I’m being instructed in more and more cases where people have been injured when they intervened in a dog fight. The typical scenario is that they will be happily walking their dog along, sometimes on sometimes off the lead, when another dog comes along off-lead and attacks their dog.
It can happen anywhere but is often close to the attacking dog’s home, because it has just escaped. Quite often the attacking dog latches on a bite and won’t let go.
The attacked dog’s owner then tries to pull the dogs apart and in doing so is injured, often with bites to the hands. Many times it is the owner’s own dog that bites them (although they frequently say it wasn’t because ‘my dog wouldn’t do that’).
Then there’s a court case and, because the attacking dog has issues with other dogs but it is a soft lump with people, I am asked to show that it does not constitute a danger to public safety in order to prevent a compulsory destruction order.
So because someone left a door open and the dog got out on its own, saw a strange dog coming towards its territory and after some confused signalling got into a fight because there was a no owner there to tell it not to, it is to be sentenced to death. Because some humans didn’t manage the situation properly.
Whilst there is never any justification for one dog attacking another, and I completely understand why anyone would want to try to protect their own dog, placing your hands into a dog fight is never a safe option. So, what to do?
Well, in an ideal world no dog would ever be beyond the control of their owner, but stuff sometimes happens. The baby’s crying, supper’s burning on the stove and the delivery person is hammering on the door, so you ask a youngster to open it. She does, but forgets little Timmy, who is so stressed by the commotion he runs out of the door, massively aroused. And the delivery person has left the gate open too, just as that nice lady is walking her dog past… Sometimes life conspires against us.
Accepting that in a less than ideal world things are going to go pear-shaped occasionally, what can we do if a strange dog attacks ours?
Much will depend upon how the dog attacks. A bite-and-back-off attack is nasty but gives us time to walk away, or fend them off with a raised foot. Always present the sole of your foot towards the dog as you back away, one step at a time, keeping a tight grip on your dog’s lead. Get something solid between you if you can, a litter bin, park bench or even a lamp post if there’s nothing else.
If your dog isn’t on a lead and a running battle develops, call them for all you are worth. Shriek, yell. Once highly aroused in a fight dogs are concentrating so much on the action they can’t always hear you. Be consoled that if they are able to run, the damage will be limited to snaps. If your dog runs away, go with them. They will be disorientated and need your help. Often a territorial dog will abandon the fight once they are a short way from home.
More serious is if the other dog bites and holds your dog because serious injuries may result. You need to make them part, but please avoid placing hands on them if at all possible. Grabbing them is highly unlikely to work and it is very likely you will be bitten. Because of the high levels of antagonistic arousal of both dogs in a fight, your own dog is as likely to bite you as the other. Neither necessarily means to, but they are under attack and someone grabs them. What are they to do but defend themselves from all-comers?
Making them part could well be detrimental to the attacking dog’s welfare and I would not normally countenance violence, but when your dog’s life and your own safety are at stake, all bets are off.
Remember, the more distance you can keep from the fight the safer you will be, so first thing to try is shouting. In a deep, gruff, loud, commanding voice shout ‘LEAVE!!’ as if your life depended upon it. If it doesn’t work immediately you can repeat it throughout whatever you choose to do next.
Now utilise anything you have to hand. Hit the antagonist with your lead, shopping bag, or anything else you have. Hit the rear end of the dog. If it is latched on and not letting go, hitting its head will make it close its eyes and bite down harder. You want to make it believe that it is under attack from behind so it lets go at the front. If it does let go, hold the implement out in front of you as a barrier and for the dog to bite if it turns on you.
Consider water. I know you’re unlikely to have a bucket or hosepipe, but you may be carrying a bottle. Squeeze the bottle so water gushes into the dog’s mouth and nose. It can’t choke, splutter and bite at the same time.
What else have you got? Coat? Throwing a coat over the dog’s head may make it release thinking the lights have gone out. The coat may be damaged, but compared to saving you and your dog from injury, what’s a coat? Keep shouting ‘LEAVE!!’ You may also exercise your expletive vocabulary if you wish.
Do you carry a (noise) personal attack alarm? Set it off. If you have a (legal) self-defence spray or even a perfume bottle or hairspray, spray the dog’s mouth and nose. Again avoid the eyes because you don’t want to cause the dog pain that will make it clamp down and bite harder. You are aiming for ‘unpleasant’ rather than ‘painful’.
What about using a stick-type object like a chuck-it ball launcher or umbrella? Use it to hit the back end of the dog by all means, but the best use is to shove it through the dog’s collar and twist as many times as you can, blocking off the dogs airway and choking it out. By operating from behind the dog you stay as far away from the teeth as you are able. If it has no collar, use your own lead thrown around its neck and twisted tight.
If you have to place hands on the dog like that, do it from behind. Insert your hand through the collar and twist away from you, tightening the collar on the dog’s neck but not turning its head towards you. The idea is to choke the dog. Keep yelling ‘LEAVE!!’
Avoid pulling backwards on either of the dogs. That will cause the gripping dog to bite harder and its teeth to rip through flesh.
If you have absolutely nothing else and fear for your dog’s life, kick the attacker. Try to aim for the lower end of the stomach, just in front of the back legs, and kick upwards, not sideways or backwards, again to avoid making the teeth rip. Kick hard enough to lift its back legs off the ground so the dog is unbalanced and releases. Pit bull fighters call back legs the ‘drive train’, so stopping the train can disrupt the fight. Keep yelling ‘LEAVE!!’
These are only ideas and there is no fail-safe solution as each scenario will be different, and some options will suit some people more than others.
Many dog fights are just that, fights between dogs, and people are only injured if they try to intervene, but be aware that just occasionally a dog could turn on you if you divert it from your dog. Breaking them up without handling them is your safest option.
Stay safe 🙂