Dog Fights: How to Prevent Them, and How to Stop Them When They Happen

Two dogs snarling at each other before a fight.

If your dog has ever been in a fight with another canine, you know just how scary it can be. Fights can start in an instant, with serious damage being done in just seconds. That’s why as an owner it is so important to know how to break up a dog fight, and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.


The first step to preventing a dog fight is to not put your pup in a situation where a fight can happen. Yep, you guessed it: that means no dog parks. Even if your pup is the friendliest dog in the world, other dogs are not, and you can’t rely on other people to always know their dog’s limits and triggers. We’ve seen dozens of dogs in our clinic alone that are extremely dog-friendly and were attacked by another canine at a dog park.

Dogs playing at a dog park.

This doesn’t mean you should keep your pup from playing with other dogs as having canine companions can be an important part of socialization and enrichment. But instead of going to dog parks with dozens of dogs your pup does not know, take them to a friend’s house and let them have a puppy play date where they can play one on one. Not only is this safer, but your pup will most likely prefer it.

Another way to prevent dog fights is to learn a little bit about dog behavior and body language. You don’t have to be an expert, but we have a few tips that just might come in handy.

We want to start off by saying if you have not spayed or neutered your pet, do so immediately! Altering your pet decreases their chances of being in a fight significantly. Another very important tip comes into play when choosing your pet. Many people make the mistake of adopting siblings, meaning the pups came from the same litter. This should be avoided because many siblings experience littermate syndrome, and can begin fighting in the home once they reach sexual maturity.

Two sibling golden retriever puppies playing.

Getting pets of the same gender should be avoided if possible as well. Males and females tend to get along better, with the majority of fights occurring between two females. This isnt always the case, and pets of the same sex can live in harmony. However, this is something to keep in mind if you already have a bossy female in the home and are wanting to get another pet.

Learning how to read dog body language is also extremely important, and can be crucial when preventing a fight. A dog will usually give clear warning signs that he is uncomfortable such as a stiff body, pinned back ears, low growls, showing teeth/snarling, and hair standing up on their neck and back. If your pup or the dog they are playing with show any of these signs, calmly remove your dog from the situation immediately.

A small dog snarling angrily.

It is also important to know the signs of healthy play between canines. Such as play bows, licking, smelling each other’s hind ends, rolling over to show their stomach, an open mouth usually with tongue hanging out, and the play seems to be mutual with the pups taking turns chasing one on another.

Two dogs playing happily together.

For an illustration of these postures, check out Lili Chin’s excellent poster on dog body language. She gives you a great sense of what to look for. Study your own dog to get a sense of how these postures look when they do them so you’ll recognize them at a glance when you’re in public and can take quick action.


This is not where anyone wants to be, but here we are: there’s a dog fight. How do you break it up? Dogs are extremely precise when they fight, and can do crucial damage with just one bite. That’s why it is so important to work quickly and calmly when breaking up a fight.

The first thing you want to try is to distract the dogs. Try clapping your hands, banging pots and pans, or even blowing an air horn if you have one. If that doesn’t work try covering each of the dogs with a thick blanket so that they can not see each other. If you can not safely do this and the dogs are outside, try spraying them with the garden hose.

If that doesn’t work you can try separating the dogs by placing an object between them like a chair, baby gate, garbage can lid, broom, etc. If they are small dogs try using a laundry basket and trapping one of them from above.

Your last resort is to physically separate them. You will need to be extremely careful when doing this because dogs are known to redirect on the person trying to separate them. If you have another person to assist you, you can try using the wheelbarrow technique on the two dogs. This is when each person approaches one of the dogs from behind then grabs the dog by the back two legs and lifts them so they are balancing on their front two legs like a wheelbarrow. Then walk backwards with the dog, away from each other and into separate areas. Keep going until the dogs are far apart to prevent the dog redirecting and reaching behind to bite you.

Two people trying to break up a dog fight by using the wheel barrow method.

Once the dogs are safely separated, assess them for any wounds. If either dog has any bite wounds or even teeth scrapes, take them to a veterinarian to be evaluated. Even if the bite is a small puncture or is not actively bleeding, the wound can easily become infected and turn into an abscess.

These are just the basics on preventing and stopping a dog fight and we strongly encourage you to continue learning more. You never know when it could be your pup in the middle of one.

A dog laying on the couch contently.
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