How to stop dogs fighting

With almost half of owners saying their dog has been threatened by another dog when out on a walk – and an equal number saying their dog has been barked at, growled at, or bitten by another dog*, there’s no doubt there’s a problem when it comes to canine social interactions. If you’re wondering how to stop dogs fighting should the situation come up, keep reading.

Are there more aggressive dogs now?

There are lots of potential reasons for this. There are over three million more dogs in the UK since the first lockdown** and so there are just more dogs out there. Many of these missed out on the usual socialisation, puppy classes and training help that have been a usual part of dog owning in the past. There’s also been an increase in new dog owners, whose working lives never enabled them to have a dog before – and they largely had to struggle through on their own. All these things can lead to more scuffles between dogs, and more need to stop them fighting.

Knowing the reasons why, however, doesn’t help if you and your dog find yourself facing an aggressive dog. What do you do? How do you keep you and your dog (and anyone who’s with you) safe? How do you stop the dogs fighting?

Well first of all, this isn’t the question you should be asking! The reality is that breaking up a serious dog fight, even for experts, with everything they need to hand and someone competent and willing to help them, is a serious – and dangerous – business.

The good news, however, is these kind of dog fights are extremely rare. Most ‘fights’ are about noise and posturing. They look far worse than they are – and it’s often the actions of the owners that can escalate them.

That doesn’t mean you should be relaxed about this. Encounters with other dogs that are frightening, stressful or worse, result in injury, can alter your own dog’s behaviour around other dogs in the future, and run the risk of your dog deciding other dogs are ‘trouble’ and acting accordingly. 

Prevention is the Number 1 goal

Rather than wondering how to stop dogs fighting once they’ve started, your main goal at all times is to avoid these kind of encounters.

I know that sounds obvious, but take a look at people out walking their dogs. There are often very few who are actually paying attention to what their dog is doing, and keeping them engaged and focused on them. So…

  1. Be mindful. Watch your dog and engage with them so their focus is on you and not on other dogs.
  2. Be aware of what’s going on around you. Notice if there are other dogs around, and watch their behaviour. Are they calm and relaxed around other dogs? Or are they running up to them and trying to interact? Either in a friendly manner or a more threatening one.
  3. Avoid dogs you don’t know. Take a different route, turn and go the other way, or just keep your dog focussed on you and take a wide berth. If you can’t keep your dog focussed on you to do this safely, put them on the lead.
  4. Be safe, not sorry. Does 3 seem mean or overly cautious? Maybe… But it isn’t up to you to decide if a dog is friendly or if an interaction is going to be positive. You don’t ‘speak dog’ and so it’s easy for you to get it wrong.
  5. Don’t let your off lead dog run up to other dogs they don’t know. Especially if the other dog is on lead. This is how canine arguments start – in the case of 65% of reported aggressive dog encounters*, the offending dog was off lead!
  6. Never let dogs interact with each other on the lead. They can’t show natural body language and this is how canine misunderstandings happen. 

The vast majority of conflict situations with other dogs can be prevented – and this should always be your goal. Your walk with your dog should be about you and them interacting together and having fun, rather than playing with strange and unknown dogs.

What is ‘normal’?

Just a note here on ‘normal’ dog behaviour. While some dogs love everyone and are happy to play with any dog they meet, always be aware these are very much in the minority.

It’s not ‘normal’ for a dog to be that much of a social butterfly. The vast majority of adult dogs are ‘dog selective’. This means they like and will play with their own doggie friends – dogs in their household or dogs they know and have been introduced to properly. But when it comes to unknown dogs, they’re indifferent or can even be somewhat hostile. This doesn’t mean normal dogs will be fighting and need you to stop it, rather they might give a “leave me alone please” signal.

The socialisation we do with dogs when they’re puppies is designed to teach them social skills and enable them to listen to you and be happy when there are other dogs around – not learn to love everyone!

Don’t have unreasonable expectations from your dog – or from other dogs.

Find out more about how to introduce your dog to another dog.

But what if..?

There will, however, possibly be occasions when you find yourself face to face with a seemingly aggressive dog. So what do you do?

  1. Try and assess the other dog. Is it overly-friendly and just annoyingly bouncy and rude? Or are you worried about potential threat? Learn as much as you can about canine body language as this will help you.
  2. Stay calm. Panicking, shouting or grabbing either dog can inflame the situation and also you risk injury – to them and you.
  3. Still avoid an encounter if possible. Break the eye contact between the two dogs by turning your dog away and not having any interaction with the other – and walk away. Sometimes this is enough to defuse the situation and they’ll move on to more interesting targets.
  4. Look out for the other dog’s owner and ask them to remove their dog. Don’t be fobbed off by “oh he’s friendly”… That normally means “sorry… I’ve not trained him and so have absolutely no control of him”! It’s their dog (and them) that’s at fault.
  5. Let your dog do the talking. In most cases, dogs have many different ways to avoid a fight – and are far better at sorting out these social encounters than we are. But to do this, they need to be able to show natural body language to communicate. Often where you can’t avoid an encounter, dropping your lead, if it’s safe to do so will let your dog ‘negotiate peace’.
  6. Offer a distraction. If you really feel under threat, be aware shouting, loud noises or throwing things at the other dog are likely to exacerbate the situation – and frighten your own dog too. Your best strategy is probably to throw a handful of treats in the approaching dog’s face. This will distract them and hopefully (unless they’re really intent on an attack) give them a different focus – picking up the treats. This gives you time to remove your dog from the situation. 

Are any of these failsafe? No. And they won’t stop a serious dog fight. They will, however, stop the vast majority of canine misunderstandings. 

Find out more about how to spot signs of stress in your dog’s body language.

Be your dog’s advocate – don’t have the expectation all dogs should love all other dogs, and instead be mindful when you are out, focus on your own dogs, and avoid encounters with dogs you don’t know.

* survey 2021

** PFMA 2021

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