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How to stop a dog fight

Three Shooting Times gundog experts consider the best way to stop a dog fight – and how to prevent it in the first place

dog fight spaniels

What should you to do stop a dog fight in a dog box, when you have no water, hooked stick or thick gloves to hand, asked Perdix in his previously-published Country Diary column? He had sustained a nasty bite when separating Border terrier, Betty, from spaniel, Polly, who had previously been the best of buddies. Below, Jackie Drakeford, David Tomlinson and Paul Rawlings explain what they would have done.

Jackie Drakeford, dog behaviour trainer and author, advises:

A dog fight in a confined space with nothing available to break it up is the stuff of nightmares, and using bare hands to separate the combatants, while understandable, is a way to lose fingers or sustain great damage to a hand’s delicate mechanism. The fact that poor Perdix did not collect any more than a few superficial wounds shows what restraint Betty used, even in the heat of the moment. We easily underestimate the potential power of even a small dog’s bite, but when we consider the job terriers are bred for, we gain a new appreciation of what might have happened.

Fights between two dogs that live together have a background to them and resentment has usually been brewing, unnoticed, for some considerable time beforehand. Bitches especially can take against each other and, once actual combat has occurred, the situation can escalate until one either dies or is re-homed — or else you live in a permanent state of armed truce, constantly keeping them apart. When Perdix put his two dogs in the same box after they had fought once, desire was presented with opportunity. The outcome was inevitable.

Dogfights in the open are fairly straightforward to break up, so getting the two out of their box was the right move. Tactics for getting them to let go include dropping a coat or blanket over their heads and then picking one or both up by the hindlegs, using copious amounts of water, pressing hard on the throat, or even using a breaking stick if the fighting style is to get hold and hang on, and you know how to do this without damaging the dog. Try not to vocalise, as it only gees the combatants up to greater efforts. Once fighting dogs have been parted, beware redirected aggression, where they whip round and bite whatever is nearest — often the human helper.

dog fight terrier poodle

Don’t use your hands to seperate two dogs, even if you think they’re just play fighting

Along with the first-aid kit in the car, it is useful to carry a blanket, water, and a thumbstick, any of which can be used to break up fights, but the best method is to avoid them starting at all. This means being aware of subtly changing dynamics at home, including escalating stress from unfamiliar situations or circumstances. You should also undertake a full health profile on both dogs, as fighting is often the first indication of one being unwell.

David Tomlinson, gundogs expert advises:

One of the best things about gundogs is that their temperaments are generally excellent, and serious fights are a real rarity. During the 14 years I’ve been writing about gundogs for Shooting Times I’ve only witnessed one serious fight, and that was between a Weimaraner and a German Wirehaired Pointer. It took place during a training day, and the professional trainer waded in to separate them, getting badly bitten in the process.

Splitting up fighting dogs is far from easy unless you happen to have a bucket of water to hand, which is unlikely unless you are expecting trouble in the first place. Fighting dogs concentrate 100 per cent on each other, which does make it both difficult and dangerous to pull them apart. Throwing a blanket, or a coat, over the fighters is another sure way to stop the battle before any damage is done. If you try to split them without any protection, then the odds are high that you will get bitten yourself, even though the dog had no intention of sinking its teeth into you.

For the past 20 years I have kept mother and daughter springers, and they have always got on well with each other for 99 per cent of the time. The rare fights have always, without exception, been over food. They are now fed separately, out of sight of each other. It’s a simple safety precaution that most of the time is unnecessary, but it’s a certain way of avoiding disputes.

dog growl

Dogs will show signs of aggression before a dog fight; learn how to read the signals

Reading a dog’s body language will usually warn you of an impending fight. Raised hackles, curled lips and growls are all obvious signs, not only to you, but also to the rival dog. Most dogs prefer to avoid fights, so a threatened dog will usually act submissively to avoid being attacked. The problem comes when the rival dog’s actions mirror those of the initial aggressor, and this is when speedy intervention is needed to prevent any bloodshed.

The hardest fights to anticipate are always those between kennel mates that have always seemed the best of friends, as happened in Perdix’s case. Hormones may have something to do with it: bitches in season can be aggressive towards other bitches, while a whiff of a bitch in season may cause two males to beat each other up. The other extraordinary thing is that dogs forget fights very quickly, and two animals that one minute are trying to kill each other will curl up in bed together just an hour later.

Paul Rawlings, KCAI, advises:

When first asked this question I have to admit that a surefire answer did not spring immediately to mind. I have lived and been around dogs all my life and have never witnessed a serious dogfight which needed any specialist knowledge to bring it to an end. Even my father’s terriers that were bred to kill rats and larger vermin never fought between themselves or with other dogs. However, they did show real anger if unwelcome visitors came to the side gate of the house and woe betide anyone who tried to invade their space.

My own gundogs and those in for training form a “pack” during exercise in a large run, but apart from the odd disagreement there has never been any full-blooded fighting. The majority of gundog puppies, as they are growing with their siblings, learn bite inhibition during play fighting: they will grip, but restrict the pressure of their teeth so no serious harm is caused. However, the same is not true of those breeds produced for illegal dogfighting — they definitely show no bite inhibition, but instead the jaws will lock and crush through tissue and bone. I have no direct experience with those breeds and would leave any advice to experts that have. My own experiences are mainly with gundogs, and if puppies are well socialised and have been taught good behaviour right from the start then the likelihood of their fighting later on is greatly reduced.

puppies play fighting

Puppies will play fight to learn how to bite without causing any damage

In my own pack, the usual danger points are adolescent males which, on reaching sexual maturity, suddenly get the scent of a bitch that is in prime condition for mating. I always keep a bucket of water handy when the girls are due in season and the young male offenders get a good drenching if they start squaring up to one another. This quick distraction is usually enough to keep them calm. The older stud dogs are all well trained and, though there may be some raised hackles and macho strutting, a word from me and they soon relax and keep the peace.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned for the average dog owner: avoid confrontation or indeed situations where it could occur and do not put your pet in jeopardy. I know everyone has the same rights to use various public areas for dog walking, but if the local park is full of adolescent males, canine and Homo sapiens, then find somewhere else for you and your dog to enjoy walks and training safely together.