concern is usually the other dog will do, because I know my dog will listen and stop fighting, but I don't really know what the other dog will do.

      Once I have their attention, I can usually grab a hold of the other dog and pull them off of my dog.

    • melshomecorner profile image

      Melinda Winner 

      10 years ago from Mississippi

      you never know when this will come in handy , I have broke up quite a few , just one the other day. Thanks great Hub !

      Melinda Winner


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